Intermission Stories (23)

John Edmunds, RCN

John Edmunds, RCN

John Edmunds

The Canadian Seaman

On D-Day, John Edmunds, from Burlington, Ontario, 19 years old, was in the Royal Canadian Navy assigned as a helmsman on an escort ship leading cargo vessels to Normandy.  Aboard the HMCS Drumheller, he was headed for Juno Beach.

Seaman Edmunds stood at the helm of his ship as his captain barked down orders from the bridge, “Port, two degrees!”  John sailed the Flower-class corvette vessel in circles around a convoy of 15 cargo ships for the length of their three-hour voyage across the English Channel.  And then – he looked toward the approaching shore.  The reality of what laid ahead of the Allies came into view, “We looked out across the English Channel and whole horizon was ships, thousands of ships.”

HMCS Drumheller

HMCS Drumheller

Men lined the deck with binoculars, searching the seas for German submarines.  Edmunds had already seen the U-boats sink 12 of the 60 ships the Drumheller had helped across the Atlantic in the first days of the war; men screaming for help in the open water. (“You heard the yelling and the screaming, but we couldn’t stop,” Edmunds recalled.)

Quickly there was a sound, unforgettable, advancing like a wave; a heartbeat of cannon fire like two tractor-trailers continually colliding head-on in the distance.  Allied destroyers, their warring sides turned toward the French shore, strafed the hills beyond the beaches for German concrete bunkers.  The Germans answered in a roaring rhythm as the Allied troops landed on the shores in bloody waves.

John Edmunds, (center), during the war years

John Edmunds, (center), during the war years

Edmunds had never heard or seen anything like it.  “When the tide came out, there were bodies floating everywhere.  Unbelievable.”  Cannon fire burst overhead as the Drumheller made way for the 15 cargo vessels to sail near shore, perilously close to scraping bottom.  He watched the Liberty ships line up bow-to-stern, parallel to the shore to form a breakwater, an artificial harbor where troop-carrying ships could land and unload their tanks, men and supplies.

Then, these ships would scuttle themselves into a permanent position; some of them remain there rusting off the shores of Normandy to this day.  The Drumheller was ordered to escort supply ships throughout the invasion.  The crew slept in 4-hour shifts, ready to drop depth charges off the back to blast any German subs.  They did not set foot on land for 42 days.  “You sort of went stir crazy,” Edmund said.

HMCS Drumheller, pix taken by Charles Sadler, RCNVR, 1st Class Stoker, while serving on the HMCS Columbia.

HMCS Drumheller, pix taken by Charles Sadler, RCNVR, 1st Class Stoker, while serving on the HMCS Columbia.

John Edmunds is now 89 years old, retired and living in West Palm Beach, Florida.  His memories were given to Carlos Frias of The Palm Beach Post for print.

For further information on the HMCS Drumheller. 

Click on images to enlarge.

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Farewell Salutes – 

Dale Anderson – Toledo, OH; US Army Air Force, Col. (Ret.), WWII, ETO

From, Anna,  Maiden On The Midway

From, Anna, Maiden On The Midway

F.William Bauers Jr. – Washington DC; US Army Air Corps, WWII, pilot – 68 missions

Leslie Graves – Groton, NY; US Navy, Lt. JG; pilot instructor, WWII

Marshall Johnson – Woburn, MA; US Army, Korea

Hugh McKinnon – New Zealand; RNZ Army # 462352

Joseph Melarango – Cleveland, OH; US Navy, WWII

Raymond Palumbo – Hillside, IL; US Army, Korea

Thomas Seigle – Knoxville, TN & Sarasota, FL; US Navy, Pilot, Vietnam

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on June 18, 2014, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 64 Comments.

  1. Every one of your posts tell a unique story of an incident, or individuals, who were part of this historic wartime era, your presentation is brief yet gives much more insight into the facts on the ground than historians convey in tomes.
    Regards
    Ian

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  2. I have yet to visit Normandy .

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  3. Great post- what amazing personal memories of bravery and tragedy…but also the strategic planning that went into this massive operation such as forming harbours with the battleships. The work that goes into the preservation of these stories of first hand witnesses is so important.

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    • And to think, the invasion of Japan’s plans made D-Day look like a surprise party! I can’t even plan what I’m doing today! But seriously, I am trying to collect as many stories as I can before it’s too late. If they won’t tell me, they should go to the government’s oral history project – anything, anywhere, to get the story down.

