Gilbert Smith was 19 years old when he sailed on the Corvette HMCS Frontenac, escorting convoys from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland. His job on the ship was coding and de-coding messages, in particular alerts telling them where German submarines, (U-boats), were prowling in the North Atlantic.
Gil, who lives in the Glen in West Bolton, said when there was action he dropped the decoding equipment and headed to a battle station.
“I was assigned to launching depth charges. They were shaped like a garbage can with a thousand pounds of explosives inside. The idea was to shake the plates loose on the U-boat so she would have to surface. Then she would surrender or be destroyed,” said Gil, who just turned 93.
On the night of May 6, 1944, the Frontenac was part of a convoy 100 miles out of St. John’s when a U-boat sunk a nearby ship, the HMCS Valleyfield. Of the 157 men on the ship, only 38 survived.
“It was terrible, terrible,” remembered Gil.
Gilbert Smith was born in Montreal in 1923. He joined the Navy in 1942 when he was 19. It was cold and uncomfortable on the small Corvettes which took a beating in the heavy seas of the North Atlantic.
When he returned to Canada after the war he worked as a reporter and eventually specialised in sports. He wrote about hockey from the 1950s to the early 1970s for publications such as the Hockey News.
“The Canadiens were the greatest of the great in that era. Five Stanley Cups,” says Gil as he rattles off the names of Richard, Geoffrion and Worsley.
He also worked on the early TV broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada, where he wrote the scripts for the features that ran between periods.
He married Margot Simon in 1955. His late wife, who was a great bridge player, taught bridge to many people in the area.
“In the war I tried to kill Germans and they tried to kill me. Then I married a German woman and we were very happy,” said Gil.