WWII Nova Scotia DEMS Gunners CasualtiesDefensively Equipped Merchant Ship Gunners
DEMS GunnersDefensively Equipped Merchant Ship GunnersDefensively equipped merchant ship (DEMS) was a British Admiralty Trade Division programme established in June of 1939, to arm approximately 5,500 British merchant ships so that they could be equipped with an adequate defence against enemy aircraft and submarine attacks. “DEMS” was used to describe the ships carrying the guns, the guns aboard the ships, the military personnel manning the guns, and the shore bases supporting the system. “DEMS sailors steamed to every theatre of war and they paid the price: imperfect records indicate that 51 were lost, of whom 34 were believed to have been serving in ships flagged by other Allied nations.” The following six Nova Scotians all served as DEMS gunners and died during the Second World War. The following six Nova Scotians all served as DEMS gunners and died during the Second World War. Able Seaman Nelson Uriah Conrad Service No.: A/2279Service: SS Davenger, Royal Canadian Naval Reserve Date of Birth: September 14, 1919Place of Birth:Lower East Chezzetcook, Halifax Co., NSDate of Enlistment:July 4, 1940Place of Enlistment: Halifax, NSAge at Enlistment: 20Trade:Fisherman and lumber camp laborerReligion:Church of EnglandMarital Status:SingleDate of Death: October 11, 1940 Age:21Memorial: Halifax Memorial, Panel 6Commemorated on Page 11 of the Second World War Book of RemembranceDisplayed in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower in Ottawa on January 15Able Seaman Conrad was the Son of Arthur G. and Tena Lena Conrad (died January 23, 1940), of Lower East Chezzetcook, NS. He had two sisters - Janet and Frances and a brother Wilfred. He was 5 feet, 9 inches tall with a fair complexion, brown hair, and blue eyes. He served at HMCS Stadacona in Halifax until September 25, 1940, and began his service aboard the Norwegian steam tanker SS Davanger as a DEMS gunner on September 26, 1940. SS Davanger was sunk by enemy U-Boat action on October 11 while en route from Curacao to Liverpool, England. She had stopped in Halifax and departed for the next leg of the journey as part of convoy HX77 transporting 10000 tons of fuel. Seventeen of the crew were lost and 12 were saved. The torpedo struck in the engine room on the starboard side and she sank by the stern within 4 minutes. Able Seaman William Charles Lower Service No.:3498Service: SS Lisieux, Royal Canadian Navy Date of Birth: August 14, 1921Place of Birth: Kingston, OntarioDate of Enlistment:July 31, 1939, as a Boy SeamanAge at Enlistment:17Address at Enlistment:Halifax, NSTrade: Deck handReligion: Church of EnglandDate of Death:November 28, 1940Age:19Memorial: Halifax Memorial, Panel 4Commemorated on Page 15 of the Second World War Book of RemembranceDisplayed in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower in Ottawa on January 17William Charles Lower was the son of William Jabez (1899-1943) and Gertrude May (Flint) Lower (1899-1974), of Kingston, ON. He was living in Halifax July 31, 1939. He was 5 feet, 6 inches tall, with a medium complexion, brown hair, and blue eyes. He had served in the Sea Cadets since 1932. He served on the HMCS Assiniboine from September 19, 1939, to September 20, 1940, before returning to Stadacona prior to his assignment as DEMS gunner on the SS Lisieux. Taken over on May 27, 1940 at Portland, Oregon, by the French Merchant Navy’s Armement Maurel & Prom, the ship was interned at Vancouver June 25th, and seized on August 18, 1940. Under British flag, it was first transferred to Halifax for a refit then to Sydney, NS, whence it sails for the UK in a convoy (SC 13, from Sydney on Nov. 22, 1940), with a cargo of paper pulp and lumber. A few days later, on November 27, 1940, off St. John's, Newfoundland, a storm causes the convoy to disperse, and the Lisieux to founder (her cargo having inflated and caused the breakup of her hull). Twelve of