Proud sailor

Staff ~ The Truro Daily News
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Lower Truro man to deliver official salute at Remembrance Day ceremony

Vernon (Bun) McLellan made several trips across the Atlantic Ocean while on convoy duty during the Second World War. HARRY SULLIVAN - TRURO DAILY NEWS

LOWER TRURO - He wanted to be a pilot but Vernon (Bun) McLellan ended up a sailor during the Second World War.

As luck would have it, his Grade 11 schooling didn't measure up when he went to apply to the air force but McLellan just didn't see the point in seeking a higher education if he was heading off to war.

"I said if I have to go back to school to get killed, the hell with it. So that's when I went and joined the navy," he recalled.

Growing up in Wentworth Valley, Grade 12 wasn't available when McLellan was in school, so after completing Grade 11, he headed off to Truro at age 17 to work for the Canadian National Railway.

In February of 1942, a few month's shy of his 20th birthday, McLellan and a buddy decided they wanted to volunteer their services to the war effort. But while his buddy, who did have Grade 12, was accepted by the air force, McLellan took to the seas as a wireless operator.

Following training in Quebec, he returned to Halifax where he was posted to the naval destroyer, HMCS St. Clair.

"And they put me on what was called the triangle run then, doing convoy duty," the Lower Truro resident said.

Now 90, McLellan was asked by the Truro branch of the Royal Canadian Legion to take the official salute during tomorrow's Remembrance Day ceremonies at the cenotaph, a duty he is only too pleased to undertake.

McLellan is also proud of being able to participate in Canada's effort during the Second World War. He prefers to reflect on the fonder memories of yesteryear and the fun that he had with his comrades at sea.

The "triangle run" involved accompanying a convoy of ships from Halifax to the waters off St. John's, N.L. Once there, they would turn the convoy over to other escorts and head into the St. John's port to await another convoy, which they would escort into New York harbour. That process would be repeated with another escort run back to Halifax and, so on.

"We'd go into New York and stay for a couple of days, which was lovely," he said, because the sailors were able to enjoy the nightlife the big city provided.

McLellan fondly recalled one instance when he and a buddy had stopped into a New York bar for a few drinks. Afterwards, while standing on a subway platform, the full effects of his alcohol intake began to take hold.

"I started staggering and this girl grabbed me and said 'you aren't feeling too good are you sailor?'" I said, 'no, I had one too many I think.'"

The woman took McLellan up to her apartment and was trying to sober him up by running water over his head from the sink when he heard someone else enter.

"Who's that?" he asked, to which she replied that it was her boyfriend.

"I said, 'tell him to go away,'" he said, with a chuckle. "She said, 'I can't do that.'"

After a year on the triangle run, McLellan was sent to Scotland where he was posted to the HMCS Huntsville, a Castle-class corvette used to escort merchant ship convoys back and forth between St. John's and Londonderry, Ireland.

"That was a cold, old journey in the wintertime because we weren't far from Iceland, going across," he said.

Corvette's were small, lightly armed warships that had the advantage of being very maneuverable but which were also notorious for being extremely rough to handle in heavy seas.

"Just like a submarine half the time. They were under water more than they were on top of it," McLellan said.

At one point, his ship was assigned to tow a German submarine (that had surrendered to the Americans) up the Delaware River and into the port of Philadelphia.

"Anyways, we went in there and here was these great big battle wagons of American battleships, you know, and our little corvette. It looked like a tugboat."

The craft was so small by comparison that several American sailors who came aboard to check it out, were somewhat incredulous.

"'You fellows don't go across the Atlantic in this do you?'" one of them asked. To which one of McLellan's mates replied: "'No. This is the captain's tugboat. We couldn't get ours up the river."

McLellan laughs at the memory, and others, as he relates his favourite tales from the war days.

If he has bad memories of the war, he neither reveals nor dwells on them, preferring instead to recall the friends he made and the fun they had along their many voyages back and forth across the ever-tumultuous Atlantic.

"I look back on it that way. You had your hard times, obviously, but today I look mostly at the good times that we had," he said. "If I had to do it over again I'd still do it. Because I enjoyed it."

McLellan facts:

Name: Vernon (Bun) McLellan - a wireless operator in the Royal Canadian Navy from 1942-'46;

Home community: Grew up in Wentworth Valley. Moved to Truro at age 17 until joining the navy at age 19. Re-settled in Truro following the war and currently resides in Lower Truro.

Family: Married to Florence (Schnare) 43 years. Widowed in 1989 and remarried in 2008 to Donna (Crowe)

Four children to his first wife: Gloria, Joan, Philip, Heather and Brenda.

Organizations: Canadian National Railway, St. Clair, Royal Canadian Legion Royal Canadian Navy

Geographic location: Truro, Halifax, Wentworth Valley St. John's New York Quebec Canada Atlantic Scotland Londonderry Ireland Iceland Delaware River Philadelphia

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