Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Winnipeg's Navy

In our Clan Newsletter for 2006 we included two articles to commemorate Liston Burns McIlhagga (born 21st November 1918 in Ballymena). The following is the first one:

Yes, unlikely as it may seem, Winnipeg's Navy! As you can see from our illustration it is the title of a recently published book. Three years ago Chief Petty Officer Mark Nelson helped to celebrate eighty years of the Navy in the Canadian Prairies by writing 300 pages of fact and lively anecdote which illustrate why some 100,000 people from the vast internal prairies of Canada, who had been brought up never having seen an ocean, were attracted to Her Majesty's Senior Service.

In this remarkable story, our Clan member Liston Burns McIlhagga (senior) has an honoured place. Born in Winnipeg he attended Gordon Bell High School and in 1939 as an Ordinary Seaman in Winnipeg Division RCNCR he was loaned to the Royal Navy for the duration of the Second World War. From December 1940 to March 1941 he was with the Destroyer HMS Jupiter in the English Channel and the Mediterranean.

In March 1941 he was promoted Sub-Lieutenant and underwent six months Officer Training with the Royal Navy. He then served on three RN Motor Gun Boats as First Lieutenant. In August 1942 on MG Boat 609 he took part in an engagement with six German R-Boats. Three of the German boats were sunk and 36 Germans were taken prisoner. Liston was wounded in this action and was mentioned in dispatches, "For good service engagement with R-Boats", and he was returned to Canada.

After recuperation, in January 1943, he returned to the UK as Commander of a Motor Torpedo Boat. By May that year he was CO of MTB 258 and Executive Officer of an MTB Flotilla operating off India, in the Bay of Bengal. From May to August 1944 as Senior Officer of the 16th MTB Flotilla, he was based in Trincornake, Ceylon. By December 1944 the time had come for him to join the Winnipeg Naval Reserve Division and he became Executive Officer of HMCS Chippawa, as the WNRD had become known. From April 1946 to April 1949 Liston was the Recruiting Officer for HMCS Dannacona, RCH(R), Montreal. During this time he was promoted Lieutenant Commander RCN(R). He returned to HMCS Chippawa in May 1951 as its Executive Officer and on February 7th 1952 he became its Commanding Officer.

Mark Nelson puts this event into context:

"In October 1951 a young Princess Elizabeth and her husband Philip spent five weeks in Canada, travelling from coast to coast by train. On October 16th the Royal Party visited Winnipeg... (with) Chippawa's 96-man Royal Guard... It would be soon after the Princess's visit when her father, King George VI passed away... and the Princess would become Queen. Simultaneously, at CHIPPAWA, there were changes... It was decided that a colourful change of command ceremony would be planned for Thursday February 7th, 1952 where... Liston Burns McIlhagga would become the new Commanding Officer... (However) considering the sudden death of the Monarch, the gala ceremony and parade at CHIPPAWA was cancelled. The changeover of command then became a more modest affair and was held without a formal ceremony. When sworn in as Commanding Officer, Liston McIlhagga was the first of the Commanding Officers to swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II".

Except for a year's Staff Training Liston remained the CO of HMCS Chippawa until September 27th 1960 and thus ended a long and honoured naval career. In civilian life he became Director of Radio for the Prairies for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He worked in both Radio and Television for many years. In August of 1970 Liston, drawing on his naval experience, hosted a tree-part historical series entitled 'The Restless Wave'.

1 comment:

  1. When I researched this book, and spoke to the retired veterans, the one thing about Liston McIlhagga that continued to arise was that everyone thought he was the best Commanding Oficer they ever had. He must have been a remakable man.

    Mark Nelson