the 29 crew were lost. Able Seaman Gordon St. Claire HemeonService No. A/2594Service:SS Holystone (Newcastle-on-Tyne, England),Royal Canadian Naval ReserveDate of Birth: November 5, 1919Place of Birth: Lockeport, Shelburne Co., Nova ScotiaDate of Enlistment:August 28, 1940Place of EnlistmentHalifax, NSAge at Enlistment:20Address at Enlistment: Lockeport, Shelburne Co., NSDate of Death:February 15, 1941Age: 21Memorial: Halifax Memorial, Panel 6Commemorated on Page 32 of the Second World War Book of RemembranceDisplayed in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower in Ottawa on January 27Gordon St. Claire Hemeon was the son of Albert Duncan (1884-1964) and Pearl Viola (Mullock) Hemeon (1893-1971), of Lockeport, NS. At 00.38 hours on February 15, 1941 the unescorted Holystone (Master John Stewart Bain), dispersed from Allied convoy OB-284 on February 13th, was hit on port side aft by one torpedo from U-123 about 500 miles south-southwest of Iceland. The U-boat had unsuccessfully attacked the Penolver from the same dispersed convoy on February 14th and was chasing this ship when spotting the Holystone. The U-Boat commander decided to go after the bigger freighter, but then missed her with five single fired torpedoes between 22.15 hours on February 14th and 00.12 hours on February 15th. The sixth torpedo eventually struck the ship which disappeared in a very heavy explosion, presumably caused by the detonation of the magazine for the stern gun. The master, 35 crew members and four gunners were lost.Able Seaman John Henry MacLeod Service No.: A/2302Service: MV Koenjit, Royal Canadian Naval ReserveDate of Birth: July 26, 1908Place of Birth: Westville, Pictou Co., NSDate of Enlistment: July 9, 1940Place of Enlistment: Halifax, NSDate of Death:December 6, 1941Age: 33Memorial: Halifax Memorial, Panel 6Commemorated on Page 36 of the Second World War Book of RemembranceDisplayed in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower in Ottawa on January 29John Henry MacLeod was the son of John Walter and Georgina Catherine MacLeod; brother of Margaret Ann, Ella Gertrude, Minnie Frances and Dorothy Georgina MacLeod, of Westville, NS. John served as a Quartermaster 2nd Class in the US Navy from 1924 to 1927.Prior to WWII, he again worked in the US for five years with the US Coast Guard and two years in Noranda, QC, as a miner. He was a seaman on the Great Lakes before enlisting. He served aboard a Gate Vessel beginning on July 23, 1940. Gate vessels were small ships, often trawlers or similar, which operated the central section of an anti-submarine boom, comprising submarine nets, across the entrance to a harbour or anchorage. He transferred to the Merchant Vessel Koenjit on July 24, 1941. John Henry died accidentally December 6, 1941, while serving as a gunner. He was injured as a result of falling in heavy seas and hitting his head on a 3" high iron border on the deck. He was taken to sick bay, he remained unconscious and was bleeding from his nose, mouth and ears, and he died that night. He was buried at sea and is remembered on the Halifax Memorial.Able Seaman Burris Granville McLeodService No.:A/1014Service: Motor Merchant Ship Vancouver IslandDate of Birth:December 27, 1920Place of Birth: Halifax, Nova ScotiaDate of Enlistment:November 11, 1939Place of Enlistment:Halifax, Nova ScotiaAge at Enlistment:18Address at Enlistment:Ostrea Lake, Halifax Co., NSTrade:Seaman, RMS Lady HawkinsMarital Status:SingleDate of Death: October 15, 1941Age:20Memorial: Halifax Memorial, Panel 6Commemorated on Page 38 of the Second World War Book of RemembranceDisplayed in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower in Ottawa on January 30Burris Granville McLeod was the son of Charles Robie and Hilda May McLeod, of Ostrea Lake, NS. Burris was 5 feet, 9 ¾ inches tall, with medium complexion, dark brown hair and grey eyes. At enlistment, he gave his birth year as 1921. He served on the Lady Hawkins before