A tribute to Lawrence A. Christopher, Able Seaman, Royal Navy

11420_tribute christopher.png
Photo: The Christopher family

Second World War veteran Lawrence Christopher, 95, proudly wears his service medals, including the Battle of the Atlantic Star.

My grandad, Lawrence A. Christopher, was born in Quebec City on Aug. 2, 1925. He was baptized at St. Matthew’s Church on Rue Saint-Jean and grew up on Rue Scott. In 1931, after a family separation, he went to live with his paternal grandparents in Southampton, U.K.

On April 1, 1942, at age 16, he joined the Royal Navy, hoping to be transferred to the Canadian Navy. The Navy recruiting officer, suspecting Grandad was too young to join, asked him why he wanted to enlist and where he presently worked. To the first question, he answered, “I heard you serve bacon and eggs.” To the second, “I am a window cleaner.” The officer, puzzled, asked why he would leave a good job, and Grandad answered, “With all the Germans bombing the hell out of us, there aren’t any windows to clean.’’ The officer retorted, “Sign here.”

After going through training at HMS Collingwood, a shore establishment of the Royal Navy, in Fareham, he joined HMS Whitshed, (D77) a First World War-modified V- and W-class destroyer. The ship’s motto was Libertas et Natale (Freedom and Fatherland Only).

On the night of Dec. 12, 1942, a destroyer flotilla comprised of HMS Whitshed, HMS Worcester, HMS Vesper, HMS Brocklesby, HMS Albrighton and the Norwegian escort HNOMS Eskdale intercepted a German convoy of heavily armed minesweepers and E-boats (fast torpedo boats) from Boulogne, France. After a two-hour battle, HMS Whitshed sank the Sperrbrecher 178/Gauss northeast of Dieppe. The Whitshed was hit in the No. 2 boiler room, cutting off the bridge from the steering.

Grandad was ordered to move aft to the emergency helm where he and a shipmate continued to steer the ship during the action. Lt.-Cmdr. Arthur A. Fitzroy Talbot received the gold bar and crown clasp to add to his DSO [Distinguished Service Order medal]. My Grandad later jokingly said, “All I received was a cup of tea.”

From 1943 to 1945, Whitshed continued her duties in escort and patrol operations, including service with Escort Group 104 for the defence of convoys to Normandy. Near the end of the war, Grandad joined HMS Frobisher, a light cruiser, until he was demobilized in 1946. During his “demobbing,” as he calls it, he was asked to report to the Royal Canadian Navy drafting office. “A bit late aren’t we, the war is over,” he said.

After the war, Grandad served as a merchant mariner aboard the Cunard ocean liners RMS Queen Elizabeth and RMS Aquitania.

Departing England in June 1950 aboard the RMS Franconia, he disembarked at Anse-au-Foulon, travelled to Portneuf, accompanied by my grandmother Irene (nee Rees) Christopher and my father David, and reunited with his mother Audrey (nee Gilpin) Christopher and his sister Thelma.

Grandad worked at the J. Ford & Co. paper mill for more than 41 years. From 1952-1953 he worked on the construction of the Sept-Iles – Knob Lake railroad.

My grandfather turned 95 this past year. He is very active, likes good jokes and still calls Portneuf home.

His most precious medal is the Battle of the Atlantic Star, earned for his six-month participation in the North Atlantic operations. He recalls that a lot of good men and ships were lost on both sides during this conflict.

Lawrence Christopher was honoured last year by members of HMCS Montcalm at a mess dinner. It was quite an evening, and when he departed, every officer and sailor (about 120) shook his hand and thanked him for his service.

Lest We Forget!

 

11420_tribute_christopher_young.png 

Lawrence Christopher was only 16 years old when he joined the Royal Navy. Photo courtesy of the Christopher family