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Roy O’Hanley (Merchant Navy World War II) Sharing the Wartime Memories Roy O’Hanley was born and grew up in in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. During World War II, at the he joined the Merchant Navy. He shared his memories of his time at sea with a history student at Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School on May 20th, 2006. Roy O’Hanley was 20 years old when he enlisted in the Merchant Navy. His service number was 30 756. His enlistment was voluntary, even though his parents were against it after the tragic loss of his 20 year old brother, Pilot Officer, Charles Beeching O’Hanley (J/5296 RCAF) who was killed when his plane crashed on a training mission with #31 OTU (Operational Training Unit) on October 10, 1941. Mr. O’Hanley approached his parents and said that this was it, he was enlisting, and they came to a compromise. He would enlist but not with the Air Force. This led him to the Merchant Navy. Asked what was his most vivid and/or fondest memory of his wartime experience, Mr. O’Hanley’s response was “when it was all over”. He stated over and over again that it was very seldom that he’d have a happy or funny memory to share. When asked what his most life altering memory was during his time at war, Roy O’Hanley’s very powerful and touching response, was “it would have to be that when I left I was a boy, and when I came home I was a man ...” Roy O’Hanley did not train in Yarmouth; in fact there was no real training at all before joining the Merchant Navy. “You just enlist and off you go, without any preparation or any idea of how extreme the situation can get.” Being aboard a vessel and traveling in convoys and seeing ships go down so frequently, one reality that remains with him was and the fact that you could not do anything to help them. The ship he served on was the S.S. Arlington Beach Park which was an oil carrier ship. He related one incident that happened; a collision occurred with a Norwegian ship and he recalled that about 35 feet of the bow of the boat was destroyed. They had to dock and have the bow re- constructed. The most beautiful picture that stays in his mind was sailing towards the Halifax, Nova Scotia dock, as he always marked his return home. Asked whether he still kept ties with former shipmates led him to tell an interesting story. When war was officially declared over in Europe (May 08, 1945) Roy O’Hanley and his friend, John Bain, were in New York and they went to “Jack Dempsey’s Broadway Bar and Cocktail Lounge”. He said that the Americans were very respectful and helpful to the Canadians He says that at this bar he and his buddy were having a couple of beers and just chit- chatting and then, when it was time to pay the bill, the waiter would say “nope, no need”. The two did not understand, so the waiter says, “you see that girl over there sitting with her husband? … They took care of it”. Mr. O’Hanley said it was the word “Canadian” embroidered on their uniform that gave them such respect from the Americans. War was not just a thing that happened and then ended shortly. He enlistment lasted for three years. He said it was lucky for him that he loved to read for this was how he passed his time on board ship. Everyday life would consist of four hours on and eight hours off. He worked alone and a lot of his work time was in the Engine Room. One day, Mr. O’Hanley was working in the Engine room, about four decks below when someone called down below to him. “Roy we need to talk to you”. Mr. O’Hanley replied, saying that if they wanted to talk to him, they would have to go come down below because he is was not leaving during his shift. This fellow had come onboard the ship and had asked if there were any Canadians on the ship. He was told there were two, including Roy O’Hanley. The new-comer then asked, “You wouldn’t happen to know where from exactly”. He was told, Nova Scotia It just so happens that the newcomer was also from Nova Scotia and from Yarmouth as well. When he heard that Mr. O’Hanley was from Yarmouth, there was a grin from ear to ear. He insisted upon meeting with him, and the ship being docked and fueling up, they went out for a few drinks. As it turned out, this other man lived only ten minutes from Mr. O’Hanley parent’s house. Roy O’Hanley felt it was his duty to enlist. He recalls that a lot of his buddies are no longer alive or in contact with him. Unfortunately, the Merchant Navy was not recognized until fifty-five years after the war. A book on the Merchant Navy and ist role during the war years , by Patricia Geisler of Veterans Affairs Canada, brought a smile to his faceHe and his shipmates had been finally recognized. A Student’s Perspective When interviewing Mr. Roy O’Hanley, a member of the Merchant Navy, it helped me to realize, recognize, and respect not only what his duty in the war was, but also the duties of all the other forces, especially the Air Forces, because during this interview, Mr. O’Hanley had shared his story and hardships of losing his brother in the Air Forces, but still decided to enlist. This interview made me realize the struggles and sacrifices that one had to make. Mr. O’Hanley had to leave his family and friends, with a possibility of never seeing them again. The sacrifices they made, whether it be leaving their country, leaving their friends, and/or leaving their family with the chance of never seeing them again in their life makes one realize how hard and brave these enlistee’s would have to have been. He has taught me about the ships he pretty much lived on and where everything was located. He explained how his engine room was maintained and that it was done in solitary, no partners there or sidekicks. I learned about how the convoys traveled and how they knew when to change the direction in order to not hit any other ships. I found this interview/research project a very informative way to learn about the WWII and the struggles that the enlistee’s went through. It is because of these men, that we can do some of the things we do today… freely!
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Roy O’Hanley Merchant Navy World War II