enlisting, and then served on the Skeena, the Venture, as a DEMS gunner on the Scottish Monarch, on the Cameronia, and the Baltara before transferring to the Vancouver Island on September 18, 1941. At 21.54 hours on October 15, 1941 the unescorted Vancouver Island (Master Eric Lacey Roper) was spotted by the enemy U-boat U-558, which was searching convoy SC-48 west of Ireland. Due to her high speed of about 15 knots the U-boat immediately went on full speed to get into an attack position and fired a spread of three torpedoes from about 2000 meters at 22.49 hours, hitting the ship with two of them after 144 seconds. The vessel was hit in the fore part and amidships and stopped but did not sink. Because the German commander wanted to continue the search for the convoy, he fired 2 coups de grâce from more than 1000 meters at 23.08 and 23.17 hours, hitting the ship fore and aft and causing her to sink fast by the stern.The Germans had observed how the crew abandoned ship in lifeboats after the first hits, but HMS Dianthus (K 95) (captained by Lt Cdr C.E. Bridgman, RNR) sent to her assistance from the dispersed convoy ON-24 did not find any survivors. On October 31st, a lifeboat with the bodies of two officers from the ship was found by a British warship in 56°08N/20°45W. The master, 64 crew members, eight gunners and 32 passengers were lost.Able Seaman Ralph Emerson MarryattService No.:V/228Service: RMS Lady Hawkins, Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer ReserveDate of Birth:August 12, 1920Place of Birth: Halifax, Nova ScotiaDate of Enlistment: August 26, 1937Place of Enlistment:Halifax Division, RCNVR, Halifax, NSAge at Enlistment:17Address at Enlistment:Halifax, NSTrade:StudentMarital Status:SingleReligion:United ChurchDate of Death: January 19, 1942Age: 21Memorial: Halifax Memorial, Panel 8Commemorate on Page 94 of the Second World War Book of RemembranceDisplayed in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower in Ottawa on February 28 and 29Ralph Emerson Marryatt was the son of Cyrus Simon (1875-1954) and Mabel Edith (Isner) Marryatt (1885-1931), of Halifax, NS. Married Mary (Mae) Elizabeth Jodrey (1920-2010). His father was born in Pennant (Long Cove), Halifax, NS, and his mother was also born in Halifax County. Ralph was 17 when he enlisted but he gave his date of birth as 1919, and not 20, so it appeared he was 18. He was 5 feet, 4 ½ inches tall with a fair complexion, dark brown hair and blue eyes. Marryatt served on the Fraser (November 8, 1939 to March 28, 1940), the Saguenay (March 29 to May 3, 1940), and the San Anselmo (renamed the A.D. Huff April 30, 1940) crossing to Europe in convoy as a DEMS gunner (June 26 to November 17, 1940), before serving on the Lady Hawkins.On the morning of January 19, 1942, the ship was sailing unescorted about 150 nautical miles (280 km) off Cape Hatteras, taking a zigzag course to make her more difficult to hit, when at 0743 hrs U-66 hit her with two stern-launched torpedoes. The liner sank in about 30 minutes. killing 251 of the 322 people aboard. Lost were the ship's master Captain Huntley Giffen, 85 other members of the crew, one DEMS gunner and 164 of her passengers, two of whom were Distressed British Seamen (survivors from previous sinkings). The 71 survivors whom the merchant ship Coamo rescued from their lifeboat on January 28, 1942 were Chief Officer Percy Kelly, 21 crew and 49 passengers.Gordon William Coe DEMS Gunner Able Seaman Gordon William Coe was not from Nova Scotia, but died of illness March 5, 1943, at the Camp Hill Hospital in Halifax and was interred in Nova Scotia at the Camp Hill Cemetery.
DEMS gunners learning to fire a Lewis machine gun, Esquimalt, BC, March 15, 1944. Library & Archives Canada photo
The gun crew of a defensively equipped merchant ship during a drill at Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1942. A merchant seaman is passing a shell to the Royal Navy gunners. Library & Archives Canada photo