The Crew

Martin McGregor
Telegraphist Trained Operator

Excerpts from
by Ross Somerville (1999)

I first met Martin McGregor and his wife June in 1997 after Don MacKechnie had given me Martin's phone number and address. Unfortunately it was a sad day that I mad contact with Martin as his brother had just passed away that day.

When I met at his front door I just knew that this was not the time to be asking someone about their naval experiences, as there were more important things to attend to, but Martin said to stay and his wife June thought it might help if someone spent a little time with him right then.

Martin is one of those people that when you first meet them you just want tog around longer than your welcome is for. He's a nice guy and very interesting to listen to, on any subject.

I spent a number of hours with him and he turned over to me a real treasure, his personal diary while onboard the GROU and right up until the end of the war on other ships.

Below you will read a letter that Martin sent to me which is abouit before, during and after the war. I have transcribed his personal diary, a real treasure for this book... heck it would be a treasure for anyone's book!

On March 1st I received a very disheartening phone call from Martin's shipmate Don MacKechnie. Don called to tell me that Martin had passed away on February 27, 1999 at his home in Richmond.

When you get this kind of news there is nothing anyone can say because it's just feelings. Martin was a real nice guy and will be missed by many... So please read his story below.

Winnipeg Free Press ~ December 1941
I was born in Winnipeg on April 3, 1922 to an Irish mother and a Scottish father. After completing grade eleven at Daniel McIntyre high school in the summer of 1939, I worked as a mailroom boy for several months with the United Grain Growers Ltd. in the firm's Winnipeg office. I was 18 when I enrolled in December 1940 as a reservist in the RCNVR barracks, HMCS CHIPPAWA (a converted Mac's movie theatre), on Ellice Avenue.

My father, Neil, also joined the RCNVR. He became a Chief Engine Room Artificer (C.ERA). My brothers, George and Jack joined the RCAF.

I was classified as an Ordinary Seaman until I was placed on active service on April 30, 1941. All this time I was awaiting a draft to the East Coast, as an Ordinary Seaman for Wireless Telegraphy. On June 16, 1941 I finally got my draft to go to Stadacona II barracks in Halifax. From there I went to Signal School in Halifax, graduating on August 15, 1941 as Ordinary Telegraphist. Thence to my first ship, the little HMCS CARIBOU (converted yacht) on October 9, 1941 to March 20, 1942. On the 21st of March I joined the HMCS MURRAY STEWART, (large ocean going tug) in the Bay of Fundy. From it I went to the HMCS GROU, serving on her from December 5, 1943 until August 18, 1944. I was drafted off that vessel as a Telegraphist Trained Operator (Tel. T/O) to take a course as a Leading Telegraphist. Having no interest in higher rank, I failed the course, volunteered for the Pacific Theatre of Operations and boarded the HMCS PRINCE ROBERT (Armed Merchant Cruiser) on June 4, 1945. I left that ship on October 26, 1945 and was discharged from the navy on December 10, 1945.

Rather than go back to the United Grain Growers Ltd. I took advantage of the Canadian Government Re-establishment Credit Grants to continue my education, graduating in 1951 from the University of Manitoba as a Civil Engineer (BSc.CE).

After settling back in Winnipeg, I married June Rodgers in 1945. I held at least 13 engineering jobs in Winnipeg before June and I moved to Richmond in 1970. For fourteen years I worked at the Worker's Compensation Board in that city, first as an Accident Prevention Officer and later in the WCB Engineering Division, retiring in 1984.

My attention then turned to my favourite pastime: writing.

For the last 8 years I have taught basic English as a volunteer tutor in  Kwantlen College in Richmond and managed to have a historical novel published about my grandfather's involvement in a bloody 1876 mutiny-at-sea. The book is titled the Caswell Mutiny.

One particular incident is very clear in my memory. It occurred on April 30, 1944 while I was on board the HMCS GROU, attached to Escort Group 6 (E.G. 6). At the time, the group consisted of the Canadian frigates WASKESIU (S.o.), OUTREMONT, CAPE BRETON and GROU. With us were 16 British destroyers: Beagle, Boadicea, Inconstant, Keppel, Marne, Matchless, Meteor, Milne (Capt. D3), Musketeer, Ulysses, Verulam, Virago, Walker, Westcott, Whitehall, and Wrestler; two aircraft carriers, Activity and Fencer; and one British cruiser, the Diadem (F.O.C. 1st Cruiser Squadron). Thirty five merchant ships were in the Russian Arctic convoy returning form Murmansk.A Wolf-pack of German subs attacked but sank only one of the freighters. The WASKESIU ordered us to take in our Cat Gear trailing aft and attempt to intercept one of the many sub contacts. The WASKESIU was doing the same. We zigzagged around and dropped a few ineffectual charges, then were ordered by V/S to abandon the sweep and get back to station. Just as we received the message "Put out your Cat; we've just got ours out", I saw, from my voice pipe-to-hedgehog action station on the bridge, the trail of a torpedo cross our bow and strike the WASKESIU's Cat Gear. There was quite an explosion but no damage done. When we got back to Scapa Flow, our vessel was invaded by the 'scrambled eggs' (top brass) wanting to know all about the episode involving the successful application of the Cat Gear, a simple apparatus consisting of a long cable attached to two clacking metal rods trailed aft. Some astute Canadian invented the system. Evidently, the disturbance created by the bars had a greater attraction for the deadly new German acoustic torpedoes than the commotion caused by the ship's propellers.

