Hedley Lake - War Veteran
Hedley Lake was born in 1918, the son of Samuel P. and Ada C. Lake, Fortune. Growing up on the family farm, he did his share of the work as soon as he was old enough and learned about farming from his father. However, farming would not be the most important thing in his future.
In 1940, Hedley joined the Royal navy. After Basic Training, he spent two years on a flower class Corvette, the 'Hyacinth', which was running gunner escort for convoys in the Mediterranean Sea. Steering a zig-zag course, while setting depth charges, was both strenuous and stressful. The charges were supposed to be very accurately timed so the corvette would be at a safe distance when they detonated. Hedley can recall at least once when the timing was off just enough that the charge exploded too quick, just clear of the ship, lifting its stern clear out of the water.
In October of 1942, Hedley was coming home on a well-deserved four week leave. He traveled on the battleship 'Queen Elizabeth' to the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, then to New York and finally North Sydney, by train. He was one of 25 naval personnel who sailed from North Sydney on the 'S.S. Caribou', bound for Newfoundland, on October 14, 1942. The caribou was escorted by an armed Royal Canadian Minesweeper, the 'Grandmere'. Besides Hedley, another Fortune resident, Mack Piercey, was also on board.
When the torpedo struck around three in the morning, the entire ship went pitch dark. Hedley felt his way out of the cabin, along the corridor and up to the deck where the ship's rail was just disappearing below the water. With his lifejacket in his hand, and wearing only his shorts, Hedley jumped into the cold water and swam away from the sinking boat.
He spent several hours in the freezing ocean, clinging to a lifeboat that was filled to capacity. It was daylight when they were picked up by the 'Grandmere'. He remembers being on board the minesweeper and hearing Mack shout: 'Did anyone see Hedley Lake?' Hedley was wearing a boiler suit and pair of socks given to him by one of the 'Grandmere' crew members.
By the time they reached home, much of their leave time had been used up. Still, a request for an extension of leave was denied. When Hedley returned to duty, he trained in the use of landing craft. He sailed to the Mediterranean again, this time on the 'LST 303', where he was involved in the invasion of Sicily, Salerno and Anzio, as well as the infamous Beaches of Normandy, in France.
They were grounded on the beach at Normandy for days while landing troops with tanks and various other equipment and supplies. German bombs were hitting the beach, stirring up the sand so that it sometimes covered the deck of the ship
At one point, Hedley was pinned down behind the gun turret for several days, while German planes continued to bomb the area. The guns were choked with sand, making it difficult to use them. German planes were constantly overhead. One plane flew back and forth over the ship, as if daring them to fight back. Hedley aimed at the gun and began firing until he saw smoke and fire. Finally, one of his comrades called out: 'You got her, Lake.'
Armed ships, farther off from the coast, were also shelling the beach. Eventually, the German ground troops began to fall back and the allied troops could advance. When the ship he was on finally left Normandy, it carried a load of wounded personnel.
He then volunteered for service in the Pacific but was turned down. His superiors felt that he'd had enough combat duty on the front lines. He spent the remainder of the war at a training barracks in Raleigh.
Returning home after the war, Hedley led a much quieter life. He worked on the construction of the fresh-fish processing plant, then worked inside the plant when it was operational and was also a part time farmer. He married Jane, daughter of Walter and Elizabeth Petten, and built a house on the family land - commonly referred to as 'in on the farm'. They raised a family of one daughter and three sons. Now a widower, Hedley is a pretty active senior and still grows most of his own vegetables. His daughter lives at Mount Pearl, but all three sons are living in Fortune. To this day, he doesn't like to talk about the horrors of war that he witnessed and experienced, the death and destruction, but then - who could really blame him?
Story © Fay Herridge 2003
Interview With Hedley Lake