The Heirs of War at the Quebec Naval Museum

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Photo: Shirley Nadeau

The display case for Lieutenant Timothy Dunn contains a photo of him (left) with a seaman preparing to raise a flag on board HMCS Chilliwak in 1943. The curious object in the upper left corner is an emergency light of a lifejacket that switches on automatically when in contact with salt water. 

The Quebec Naval Museum at Pointe à Carcy officially inaugurated its latest exhibit on September 8. Entitled The Heirs of War, it focuses on the impact the Second World War had on the lives of Canadian Naval officers and servicemen and servicewomen and their families.

 For this new presentation, the museum used the testimony of descendants of nine servicemen and one Wren, a nurse. Most are from the Quebec City region and three –  Timothy Dunn, Robert Spence and Germaine Perry – are from English-speaking communities.  

Many men who fought between 1939 and 1945 kept silent about their experiences, while others were able to tell their story. The difference between the two groups depended of the nature of the events which marked their service life.  

Timothy Dunn of Quebec City is a war hero. On March 5, 1944, he was second in command of HMCS Chilliwack while the corvette was escorting convoy HX-280 from Halifax to Great Britain. A German submarine was detected in the vicinity of the merchant ships and chased for over thirty hours. Finally obliged to surface, U-744 appeared close to the Chilliwack and German sailors were soon seen abandoning ship. A boarding party of the Canadian corvette, led by Dunn, manned a whaler and rushed to the submarine with the goal of capturing it or, at least, its code machine and secret books before it was deliberately sunk by the Germans.  

The rough sea made it difficult for the boat to get alongside the sub. Ordering his men to follow him, Dunn jumped into the cold North Atlantic to swim the short distance separating the two vessels. The detonation of scuttling charges prevented the capture of the submarine, but the Canadian seamen managed to seize secret material. Only four times during the war did allied crews accomplished such an exploit.  

Tim Dunn should have been proud to talk about the U-744 episode of his naval career, but he could not. His son Peter reports that his father had nightmares about other occasions when he and his comrades were unable to rescue fellow navy and merchant seamen. And so life went on for the Dunns without much remembrance of the war.  

For Jules Blais, from Saint-Camille-de-Bellechasse, however, the memories were less traumatic. One of his most remarkable experiences involved the rescue of the entire crew of a German submarine, the U-877. There was no prison on board the frigate HMCS Sea Cliff, Blais' ship and HMCS Saint Thomas. The Canadian officers and men on these ships shared life at sea with their captives for five days. The situation was strange and awkward at times. But the accomplishment of such an act of compassion generated memories that Blais found natural to talk about.

 For Émile Beaudoin, from Saint-Raphaël-de-Bellechasse, the experience was totally different. His ship, HMCS Athabaskan was sunk off the coast of Britanny in 1944. Athabaskan's consort, HMCS Haida, could not stop to pick up the crew because of the ongoing battle with enemy warships. Many men died and Beaudoin's wife thought that he had died also. However, he was rescued and finished the war in a German prison camp. Back to civilian life in Quebec City, he founded the Cercle Goethe to help German emigrants integrate to the city and encourage a closer relation between the two cultures.  

The Quebec Naval Museum is open every day until October 31 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon and  from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free; donations are welcome. The Museum is at the far end of the Naval Complex overlooking the entrance to the Louise Basin, at the end of Rue Dalhousie in the Old Port.