Martin J. McGregor

Excerpts from the war diaries of Martin McGregor

August 18, 1944:
I was drafted as a gash Tel. with the P.O. Tel., Ldg. Sig. and one signalman (Ross, Henderson & Walker respectively) to Niobe in Scotland. Arrived midnight Sunday.
August 22, 1944 (Tuesday)
I am on duty watch. Went to Glasgow. Walker and I went to a show in Greenoch. Seen Walker's relatives in Glasgow. They live at Armidale (name of house), Broom Terrace, Glasgow, Mearns Point, or something like that. Niobe isn't too bad. Requested leave (6 days is all that is allowed). Was told I'd have to wait till beginning of next week and that I'd probably get it.

August 23, 1944, Wednesday to August 29, 1944, Tuesday:
These barracks are not too bad. Seven in the A.M. leave 2 out of 3 nights. Had my weekend and went to Glasgow. Visited the house where Dad was born. Loveliest scenery I have ever seen. Met Ken Ferguson, a Winnipeg airman from Yorkshire on the bus. Arrived in Greenoch at about 11:30 or more on different train. Met brother Jack who had arrived in Greenoch Sunday morning and missed me. He guessed I would be on that train. Went to barracks with me in the rain. Had my card changed from 12 o'clock leave to 0700. Promised Jack I would see him in about a week when I got 6 days leave. Requested leave and had it granted for the 6th to 12th of Sept. but was drafted to one of the new Castle Class Corvettes, the Petrolia. I don't know where she is. I leave tomorrow (Aug. 30). Had my leave request granted yesterday. Hard lines. Was going to refuse draft but changed my mind as I would only get a worse one. Was in Glasgow before this weekend with Walker. Oh I mentioned that. Am going to Glasgow tonight as it is my last chance before being drafted to the ship. Am going tonight with Walker. Had a fair time. Nothing uproarious though.

Note: Martin donated his entire war diary to me for use in this book and there is another full year of life in the Canadian Navy for this young sailor, however, his time on the HMCS GROU is now over and he has been drafted to another ship and thus ends the experiences that this book is all about. Below is Martin's last entry into his diary, a year after leaving the GROU.

August 30, 1945, Thursday to September 7, 1945, Friday:
Am writing this last portion of the diary on Friday September 7, 1946. Steamed up the channel (Taitam Gap or something like that) on the 15th at the head of a few ships and we docked at Kowloon, across the channel from Victoria (Hong Kong Island). We were the first ship in. Chinese were whooping it up. Canadian Prisoners of War started coming aboard almost immediately. They had taken possession of their camp (Camp Sham shui Po)  on the 17th of August. Hong Kong Japs surrendered earlier than the Kowloon gang. Sneaked ashore once and got a few trifling souvenirs. No leave, just shore party (guards, etc.). Japs signed peace today, September 7th. Saw lots of Japs around. They were armed until yesterday when they were all rounded up. Haven't been ashore in Hong Kong yet. Just once in Kowloon when I sneaked ashore. First Hospital ship, the Oxfordshire pulled out a few days ago. An Australian or New Zealand one pulled out last night (6th). The Empress of Australia arrived a day or so ago with 3,000 R.A.F. for occupation forces. Shore leave is now allowed in Hong Kong under supervision, but I haven't been yet. Today was my first chance and there is no leave. Looting is going on something terrible in Hong Kong tonight. I guess that is why. Expect to be pulling out soon. The Vindex is coming in now. The Ontario (Canadian Cruiser) is arriving on the 12th. We might leave then. Today is the 7th.....

The End
Martin McGregorBack: Martin McGregor ~ Front: L-R Martin's dad, Jack Brown, Ernie BrownRight: Martin's Dad
Souvenir of Martin's time in Murmansk, Russia
Copyright Gary McGregor 2000

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