A Veteran Remembers

WWII sailor recalls his time serving overseas with the Royal Navy.

Reprinted from Downhome Magazine, April 2018
By Ashley Miller

Ready or not, when his father passed away, Nelson Howse became the man in his family. Then a young teenager, the Hillview, Newfoundland native spent a summer fishing on the Labrador in an admirable effort to support the large brood, including five siblings.

“In May I went down and I got home in September. I had $48 and some odd cents [after] all summer fishing. No money as far as I was concerned,” says 97- year-old Nelson, sitting in the living room of his current home in scenic Queen’s
Cove, Trinity Bay.

So when the call came for recruits to enlist for service in the Second World War, he didn’t think twice before heading to Clarenville and signing on with the Royal Navy. For him, it was simply a way to make desperate ends meet.

Before long he was called to action, leaving his mother juggling the responsibilities back home. “She was here with a horse, cows, sheep, hens and had to look after that herself,” says Nelson. He took a train bound for St. John’s where he boarded a ship along with other Newfoundlanders heading across the pond to fight for King and country.

“You had all those other men there…from all different parts of Newfoundland. You were talking to them and passing your time away,” says Nelson of the trip overseas. He enjoyed the camaraderie, but it wouldn’t last long. Shortly after arriving in England, Nelson fell ill and was immediately quarantined.

“They took me away from all that crew and shoved me into a room alone and they kept me there for three days,” says Nelson, a hint of disappointment still in his voice. After recovering from the minor illness, he was sent for training. “All the guys I had went over with, they had their three days training gone, see, so there was no way I could catch up with them. They put me in training with people from England, Wales, Ireland. They didn’t even know there was a Newfoundland.” Despite feeling like a fish out of water from that point forward, he soldiered on for the next six years, serving until the war’s bitter end in Europe.

Hit & Run
Following training, Nelson was drafted to HMS Ulster Monarch, a 3,700-ton infantry landing ship – or, as Nelson calls it, a “hit and run raider.”

With a capacity of 580 troops, the vessel was tasked with transporting soldiers from one warring region to the next. To that end the ship was equipped with several landing craft, which Nelson remembers well. He was tasked with the operation of these small boats (fitting work for a Newfoundlander), ferrying troops from the Ulster Monarch, anchored offshore, to the beaches of northern Africa, Italy and other war-torn lands.

“If it was a short raid, you stayed on the beach. If it was a long raid, a big job, you went back to your ship again, put in so much time and then they sent you ashore again to the beach to pick [them] up and bring them back to the ship,” says Nelson. He performed these dangerous runs for, he estimates, three years.

After enjoying a brief leave at home in Newfoundland, Nelson returned to his duties overseas, serving on more ships. He recalls one, HMS LST-427, carried a load of tanks and ammunition in the form of bombs. While serving on this vessels, the Germans were the least of Nelson’s worries – the ship’s cargo was enemy enough.

“You had to be very careful because if you made a spark aboard the ship it could cause an explosion aboard of her,” recalls Nelson. “From England over to North Africa we’d have to go down, every couple or three hours you’d go down to read your temperatures, to see what the temperature of the cabin was…You had to put rubber boots on because you couldn’t have nails in your shoes. Id you strike a nail down there, there could be a spark. The whole lot would be blown up, ship and all.”

But it’s all just a memory for him now. As he approaches his 98th birthday this June, he can reflect on a life well lived. After serving overseas, Nelson returned home without a scratch and settled in Queen’s Cove, a stone’s throw
from where he was born.

The loyal sailor would soon return to the sea, finding work as a purser on the coastal boats. He went on to marry the late Delilah Whalen and together they raised one daughter. With help, the great-grandfather still lives in his own home,
where just beyond his backyard the ocean laps the shoreline – a reminder of this humble man’s proud past. WWII veteran Nelson Howse is pictured left at 97 years young and above as a young Royal Navy Seaman.

A Veteran Remembers – PDF – Downhome Magazine


Transcribed by Emily Seward. Page created October 2021

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