Wartime Heritage ASSOCIATION
The Merchant Freighter "Empire Industry" The Wartime Connection of Mae O’Brien and YMCA Red Triangle Club It was late September, 1940, when Karl Baker of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, asked Mary (Mae) Brown O’Brien if she would be hostess of the new war canteen to be opened at the local YMCA. “I told him I had absolutely no experience but would be glad to help out in any way.” It was October 18th, 1940 when the “Red Triangle Club” officially opened. Mae Brown-O’Brien was appointed the “official Hostess”. The room itself, formerly a theatre, had been rebuilt. When finished, the walls were painted ivory with woodwork of mahogany stain. The balcony was converted into a writing room which proved to be the most popular spot of all. “The first month the work was hard for all of us, because nobody had any previous experience or training, especially when five hundred Army trainees landed in town. In twenty four hours there were nearly five hundred of the Air Force as well”. The Red Triangle Room would become a center of activity for soldiers, sailors, and airmen as they passed through Yarmouth during World War II. Early in December 1940, a freighter, the Empire Industry arrived in Yarmouth and Mae Brown-O’Brien, Hostess at the YMCA war canteen, was asked to be especially nice to any of the crew who happened to come to the Red Triangle Room. Most would not be in uniform. They were part of the Merchant Marine. “That day three of the men came in to see us. They sailed from Hull, England and had such a dangerous, exciting crossing that they held all of the canteen ladies speechless with their stories and accent. They were in port ten days and fairly lived at the R.T.C. [Red Triangle Canteen]. The second day, one of the boys, Mr. Jones, 1st radio officer, said to me,’ I would like to have a tune.’ I was looking around for someone to play the piano for him, when I noticed he was sitting at the piano and started to play. I was never more amazed when he began to play so beautifully that everyone stopped to listen. From then on, whenever he came in, a shout sent up for him to play. The girls and women became so attached to these boys and men that the Sunday night committee packed Christmas boxes for thirty-five of them. We collected hundreds of magazines”. The day before they sailed Mae O’Brien was asked to pay a visit to the ship for afternoon tea. She took with her a game of Chinese checkers as a gift for the ships company. The following morning the freighter left Yarmouth for Halifax where it waited for a convoy to cross the Atlantic. Mae O’Brien would receive four letters from ‘the boys’ while they waited in Halifax and a promise of letters the moment they reached the other side. The crossing would normally take twenty-one days but months passed without a word from the crew of the Empire Industry. On June 20th, some six months after the Empire Industry sailed from Halifax, Mae O’Brien received a post card from Lawrence Sinclair, First Officer of the ship. “Dear Mrs. O’Brien: You will see from the address overleaf where the crew of the vessel who visited your club about the middle of December last, are now domiciled. I thought I would let you know and also thank you for all the kindness shown us while in your port, especially for the Christmas and New Year parcels we received, which we often think of now with longing. I am yours truly.” The note was written May 4th, 1941 from a German prisoner of war camp. The Empire Industry had been torpedoed on the crossing to Glasgow. A second card was to arrive from George Leitch asking for a game of Chinese checkers. Mae O’Brien would send a parcel including the requested game to these British prisoners of war. It was in January 1941 that the two Germans battleships, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau began an Atlantic anti-convoy operation codenamed "Berlin”. The operation, in part, concentrated on the route between Canada and Britain in early February and March. On March 18th the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were to end their operations against the Halifax convoys and were to make for Brest to prepare of new operations. That voyage took the toward the FIX convoy route between Halifax and England. On March 16th the silhouettes of merchant vessels were sighted against the night sky. At dawn, it became evident that the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were steaming into the middle of the convoy. In the early morning hours the Gneisenau sank the British passenger-cargo ship Rio Dorado and at 8.55 am the British cargo ship Empire Industry. Three others merchant ships were also sunk by the Gneisenau on that date. The cargo ship, Empire Industry, a British ship in 1941, had been a German ship seized by the British on November 17th 1939.
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Captured Crews from Merchant Ships
Mae Brown O'Brien and 'friends'
The Merchant Freighter "Empire Industry"
Mae Brown O'Brien and 'friends' September 1944