Canadian Armed Forces
Donald (Digger) Gorman was 20 years old when he joined the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) in 1942. He left university half way through his third year to enlist. It was the thing to do, says Don. We were young. Our chums went in. We all did it. It didn’t seem tough at the time.
I was stationed in the North Atlantic, primarily in Halifax, Nova Scotia – part of the Battle of the Saint Lawrence – Anticosta Island. As a member of the RCNVR, our primary role was to protect a block of up to 40 merchant ships that carried cargo to England to supply the war. That made them prime targets for enemy submarines. Our job would be to continually circle around them as they sailed across the ocean to keep the enemy subs from sinking them. When we were on convoy duty, we typically spent 14 days at sea and three days in port. In port, we usually had some drinks, good meals and we could go to the Red Cross and Salvation Army for free warm clothes, cigarettes, cake etc. and maybe, before I was married, go out with a girl or two.
During the war there were good times and bad times. The good times had to do with the camaraderie. Like the words from the old song: shipmates stand together, don’t give up the ship. On a ship if someone gets killed or wounded, you have to take their place, you can’t call in a replacement which is why during basic training we had to learn a bit about everything. So when you are at sea, there is a great sense of fellowship and loyalty among the men, I certainly remember that. It’s called esprit de corps. Any Vet will tell you that.
The bad times of course were when you had to drop a depth charge (Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) weapon) on enemy submarines. That would be the worse thing we had to do. Once a ship was down, you didn’t shoot the people in the water, that’s not right. The purpose of a Navy ship is to sink ships, not kill people.
I remember one time when we did sink a sub and the enemy – both dead and alive -were in the water. We collected the dead, brought them onboard and wrapped them in canvas to be taken back to shore. Survivors were taken prisoner. While onboard, we treated them well and we fed them the same food that we ate. When it was time to go ashore, they offered us one of their hats. It was filled with their gold rings and watches – anything they had of value to give to us in appreciation for how well they were treated. Of course, we all refused.
Don’t forget you could be in the water some day. That was what we were taught, so we always treated those enemy sailors who ended up in the water, the way we would have wanted to be treated if it were us instead of them. I’ll never forget that gesture. They were just young boys like us.
After the war, Don went back to school to complete his third and fourth years. He graduated from the University of New Brunswick with a BSC in Geology. He studied economic geology as a graduate student at the Royal School of Mines in London, England and earned a PhD from the University of Toronto (U of T). Don worked for the U of T for 46 years. In the summer he did contract work for a mining company, focused on economic mineralogy in the northern most regions of Canada and all provinces except PEI. In 2009, he was inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.
My wife Reta and I got married during the war in 1944 while I was on leave. We were high school sweethearts and celebrated 70 years together. She died in 2014. Our family includes five children (three girls, two boys), ten grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
Throughout my life I’ve always been very active. I loved all sports, played tennis from the age of 12 to 85, skied and played hockey. I wasn’t a bookworm, didn’t let that take over my life, I was a scholar not a bookworm, I always make that distinction.
Don’s busy life continues at Sunnybrook. A resident for four plus years, he’s active on three or four committees and is Vice President of the Residents Council.