5. Edward (Ted) Wells

While serving on HMS Icarus—a Home Fleet destroyer—prior to HMS Tweed, he made three trips on the Russian convoys. Twice, the ship escorted part way and once, she went to Murmansk.

Russian convoys were planned during the winter months when it was dark and the weather was rough and extremely cold. Ice, which formed on the gun decks, had to be cleared off by using a heated hose from the boilers.

This sailor suffered frost bite to his hand because of having to take off his gloves to carry out signalling duties on the bridge! Conveying messages along the ship during severe weather was particularly difficult, with waves crashing over the ship, causing men to be washed overboard while carrying out this duty.

Since the ships were under regular attack from German aircraft and surface ships, the convoys would head toward Bear Island, north of Norway, to be out of range of enemy aircraft.

When his crew visited Murmansk, the sailors were allowed on shore only with escorts, who turned out to be very stern-looking female Russian soldiers! On arrival, their supplies of food were exhausted. Thus, they were given reindeer meat, which was tough and sinewy, and black hard bread. On the return trip, the food was very poor and non-appetising. He did carry a tin of curry powder, which improved the flavour.

Ted was born on August 24, 1921, in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England.

He volunteered May 27, 1941, and remained in the Royal Navy until March 14, 1946, for a total of four years and ten months. He took his basic training at HMS Collingwood, at Fareham, which is near Portsmouth. He was a visual signalman, service number PJX273861.

He served for two years and ten months on HMS Icarus, whose home base was Portsmouth, and for nine months on HMS Tweed, whose base was Londonderry. The latter port was also the overseas home base for HMCS Waskesiu.

Basic food rations were supplied by the NAAFI (Navy, Army, Air Force Institute), but he also was provided with an allowance. If he needed anything extra, it was up to him to pay for it himself.

HMS Icarus was an escort for the expedition called “Operation Gauntlet”, which went to Spitsbergen to evacuate the Norwegian and Russian miners. Canadian commandos went ashore to destroy the coal mines before the Germans arrived. This was his first trip, most of which he spent being seasick. Everyone had to be on duty no matter how he felt.

The ship’s captain, Colin “Mad” Maud, was a hard man and had a quick temper. He would smash or bend the communication equipment if he were not answered immediately. He stood on the bridge without flinching, even when enemy aircraft were coming in firing, while the crew would find shelter wherever they could. Many of the crew members were terrified of him.

Ted did not go ashore, but he remembers it was mostly dark. During the evacuation, a Norwegian trapper with his pack of dogs came aboard. In appreciation, he gave a puppy to the captain.

“Operation Pedestal” was an expedition to relieve Malta. HMS Icarus was on Russian convoy duty when the order was received for her to go to Liverpool. Here, extra guns were fitted on the fo’cs’le of the ship. Most of the crew did not know where they were to go. She left Liverpool and joined a convoy heading for the Strait of Gibraltar. For the crew, it meant a quick change from warm winter clothes to shorts.

As the ship progressed toward Malta, Ted witnessed several ships sinking, among which was the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle. The convoy was under constant attack from Italian torpedo bombers and German Stuka bombers. He remembers steaming past a life raft with two Italian airmen who had been recently shot down. However, the ship could not stop to rescue them because of the threat of attack. The captain gave the order for his crew to salute them as they went past.

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Waskesiu: Canada’s First Frigate (2 ed.)

Waskesiu: Canada’s First Frigate