Edward A Sellers
1940 Year-End Review
On the Condition of 
HMCS Prince Robert

as reported by Medical Officer, 
Surgeon Lieutenant E. A. Sellers


December 31st, 1940

The Ship

H.M.C.S. "Prince Robert" was commissioned on July 31st, 1940. By using the term "commissioned", the usual sense of the word must be forgotten for at that time she was not fitted completely, nor stored for sea service.

 In the following two weeks a great deal of work was done in every department; many changes were desired and many articles of stores and equipment were urgently needed. Suffice to say, that in one way or another most of those needed were obtained prior to the ship's first entrance into actual war service. The details of this will be found below, as applied to the Medical department, yet in principle apply to the whole ship.

 H.M.C.S. "Prince Robert" was built at Cammel-Lairds in 1929 and engaged in the Pacific Coast passenger traffic until 1939. She was then acquired from the Canadian National Steamship Company and converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser of some 7000 tons. Her complement has remained at 250 officers and men during the first four months of service.

 As a converted passenger ship she cannot be compared accurately to any type of war vessel as regards living conditions, for her general plan remains that of a merchant ship. A cruiser of similar tonnage would most likely have a complement dearly double that of "Prince Robert's". As a result, the mess decks of the ship are more commodious, have more air space per person, and offer more space for recreation than any true cruiser. They are nevertheless, well filled at the present, for tables, lockers, cupboards, are built in allowing for the authorized, not the hypothetical cruiser's complement.

 The ship was designed for cruising in temperate climates, so that no provision for tropical work (cork lined deck head, extra insulation of the ship's sides, insulation of boiler room updraft) was made. In the tropics, where the temperature of the sea water has reached as high as 96 degrees F. on this trip, the temperatures of the lower mess decks and Officers cabin flat has on numerous occasions mounted as high as 110 degrees, and less often as high as 115 and 116 degrees. In the boiler rooms 135 to 140 degrees has been relatively common. With these temperatures any additional complement could not, with impunity, be messed below. Where deadlights are closed at sunset, and the humidity is over 75%, living conditions below decks become extremely difficult. Needless to say, sleeping on the upper decks is common.

 Ventilation of the ship is carried out by a plenum system of fans; the air being expelled from the conduits through "Punkah Louvers". A large number of 14" electric fans are scattered throughout the ship and run almost continually in tropical weather. There are no "Punkah" fans mounted in the Wardroom, Galley, or indeed anywhere in the ship. A simple plenum system of ventilation, with deadlights down, is certainly not the method of choice in hot climates, but substitution of a combined plenum exhaust system would be impracticable. With open ports, or even in a temperate climate, it would be unnecessary in this ship. Steam heated radiators are present throughout cabins and mess decks. Some parts of the ship, it should be added, have exhaust pipes leading form them, but this in not universal, by any means.

 In summing up the "weather worthiness" of the ship from hygienic grounds it becomes apparent from the foregoing that in the climate for which the ship was designed, she is quite satisfactory; for the tropics, something is left to be desired. With any larger crew this would become very obvious and would influence the health of the crew adversely.

General Hygienic Considerations

 Washing facilities are good, as an abundance of hot and cold sea water is available, with enough showers to make washing easy. Urinal troughs, water closets in sufficient numbers are installed in the heads at various parts of the ship. The enameled cast iron water closets in the Port after heads show discolouration impossible to clean off due to their exposure to sea water. The porcelain bowls, of course, found further forward, can be readily cleaned. In the washing places and heads installed in reconditioning the ship, a decking of an asphalt like material was put in. While this is a good type of base for any flooring, it is not entirely satisfactory by itself in these situations. It will not hold paint, it is dirty despite cleaning, and it holds water. A layer of plastic material would render these places more hygienic, easier to clean and more pleasing in appearance.

 The subject of washing cannot be passed over without some mention of the laundry. A "dobeying firm" operates in the ship with questionable success as regards results. It is self supporting, and in peace time might be satisfactory enough. When cruises of many months are taken, laundry becomes an important item, which at the present, is not handled to the best possible advantage.

