A family man goes to sea

Reprinted from The Packet, November 6, 2015
by Lester Green


At the age of 21, John Smith travelled to St. John’s to join the Royal Naval Reserve.

John Smith

John Smith

His basic training was aboard the HMS Calypso, a ship purchased by the Newfoundland Government to train sailors. John sought this employment to support himself and his parents at home during the winter.His enlistment papers indicates that he completed basic training between December, 1910 and February, 1911. On Jan. 21, 1913, he completed a medical to re-enrol as a seaman and continue his training with the Royal Naval Reserve. Instead of staying, however, he returned to Gooseberry Cove.

On April 19, 1913, John married Dinah Ann Pitcher of Gooseberry Cove. Their first child, Gladys was born June 21, 1913, and his second daughter, Clara May born was born after he received orders for active duty overseas in 1914.

He signed his Royal Navy enlistment papers on March 11, 1914, and the declaration of war by the Allies on July 28, 1914, ensured that John would be serving his country overseas.

He was accompanied by his brother, Ben, who also enlisted on March 14, 1914.

Family history suggest that they were in St. John’s preparing for the fishery but joined the Naval Reserve instead.

John’s military records of the naval bases that he was assigned to and the ships that he served on are missing from the collection at the provincial archives at The Rooms.

His military book would have contained this information but it is also missing.

However, based on other evidence we know that he trained and served on the Calypso.

He was assigned and served time on the HMS Hilary. He often spoke about time he spent serving on this ship. Later in his life, John built a model of this ship.

He was also in Halifax Harbour during the Halifax explosion in 1917.

He sometimes spoke of the terrible sights that he witnessed and was haunted by the image of a school-aged boy who had lost his life while sitting at his school desk on that dreadful day.

Records also show that he would have spent time at HMS Briton (formerly HMS Calypso) before being demobilized from the navy.

When the war ended, John returned to his family at Gooseberry Cove. He and his wife had 11 children, five boys and six girls.

In November, 1945, John purchased a house and land and moved the remaining members of the family to Sunnyside.

He purchased the property because his son, Chesley, who followed in his father’s footsteps and served in the Navy during the Second World War, claimed that he was not returning to their home in Gooseberry Cove. Chesley felt there was more land and opportunities at Sunnyside and his parents agreed to move.

When Chesley returned from the Second World War, his parents were waiting at Sunnyside.

John died June 7, 1965, aged 76,  and was buried at the Anglican and United Cemetery in Sunnyside.