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  4. He’s from Burlington. A city right next door to mine. I met someone else who lived in Burlington shortly after WWII but his service wasn’t at any of those the D-Day beaches. He kept RCAF bombers in the air:

    http://hammerhomestreetphotography.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/age-before-beauty-5/

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  5. Another interesting blog GP. And I always enjoy the back and forth between you and Pierre. Between the two of you– an education. –Curt

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  6. I’ve found your site through Sheri de Grom, and I’m so glad. This is such important work that you are doing. I’m looking forward to following along.

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    • Sheri is a fantastic person, we are both very lucky to have met her – so Welcome, Emily – I certainly hope you enjoy your visits here. I must warn you, it is not all sugar-coating and tributes. You may lose an old idol or two, but one thing for sure – you’ll hear about the heroes. The readers also help out a great deal, so please read the comments, especially when I get back into WWII month-by-month. Feel free to include any story you know of about a relative, neighbor or friend. Thank you.

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  7. Isn’t it wonderful that Edmunds lives to tell the story of the thousands of bodies floating…so we never forget the sacrifice for our freedom. Your writing brings the far-away event right in front of my eyes. Thanks for another touching episode from those terrifying times.

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  8. I am so pleased to have found your blog (through your liking one of mine) – your writing is both eloquent and sensitive, with good use of photographs. In fact, you inspired mine of yesterday entitled ‘Tales From The Window Sills’. Thank you

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    • Why wouldn’t I click onto your site, very pleasant – I’m honored that you say my work inspired your Window Sill post in ANY way! Hope we’ll continue to hear from you, Derrick.

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  9. I bet the stir crazy part was almost as bad as worrying about subs!

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  10. What a story. 19 years old! I don’t think I’m old enough yet to handle any of that. Thanks for sharing this.

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    • Can’t see yourself in that situation at 19, Jacqui? I think a lot of people would agree. Thank you for the site you have, it helps to shape young minds.

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  11. Ugh, how to get the sound of the screams out of one’s mind?!

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    • I can’t answer that. We do have VA doctors reading here, perhaps one could answer that for us. But, then again, this might have been a rhetorical question..
      Thanks for coming!

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  12. Thank you for writing these stories. I think my Dad is reading them too, through my eyes. My eternal gratitude to the veterans.

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  13. From the ages of some of the veterans whose stories are told, it would seem the the lessons they had received on staying alive stood them in good stead.

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    • Those who paid attention in boot camp definitely had a better chance to survive the war and the lessons after that served them in life. It’s all in the choices we make, I guess. Thanks for commenting.

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  14. It is really difficult to imagine how difficult this must have been for him. I give him and all who served there a lot of credit.

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    • It truly is amazing, isn’t it. Thank you for dropping in, Christopher. Wish I could have all the stories here, but we know that’s impossible.

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  15. Another story where i am left wondering how these men could have lived somewhat normal lives after seeing and hearing so much. Thank you for sharing this Canadian’s memories from Juno.

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    • My pleasure, Sue. I believe that might be a reason for the term, Greatest Generation. They pulled off quite a bit in their lives that today seems astronomical.

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  16. It was one thing just to be there for this violent encounter… To smell what he smelled, to see what he saw…but it was another thing to come home and as a different man for the rest of your life.

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    • Yes, Koji, I agree. I keep hoping that maybe, this site might add some insight into helping the new veterans as they come home. (They are coming home – right? I don’t want to hear another word about more men going to Iraq.)

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  17. G.P. – Things are looking up. I read this blog all the way through for Tom and then he borrowed an iPad so he could follow along. Plan for today is that we have 12 (yes, count them) 12 Navy Men of all ranks from WWII era coming in to a comfortable room (the doctor’s turned over a lounge) and the vets will have comfy chairs, etc. They’ll have tasty snacks, many hospital volunteers fussing over them and they’ll finish with a nice dinner tonight and have gift bags to take back to the hospital with them. See – the program works great without me making everything happen. I called a volunteer this morning and gave her the good news about Tom and in less than 2 hours, she had all of this arranged and ready to mobilize. Veterans that haven’t been out of the facility in 6 to 8 months will be getting away from their locations will be attending the activities.
    I’ll give you an update ASAP. Remember, this all started with your blog and it wouldn’t be happening without your marvelous blog. With respect and admiration for all that you do. Sheri