 Water is fortunately a subject with needs little mention, as its supply seems assured; it is pure, satisfactory for drinking and all other purposes. Two sources of supply are available, first the large storage tanks, capacity 372 tons, and secondly an efficient distilling plant producing 20 to 25 tons per day, exclusive of engine room requirements.

 The ship's company, officers and men, are young and for the most part in robust health. As it is a Canadian crew, their background has an international flavour, not found in R.N. ships. Not only do descendants of the Rose and Thistle, Shamrock and Fleur de Lis form their body, but Italy, Russia, Germany and the Scandinavian Countries may claim their forebears place of origin. A reserve crew, for the most part, many are less than six months away from the prairie cities of Fraser River valley. Its variegated nature, its meager training, its diverse origin, has become less apparent as week has succeeded week, and month succeeded month in the ship's commission. In place of not knowing what was expected of them, and not knowing how to meet new problems which arose, the watch can now cope well with most situations with which they are confronted.

 The health of the ship's company has been excellent, perhaps better than could be expected. This can be accounted for largely by the fact mentioned above, that almost all are young and healthy to start with. Physical training classes are carried out under the supervision of Sub Lieutenant Dundas almost daily. The food is supervised as well as possible under prolonged cruising conditions. Yet with leave negligible from the time of commissioning, the physical condition of the crew remains surprisingly good.

 It is noticeable that at the present (the latter part of December) lookouts have a greater tendency to sleep whilst on duty, muscular aches and pains, indigestion, dental cases, and unhealthy conditions of the mouth, are becoming much more common than heretofore.

 Conditions of service probably account for these facts, in that a three watch system has been operating continuously since 12th September 1940, with the exception of part of a busy week spent in Esquimalt early in October 1940. This means that at no time have any of the lookouts had a full 8 hour sleep since leaving Vancouver in September 1940. Under these conditions, the question of diet becomes more important than under those in which shore leave, no matter how short, is available. While complaints are relatively infrequent, naturally a few have been received. While in actual Caloric intake nothing is to be desired, yet in vitamin content, and type of meal, especially in the tropics, it is believed that improvement could be made. Storing, menu, cost, preparation and serving enter into the problem of improving the dietary.

 It is not the purpose of this report to discuss at any length the victualling problems of the ship, but a few general remarks will be made. The type of meal eaten in Canada is quite different to that eaten in Great Britain in corresponding strata of society. There is more variety, more green vegetable consumption, and less heavy food found in the average meal. With store lists and menus from R.N. sources it is almost inevitable that meals should be "English" not "Canadian". Institutional feeding in civil shore establishments has greatly advanced of late years, combining adequate food intake, economicality[sic], with other desired qualities of variety, higher vitamin content, [and] ease in serving. Storing difficulties, the difficulties attendant in buying vegetables and meats in foreign ports (quality, cost, exchange, presence of amoebic cysts) might well be obviated by having quantities of vegetables and fruits in economical sized cans added to the ship's stores. In individual messes, such as are now existant [sic] in H.M.C Ships, this would, in addition to ensuring an adequate vitamin intake, guarantee a standard good quality product, well prepared at a price easily comparable to that of the raw article, not after 3 days, 3 weeks or 3 months, but any length of time after leaving port,. At first sight the economy of this might seem doubtful, but considering storage spoilage, waste in preparing and waste in and after distribution, the economical nature of the suggestion immediately becomes apparent to those familiar with food supply problems, With three or four cooks authorized (for the most part poorly trained) for 230 men, the advantage of having prepared or semi-prepared food need not be explained further.

 In H.M.C.S. "Prince Robert" as in all other H.M.C. Ships familiar to the writer, general messing, with eating in separate messes is the system in force. From a dietary standpoint, it is considered that general messing in a common mess space or recreation space would be preferable. Doubtless there are well-founded arguments against this scheme of organization.

 The advice of a dietician might be obtained in planning stores and menus more applicable to H.M.C. Ships. As mentioned above, many minor illnesses have occurred without actually disabling ratings from carrying out their duties.. It is quite possible that a good many of them are due to vitamin poor diets. While the modern "Lime-juicer" certainly does not suffer from scurvy, beri-beri, pellagra, or rickets, attacks of neuritis, recurrent pyorrhea, nyctalopia, myositis, [or] indigestion may frequently indicate the same deficiency in a lesser degree.

