This page is respectfully dedicated to my late Uncle
Seaman William (Willie) Paquette
A Merchant Mariner
Uncle Willie Age 17
SS Point Pleasant Park
Most who have a passing familiarity with naval matters will recognize the name Point Pleasant Park and East Coasters will recognize it as a park situated in the south end of Halifax (map). This park is the site of the national Canadian Naval Memorial, upon which are recorded the names of those who have paid the supreme sacrifice and have no known grave, save the sea. The memorial was located on Halifax's Citadel Hill prior to being moved to the park.
However the name Point Pleasant Park, is also that which was carried by a ship of the Canadian Park Steamship Company Limited , a Crown Corporation set up in 1942. The Park ships, built in Canadian and British shipyards to meet the demand for hulls to transport vital war materials to the United Kingdom and other theatres of the War, numbered some 176. All were named after national, provincial or municipal parks in Canada. The majority, or 114 of the Parks, were of 10,000 tons dead weight the remainder being 5,000 tons or under. These ships would be considered very small by today's standards but in the 1940's they were of significant size.
SS Point Pleasant Park, because of its connection to the Naval Memorial, is probably the best known of the Park ships. She was built at Davie Ship Building & Repair Co. Ltd. at Lauzon, Quebec and entered service the 8th of November 1943. She made several convoy crossings without incident, but on the 23 February 1945 at approximately 1400 she was sailing independently some 500 miles North West of Capetown, South Africa when U-510 skippered by Cdr Alfred Eick happened upon her.
The Sinking of SS Point Pleasant Park
The first torped hit "The Point" in the area of the engine room crew's quarters. This torpedo immediately killed 8 of the crew, trapping a further 38. They remained there, in the dark with the sea rushing in until two of the officers broke open a sky light from above. By the time the living were removed, including one poor fellow with a broken back, there was only 6 inches of air space left in the compartment.
The screw had been blown off, and while the engineer of the watch isolated the steam to the engine and started the pumps, the ship was already doomed. Sea water began entering through the shaft tunnel and a ruptured bulkhead, drowning the ship's generator shutting down the pumps.
The radio operator managed to get off the "SSSS" U-Boat alarm signal as the main radio antenna was being brought down by the whipping of the masts; however there was no response.
Twenty minutes after the torpedo struck the Master gave the order to "abandon ship". Some 43 men took to the sea in 3 open boats. The boats moved off and stood by. Ten minutes later the U-boat came to the surface and fired two bursts from her 40mm gun into the derelict at the water line to flood the forward holds. She then moved off on the surface in a westerly direction.
As the submarine moved off the Master attempted to return to his ship but before they could get alongside the dying ship, she heaved up her bows. The flexing of the hull tightened the whistle langyard between the bridge and the funnel opening the valve. As she continued to heave up her bows the whistle gave a long dying scream that only ended when the funnel was submerged.
The ordeal for the survivors was just beginning as this was no busy shipping lane. The three boats began to drift and soon lost sight of each other. In one boat 21 souls, many injured, crowded in space made for 11 or 12. Rations were 2 ounces of water per day per man, some pemmican – hard grain mixed with a lot of fat – two spoons full of that each day, two biscuits and a little piece of chocolate.
Survivors in lifeboat alongside HMSAS Africana
Uncle Willie is on the extreme right in the front
The survivors were finally located on the tenth day by HMSAS Africana. They were transported to south Africa and made their way back to Canada via the United States.
Survivors pose aboard HMSAS Africana
Uncle Willie is on the extreme left in the fourth row
These merchant seamen were ‘lucky’ their ship was lost in warmer waters where the chances of survival in an open boat were much better than those lost in more northern waters.
The survivors made their way back to Canada by ship to San Francisco and then by train to Montreal. In San Francisco they were give authority to travel from the British consulate there.
Once back in Canada they were required to report to the Naval authority in their home port, Montreal. As can be appreciated the sinking of their ship also took all their personal effects other than the clothes on their backs. While some emergency items had been replaced in South Africa they now had to submit claims for partial re-imbursement for the remainder of their effects. The Government allowed $110.00 per man.
Uncle Willie returned to sea in the S.S. Simcoe Park. As a result of his efforts during World War 2, he was awarded four medals from the Government of Canada. In 1985, he along with a handful of other Canadians was awarded the Norwegian Medal of Participation for the convoying of supplies to that country during the war. In 1995 the Government of Canada belatedly allowed all Canadian merchant mariners the right to wear the Canadian Voluntary Service Medal. Unfortunately it was too late for Uncle Willie as he passed away in 1987.
For a listing of the crew of the SS Point Pleasant Park here.
Uncle Willie's Medals From Left To Right
The 1939-1945 Star
The Atlantic Star
The Burma Star
The 1939-1945 War Medal
The Medal Of Participation (Norway)