Originally published by The Lookout Newspaper, on 7 November 2022, this article is reproduced here in its unedited state.
When prayers are held in an HMC ship the church pennant is flown. This flag, also used in all Commonwealth navies and the Royal Netherlands Navy, is a broad pennant consisting of two national flags, the English Flag at the hoist and the Dutch National Flag in the fly. The design originates from the Anglo-Dutch wars of the late 17th century, when the pennant was used to indicate that a ceasefire was necessary because a religious service was in progress.
“O Eternal Lord God, who alone rulest the raging of the sea,” is the first line of The Naval Prayer, a standard during the prayers portion of morning divisions. First published in 1662 in the Book of Common Prayer, The Naval Prayer has remained mostly unchanged since then. The Sailor’s Psalm (Psalm 107, verses 23-30) begins with, “They that go down to the sea in ships, and occupy their business in great waters,” is commonly recited at Remembrance Day and Battle of the Atlantic services. It describes distressed sailors praying to the Lord and being delivered to safety. Another standard at naval services is the Naval Hymn, “Eternal Father, strong to save.” Written in 1860 by the clergyman William Whiting after surviving a storm on the Mediterranean Sea, it is generally thought to have been inspired by the Sailor’s Psalm.
What do sailors pray for? Most likely for their family, friends, loved ones, shipmates, and especially those who have crossed the bar, a term which means to have passed away, i.e., leave life’s harbour, directly derived from the 1889 poem “Crossing the Bar,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
On Remembrance Day, sailors take a special moment to remember those who lost their lives in times of armed conflict. When the civilian ferry SS Caribou was torpedoed in the Cabot Strait on 14 October 1942, Nursing Sister Margaret Brooke (1916-2016) barely survived the tragedy. Despite her efforts, she was unable to save her best friend Nursing Sister Agnes Wilke who perished due to hypothermia. Just last month a new ship HMCS Margaret Brooke was commissioned. Named in honour of this brave officer, in a way, her ship’s company pay homage to the people lost in the Caribou every time they sail through the Cabot Strait. Two years later, on 25 November 1944, also in the Cabot Strait, HMCS Shawinigan was torpedoed and lost with all hands. Ninety-one brave souls perished.
Similarly, every HMC ship entering and leaving Halifax Harbour passes near the resting place of the minesweeper HMCS Esquimalt, which was torpedoed and tragically lost on 16 April 1945, just weeks before wartime hostilities ceased. Thirty-nine of her crew perished as a result of the attack and the exposure that followed. HMCS Clayoquot lay near the Esquimalt, torpedoed while sweeping for submarines near Sambro Island Light on Christmas Eve 1944. She sank quickly and eight lives were lost.
On Remembrance Day, we will remember them.