 Venereal disease cases have remained at a low figure, despite their prevalence ashore. Free distribution of condoms, a prophylactic station, instruction in V.D., and periodic inspections have been carried out. Cooperation in the above from the ship's company has kept the incidence extremely low for all types of venerial [sic] and infectious skin diseases. It is an interesting fact that there have been no cases up to now where the recommended prophylaxis has been carried out.

Sick Bay

 The Sick Bay is situated in the Starboard side of the ship, abaft the beam, and forward of the recreation space. It consists of heads (3), basins (3), a freshwater bath in the forward space; the ward, in which three double-decker beds of very heavy, angle iron, construction are placed, [and] a mess table. Storage cupboards and shelves for linen, blankets, medical stores, are built in the inner bulkhead. A small M.O.'s office and reception corridor and small surgery complete the picture. The ward is 18' x 17 ½' x 8' = 2520 cubic feet of air space, or just over 400 cubic feet per patient, when full. There is no Sick Berth Attendant's Mess, the staff sleeping in the ward or, when this is occupied, in the surgery. Lockers are needed for the two S.B.A's gear. A large cupboard has been built in the M.O.'s office for stowage for medical comforts, blankets and utensils for rigging dressing stations. This will obviate the hasty mustering of various articles from different stores in the ship in case of an action.

 The Sick Bay has recently been painted with a soft non-glaring green enamel throughout, excepting deck head and beads with remain white. This colour combination is pleasing and much more restful than the dead white previously used. Corticene is on the decks, except in the heads, bathroom, surgery which have the asphalty covering previously mentioned as unsatisfactory in like places elsewhere. Taken by and large, the position and size, and plan of the Sick Bay is superior to that of most ships and is eminently satisfactory.

Stores and Equipment

 Reference has already been made that on commissioning the ship, medical storing and equipment left something to be desired. This was due to several reasons (1) R.N. stores and equipment are not all available, nor are they all in current use, in Canada. (2) There was apparently no person in charge of overseeing, supplying, or equipping the Medical Department of the ship. Bearing in mind the necessity of substitution under the circumstances (viz. (1) above) it was necessary that arrangements be made early if the final result was to be successful, yet with the situation (viz. (2) above) this was impossible. It is not intended in this report to quote every omission, (some of which have now been rectified), yet an example of surgical instruments now on charge will be quoted. In the Scale of Medicines (1936) it will be noticed that "1 chest of Surgical Instruments (Naval Pattern) weight 232 pounds" is authorized (p.4). A small case of surgical instruments weight 20 pounds was received from Central Medical Stores, Ottawa, with "Major Case of Operating Instruments for Royal Navy (Modified)" noted on the packing note. Actually this case is the Army (1922) Pattern, a different and vastly smaller set of instruments. Other omissions were of a similar yet fortunately less serious nature. A few of the deficiencies were made up prior to sailing, some others when the ship returned to Esquimalt in October 1940, some still remain. This subject is mentioned with the sole desire that in the future similar cases will not occur. It is strongly recommended that measures be taken to ensure that they don't.

 With reservations as mentioned in the previous paragraph, the equipment is of good quality and adequate in quantity for any situation that might arise.

 In conclusion, I must mention the cooperation in all things which I have received from the Sick Berth Staff, the department heads, Commander G.B. Hope, Lieutenant Commander (E) Hinchcliffe, Paymaster Lieutenant Commander W.E. Adamson, and the Captain of the ship, Commander F. G. Hart.

     Respectfully submitted,

      (E.A. Sellers)
     Surgeon Lieutenant, RCNVR.

~ Sandy Sellers
Glenburnie, Ontario
Text and Photos© Estate of E. A. Sellers

Back To Port - DirectoryHome Port


Text and Photos© Estate of E. A. Sellers
Webmaster: William G. Hillman
All Original Material Copyright 2005/2010