Battle of the Atlantic Heroes: Signalman Roland Chalifoux

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Battle of the Atlantic Heroes / December 14, 2020

Major Charles Grenier-Chalifoux

My grandfather, Roland Chalifoux, served in His Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Milltown, a Bangor-class minesweeper from 1942 to 1945 as a Signalman. HMCS Milltown was part of the 31st Minesweeper Flotilla which served in the Battle of the Atlantic, Battle of the St. Lawrence and the invasion of Normandy. As part of his service, he received the 1939-45 Star, the Atlantic Star, the France-Germany Star, the Canadian Volunteer Medal and the 1939-45 War Medal. In 2014, he was admitted as a Knight of the French Légion d’Honneur for his service during D-Day and the Liberation of France.

HMCS Milltown contributed to the Battle of the Atlantic in her role as an escort vessel for the numerous convoys from North American ports like New York or Halifax all the way to England. As a Signalman, my grandfather was responsible for ensuring visual communication between ships when sailing in formation using light signals, flags and pennants.

When under attack, Roland would operate an Oerlikon 20mm anti-air canon. He also actively volunteered for other duties when his shipmates were injured or sick. As such, he at times sacrificed his rest time to take the role of helmsman or Very High Frequency (VHF) radio operator.

He had one brother who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and was based in Halifax. Communication between my grandfather and his family was very limited during the battle because his ship was constantly deployed on operation, but his three sisters kept writing him and his brother letters which he would get when mail would catch up with his ship.

The greatest challenge that my grandfather faced was loss.

During the Battle of the Atlantic, one of HMCS Milltown’s sister ships close to the North American coast was sunk by a U-boat. The impact of seeing a ship so close to his while in formation get torpedoed and sink while the people onboard were struggling to evacuate and survive really affected him.

My grandfather never mentioned if he lost anyone on his ship, but he did mention that they had a dog onboard and that one day, during an attack, the dog went overboard. While it is not as tragic as losing a ship or a fellow serviceman, that dog was the mascot of the ship and had a huge impact on everyone onboard. He also mentioned how hard it had been to be away from home for over three years straight. He had rough times where he really missed home, but carried on with his duty to Canada.

Roland wanted to join the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve because he felt he could not just sit idly by while people needed help overseas. In order to join, he lied about his age so he could start training and ship out. That’s how important this was for him.