I have never known my great-grandfather. William Joseph Mayle, known as Bill to his friends and family, died in the seventies. He had survived the Second World War, survived the sinking of his ship, the freezing waters of the far, far north despite the common Canadian sailor’s inability to swim and an injury that put him in doubt of having children. He survived service in the Royal Canadian Navy only to be struck down by a drunken driver. I was told it took hours to free his mangled body from the car. He was dead at the scene.
The only image I had of my great-grandfather for many years was a photograph of him standing outside of his family home in his naval attire. His hat crooked, unsmiling, body at attention. I enjoyed flipping through old family albums, seeing the faces of the past, pestering my mother and father for their knowledge. I come from a family rich in military history and I hungered for the stories of war, of bravery and travel. My parents could often find me talking with a veteran on the occasions we visited our local RSL, instead of playing with the other children. I wanted to know everything I could, so when my mother could not fill the blanks about her ‘gampa’, my great-grandfather, we both went looking.
Military records can be accessed, but accessing them from another country can prove difficult as many are still restricted. To retrieve records of my great-grandfather’s service my mother had to file a written request with the Canadian military. As they don’t accept email requests, we had to post the required forms via snail mail. Obtaining this information can take many, many months. The information we needed to supply included his full given name, date of birth and service number. We were lucky our Canadian cousins had a copy of his enlistment details in storage, or tracking his service number would have been another challenge. We also had to include a proof of relationship as only immediate family can request this information. Before we could contact the Canadian military records however, we had to obtain a proof of death. Luckily, this was another piece of documentation my cousins had on file.
The envelope we received from the archives was not hefty, but it contained some useful basic information and some simply amazing photographs. William Mayle, born on the 30th of May 1919 in Hamilton, Ontario was a volunteer for the ‘period of hostilities’. He signed up for duties only weeks before his twenty-fifth birthday and was placed into active service days later. It seems he very much appeared to take after his Italian descent with his darker olive skin, brown hair and brown eyes. He stood shorter then myself at 5’4”. The height and skin colour both recurring traits in my family.
Upon obtaining his Certificate of Service, my mother and I were able to decipher some of William Mayle’s movements during the war. Before the war, he worked as an engineer for a rail-line. During his military service, 1943 until he was ‘demobilized’ in 1945, he served as a stoker. In this period of time her served at HMCS Star, the Hamilton based port for the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. Unlike regular sailors at the time who wore straight stripes on their uniform sleeves, the volunteers wore wavy stripes, earning them the nickname the “Wavy Navy”. This base served as the major recruitment depot for the navy at the outbreak of the Second World War.
He was quickly stationed to HMCS Nadon at Esquimalt where he undertook his stoker training. Whilst in basic training, his paperwork states he was of ‘average intelligence’, but ‘willing’ and ‘tries hard’, the reports of his stoker training stated him to be ‘superior’ in the tasks. His naval skills were moderate, but his gunnery work was superior. The reports go on to state he was a ‘very good worker, intelligent and responsible’. My mother shone upon reading these comments, she has always valued these traits. Great-grandfather served out his time as a Stoker 1st Class in the Canadian High Seas Newfoundland.
His next posting was to HMCS Givenchy, one of the twelve Battle Class naval trawlers used by the Royal Canadian Navy. Months later he was transferred to the HMCS Wentworth, just after she was commissioned. Bound for Bermuda, but unable to make the journey due to defects, she was returned to St. Margaret’s Bay. Upon the ship joining the EG C-4 in June of 1944, my great-grandfather was transferred to HMCS Stadacona, the British Army’s Wellington Barracks. He was there for little less than two months before transferring to the HMCS Hochelaga II. Weeks later he found himself on HMCS Laucon and was present for her commissioning and first crew photo. He later found himself at HMCS Avalon, a signal establishment in St. John’s. His final posting was back at HMCS Star.
At this time, we are unaware why he served on so many ships and at so many bases. Unfortunately, like many veterans, he never spoke of his service to my grandfather or other family members. What we do know is that one ship he served on was torpedoed and he was injured during the attack. As of yet, we have not been able to confirm which ship this was. He suffered shrapnel to his groin, costing him a testicle and earning him the nickname ‘One-Ball’.
The package we received also contained images, one of which suggested that he was present during at least one of the Quebec Conferences at Chateua Frontenae and was only metres away from English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and French DeGaul. Others would surely have been classified at the time as they showed a U-boat, sailors bathing and ships at sea. This small package has led me further, but for now, my research is at a halt. I have reached out to veterans, children, grand-children and great-grand-children of those who served in the hope that someone will have a story for me.
“HMCS LAUZON K671”. For Posterity Sake. 2002. Web. Accessed 22nd July 2014.
Marsh, James H. “Québec Conferences 1943, 1944”. Historic Canada. 16th December 2013. The Canadian Encyclopaedia. 7th February 2006. Web. Accessed 22nd July 2014.
Pepin, Carl. “Canada and the Quebec Conferences: What Remains (1943-1944)”. The Memory Project. 23rd July 2012. Web. Accessed 22nd July 2014.
“Certificate of Service of William Joseph Mayle in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve.” Department of National Defence (Naval Service).
“C.N.S. 264 (S. 264).” Department of National Defence (Naval Service).
“History Sheet for Stoker Ratings”. Department of National Defence (Naval Service). July 1938
Letter from Dodsworth and Brown Funeral Directors. 18th February 1972.
“RCN Ships Database”. Naval Museum of Manitoba. Web. Accessed 22nd July 2014.