Every loss a bitter one

By Bob Hyslop
Reprinted from The Packet, November 29 2004


Able Seaman Wilson Avery of Long Beach was just 22 when his ship, the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Jervis Bay joined in mortal combat with the infinitely more powerful Pocket Battleship  Admiral Sheer of the German Navy on the evening of November 5th 1940.

“God dam this ship and all who sail on her!”

He might as well have for even divine intervention could not have saved the poor souls aboard the 22-year-old liner cum warship. Without a hope of their own they valiantly charged into hell in an effort to provide hope for others. It was their intention to buy time so the 37 ships of convoy HX 84 and the sailors who manned them had a chance to get way from the approaching beast bent on their destruction.

The old girl had a crew of 255, mostly naval reservists, from Britain, Canada and Newfoundland. By the time the lopsided battle was finally over and the hapless liner consigned to Davie Jones locker, there were only 57 men left to tell the tale. Seaman Avery was almost among them. He had survied the sinking but died subsequently of wounds received in the battle.

Within a few days the dark cloud of his passing descended upon the once happy family he left behind in Trinity Bay.

The little school in Long Beach got an unscheduled visit from the minister. After speaking quietly to the teacher it was announced to the students that lessons were over for the day and they were to go home.

Ten year old Emma Avery cared not what the reason was for you never look a gift horse in the mouth. All she thought of was having the rest of the day off. She did think it a little odd that the Minister and teacher seemed to be following her home but thought no more of it than that.

Emma was not the only child at home that day. Her 16-year old sister Emily and little eight year old Eva were in attendance as well. They saw the teacher and the minister go in too see their parents. There was something unusual afoot. Then the blinds went down in the living room window. Someone had died! Their big brother Wilson, whom they had just seen weeks ago on leave from the Navy, would never be coming home again.

The family and the town were devastated by the loss. Wilson was one of six native sons in the Navy. His brother Chester was another. The young trio of sisters looked up to their big brothers and the boys repaid that respect with kindness.

Chester was fun loving and Wilson was family oriented and even sentimental which is a rare quality in a man. Both boys were fishermen with their father and both loved boats. The Navy was a natural choice. Now the sea they loved so much had claimed the family’s first born.

Mrs. Avery was inconsolable. In the tradition of the day, she had black mourning dresses made for the girls to wear to church and other special occasions. As a measure of the depth of their grief, these dresses were worn for almost two years after the Jervis Bay went down. Likewise the blinds were down for that long too.

Perhaps in the hope of cheering his remaining children, Mr. Avery would take his daughters into the woods on Saturdays. Emily, the oldest, would handle the horse. He took to referring to them on these occasions as “my three boys.” Whether this was to console himself in the absence of his sons or make his daughters feel proud of themselves is a matter of conjecture. Its effect was enormous thought. Emma speaks of the term today as thought it was a badge of honour.

Many of these long ago feelings are fresh in her mind. It was just over 54 years ago that she last saw her big brother. She finds it hard to speak  of him today without a catch in her voice. She showed me a gift he had brought her on that last visit. It was a golden anchor with the words “Forget me not” wound around it. It was prophetic but very true for he shall never be forgotten by his little sister.


Every loss a bitter one


Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, August 2015

These transcriptions may contain human errors. As always, confirm these as you would any other source material.