By Joanie Veitch,
Two Royal Canadian Navy warships were in Londonderry on May 15 for a special ceremony to mark the 76th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic, having travelled to Northern Ireland following the same convoy route used by many of the ships that served during the Second World War.
The event, which was hosted by the Londonderry Branch Royal Naval Association at Fort George Pier, featured the ringing of the Convoy Bells in each of the three port cities used as transport hubs — St. John’s, NL, Halifax, NS, and Derry/Londonderry — in recognition of the bond the cities share and in tribute to the service and sacrifice of the allied naval and merchant sailors, and aviators, who took part in the Battle of the Atlantic.
“Being involved in such ceremonies always moves me personally. I was particularly thankful to participate in these Battle of the Atlantic ceremonies as I had family members who served during the war and had to transit the Atlantic,” said LCdr Jeffery Anderson, Commanding Officer of HMCS Summerside, one of the two RCN warships, along with HMCS Kingston, at the event. “Having just completed the transatlantic voyage, as well as the passage up the River Foyle — as our ships would have done many times in the past — it was even more poignant.”
This year’s ceremony offered a tangible connection to both the historical past and the technological present as participants on the jetty in Londonderry, as well as viewers from around the world, were able to watch and listen — through live video feed — to the bells being rung eight times in each of the three cities, symbolizing the sounding of the eight bells that mark the completion of a sailor’s watch.
In Halifax, Capt(N) (Ret’d) Earle Wagner rang the North Atlantic Convoy Bell at St. Brendan’s Chapel at CFB Halifax. A veteran from LaHave, NS, Wagner joined the Merchant Navy at age 17 and served in the Battle of the Atlantic.
After departing from Londonderry, both Canadian ships took part in a special at-sea wreath laying ceremony before heading to Portsmouth and on to the Baltic Sea region, where they will join other NATO allies for BALTOPS 21 exercises from June 6 – 18.
Scheduled and conducted by the United States Naval Forces Europe-Africa (USNAVEUR), BALTOPS is an annual, multinational exercise marking its 50th anniversary this year. Both HMCS Summerside and HMCS Kingston had been scheduled to participate in last year’s BALTOPS event, but were not able to attend due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions.
All members of both ships’ companies underwent COVID-19 testing and followed strict pre-embarkation protocols prior to leaving Halifax on May 4th.