That was the question of the day in wartime Scapa Flow in mid-1944 on board HMCS ALGONQUIN. Let me tell you how it happened.
Jack Misener, RCNVR, in 1944 at age 20.
I was messed in number 14 mess, in the after mess deck, where we got all the traffic coming and going, forcing us to scrub hard to keep our living quarters clean. It was there that I sat in my leisure time, often being visited by the duty Quartermaster who sat beside me and told me, in a lowered voice, that the Captain wanted to see me in his day cabin. The Captain, Lt. Cmdr. Desmond (Debbie) Piers, had found out that I was blessed with a good portion of luck. This story is about my luck. Or, at least, one illustration of fortune smiling on me.
Frank Conway, a mess mate, and I used to go ashore together, and on this occasion we decided to rent a couple of bikes and take a ride outside Scapa Flow. We had a particularly fine day and were about two miles outside Scapa when I saw a white hen go behind a old, worn story and a half frame house. I told Frank what I had just seen, and we decided to stop and investigate. We dismounted and knocked at the front door. The lady who answered our knock was a real Scottish lass, asked us where we were from. Frank told her he was from Saint John, New Brunswick. When she turned to me, I told her, "Brantford, Ontario", and she actually grabbed me by the tunic and hauled me into the house, her face lit by smiles! First, she went into a pantry and returned with a bottle of red wine, from which she poured a toast which we drank. Subsequently, we found out that 14 years previously, she and her husband had lived in Brantford, and that her eldest daughter had been born in the city. She had been born on Strathcona Avenue, where my own sister had bought a house at about the same time. She asked me how it was possible that, of all the houses in the British Isles, I'd chosen hers? I told her of the hen I'd seen running behind the house, and asked if it would be possible if I might buy a few eggs.
She told me that they were only for her family's use, but that under the circumstances, they would gladly let me have six eggs. We spent an hour with her, going over old Brantford Expositors (a weekly or monthly newspaper) similar to the Brantford Sun, today. Believe it or not, I rode the bike back to the base with the eggs in a paper bag in my tunic, got on board the liberty boat, climbed the Jacob's ladder, down to my locker, and never cracked even one egg! I woke Frank at 0300 and went to the galley, turned on the big stove, and fried 4 eggs, 2 for Frank and 2 for me. At that moment and to our surprise, Ed Hardy, the Captain's Steward walks into the galley. We had no choice but to fry him the other 2, to keep him quiet - or so we thought. Ed couldn't hold his water, and told Captain Des about his fried eggs. So much for secrets. Piers wanted to known (naturally) who had brought fresh eggs aboard and did not offer to share them with him. Hardy admitted it was poor old "Mise". Piers called for the Quartermaster of the watch and sent him to my mess with a message to have me report to his day cabin, on the double. Needless to say, he wanted to know how I was able to bring fresh eggs aboard when no other ship had such luck. I explained.
The Captain gave me a quid note and said to give it to the lady, and to share the eggs with him. This went on for a while and, when we came back from our first trip to Russia, the lady had saved for me, one dozen eggs! She also told me that I did not have to rent a bike to get there and back; there was an army base down the road and trucks made regular trips back and forth. My biggest problem now became how to get off the truck without breaking any of the eggs. When I got back to the ship with the dozen eggs, Captain Des told me that he was going to invite Captain "D" for breakfast and treat him to fresh eggs, bacon, toast and jam, and real fresh coffee. A truly Canadian breakfast. Of course, Captain "D", who at that time was Captain Cazlett, RN, asked Des if all Canadian Officers ate like that. And also of course, Captain Des allowed that, indeed, all Canadian officers ate that well. Captain "D", if he is still alive, probably thinks they did. Anyway, this kept on for as long as we were based in Scapa.
When word arrived that we were going home, Captain Des warned me about the approaching trip. The evening before leaving, he sent me with Leading seaman Desjardin in the motorized whaler and a crew of three, after dark, to find the house on the shore of the basin. It was raining hard and I had the crew wait in the rain for an hour while I said good bye to the family, and I gave them the five pound note that Des had sent for their efforts for us, and his gratitude for them. When I got back to the whaler, with a 19 year old girl guiding my way, she gave me a kiss in full view of Desjardin and the others. They would have killed me, but I knew that I was the only one to guide them lack to the ship. They wanted to know what was in the box. I told them it was for the Captain, and the questions ceased. As I said, Des even fixed it for me to go ashore when I was on duty , just so he could get his share of the eggs.
In 1997, when I was at the Burlington, Ontario Reunion, and Rear Admiral Desmond Piers and his mate were Guests of Honour, we boys off HMCS ALGONQUIN had a special mini reunion at the Port Credit Yacht Club on Saturday afternoon. There were 13 ex-crew members and wives seated with Debbie and his own Janet, both now retired and living in Nova Scotia. We had a ball. Captain Debbie was standing at the top of a flight of stairs leading to the dining room of the Port Credit Yacht Club, with his wife, Janet, at his side. He introduced Mise to Janet, saying that this was the sailor who brought him fresh eggs for almost six months, while in Scapa Flow. Obviously, she'd heard of Mise during the intervening fifty-three years. She greeted him with a smile that made his day. I know, because I was there, with Mise, while we greeted the Captain we both knew, and respected, for the first time since WW II.
[Source: The Sea Bag; Vancouver Naval Veterans Association; May 26, 1998]
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