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    • Sheri – you ALWAYS know how to bring me to tears! I am so thrilled the 12 will be getting out of that atmosphere for today and I sure hope you give them a HUGE SHOUT OUT FOR ME!!! (Also, is there anything in particular they would like to see on the blog. Thanks) You are the one that put the program into action, it was your expertise in these matters that will bring smiles on the faces of those sailors! I don’t know what else to say – but that you are AMAZING!
      The advances Tom has been making are spectacular and I’m very proud of him and the doctors who finally treated him properly. You know to always give Tom my best wishes (and ask if he has any suggestions for me.)

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      • G.P. – The day was amazing and your name and blog was passed around the hospital as if we had the best kept secret in the entire place. The Veterans got a real kick out of telling others about what had brought them all together on their outing and how important it was that your contribution was what sparked the entire idea (and that’s completely true). Tom’s cardiologist has left an open invitation for the Veterans to use his back yard and pool on a regular basis (schedule of course) and I have someone working on that as I respond to your blog. I had no idea this simple idea would or could grow into an entire community growing and sharing with these awesome warriors.

        Not to be outdone, the heart surgeon has signed on to provide tickets for any and all sporting events ‘any veterans’ assigned to the hospital wish to go to plus pay the off-set of the transportation and personnel cost. My heart sings.

        Tom’s doing great. He’s up and walking, eating solid foods and complaining. That’s a good sign right there. Everyone sends you a GIGANTIC HELLO for keeping us entertained for our continuing discussion sessions that have led to beautiful friendships and camaraderie.

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        • SHERI – I’m at a loss for words once again! You have no idea just how excited I am to have my site, however remotely, involved in your program!! I hope the doctors have decided to check in, so I can at least say Thank you for their contributions to the welfare of the veterans. You know our veterans hold a very special place in my thoughts each day, just as you and Tom do. And, I see Tom IS improving!! The complaining part was the tip-off!! I am so thrilled you are keeping me informed on both the veterans and Tom, I can never thank you enough!
          I’ll email soon.

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  18. gp, Amazing personal stories like that of Seaman John Edmunds remind me of Tom Brokaw’s third book to “The Greatest Generation” in which he published the stories that people sent to him as a result of his first book. YOU are on your way!!! PUBLISH!!! Phil

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    • I have Brokaw’s book, if I had been lucky enough to have done these interviews, I would consider it. But, thanks for reading and giving me encouragement, Philip.

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  19. 42 days. Just thinking about that hurts my head a little.

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    • I definitely agree that would be rough, but the ones that really get me are the submariners. Thanks for stopping today, Dan – Always a pleasure.

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  20. An unforgettable time for so many young men.

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    • I’m still waiting for further research to arrive for the last Intermission story, so you’ll probably be hearing this from more angles too. Thanks for hanging in there for so long!

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  21. Pierre Lagacé

    Reblogged this on Remembering HMCS Regina K- 234 and commented:
    About HMCS Drumheller that took part in the D-Day invasion.
    Great post from a great blogger.

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  22. Pierre Lagacé

    As a footnote… one of my famous footnotes…

    I did not know anything about HMCS Drumheller until I read this post.

    I knew about the Flower Class. HMCS Regina I wrote about was a Flower Class corvette.
    So many interesting stories about these little ships.
    I have bought a book about them when I was researching the story of the sinking of HMCS Regina and the sailor Thomas de la Hunt Malone.

    http://athabaskang07.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/searching-and-finding-able-seaman-thomas-de-la-hunt-malone/

    This led me to create yet another blog.

    Have a nice day GP.
    You have lots of pictures to look at.

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  23. Pierre Lagacé

    This is a link to a great Website…

    http://www.forposterityssake.ca/Navy/HMCS_DRUMHELLER_K167.htm

    All the RCN ships are covered.

    I consider Garry as a dear friend even if we’ve never met. Drop him a line and say Pierre says hello.

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  24. Pierre Lagacé

    I am never tired reading your blog GP.
    Great story of a 19 year-old kid who went to war and served his country proud.

    Liked by 2 people

  1. Pingback: For D-Day, Two survivors sing a WWII foxhole song … | Pacific Paratrooper

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