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Transcript of 'HMS Wren' video

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HMS Wren: A Record of Activities

Doctor Gordon Canti was Surgeon Lieutenant RNVR Medical Officer aboard HMS Wren from May 1943 to September 1944

HMS Wren was part of Captain Walker’s Second Escort Group, providing protection to Atlantic convoys

Doctor Canti took photographs and collected newspaper clippings of his time onboard.

Doctor Canti:  “Well officially it wasn’t allowed...in case the picture fell into the wrong hands, but I was a photographer, I had a sick bay which was a perfect dark room, and when I was developing my pictures, with the momentum of the ship, I didn’t have to rock the development dishes like one would normally.”

Picking up Survivors

Doctor Canti:  “That’s a picture of MS Port Victor, that was torpedoed, it was one of those ships that was travelling alone, and was unlucky to run into a U-boat……I had to jump down into the boat and treat some of the wounded….the whole crew and passengers I think were rescued from that, we put them up in the wardroom, 148 off the ship, quite a lot, it was a crowded ship…….”

Among the whales and the icebergs

Doctor Canti: “When the convoys were being attacked by packs of U-Boats, the route was going further and further north to escape them so we were right up among the icebergs and the whales which was rather fun….”

The Second Escort Group strikes

24th June 1943, HMS Starling rams U-boat 119

Doctor Canti:  “That’s a picture of one of the first U-boats sunk by HMS Starling, she rammed it and dropped depth charges, this was Captain Walker’s ship…...after that they did so much damage to their bows they were in dock, they were told not to ram U-boats again…” 

And later that day…

Wren helps to sink U-boat 449 with depth charges...

Proof of the pudding...

Doctor Canti:   “…you always needed proof….so they lowered the boats, to go and pick up the wreckage, and I was asked to go in one of these boats, to see if there were any human remains floating around…”

Depth Charges

The Prem:

Doctor Canti:  “…..I was taking pictures of depth charges going off, and this one went off the moment it hit the water….it’s called a prem, a premature….. we had to go into port after that…the chances of that happening are so small, and to have a camera in your hand, it’s quite unique actually….”

Fishing:

Doctor Canti:  “Another occasion we went fishing, we thought there might be a U-boat in the Channel, and dropped some depth charges, and the sea was white with cod, and all the sailors got out with their hooks and nets, and in no time you hung around and we all had some wonderful cod straight out of the sea”.   

The Reception

In early 1944 The Second Escort Group sink six U-boats in one patrol…

Doctor Canti:  “And when we got back, it was quite sensational, because sinking six U-boats, this was a time when the tide was just turning, and this was regarded as the moment where we had really got on top of the U-boats….”

Doctor Canti:  “That’s the picture I took when we came back to Gladstone dock, and A.V. Alexander brought us a message from Churchill, he was a civilian Lord…what tickled the sailors, he put on a cap, I think it was a bus conductors, and an overcoat with brass buttons on, and the sailors saw through him right away..”

HMS Woodpecker was torpedoed during the action

Doctor Canti:   “The Medical Officer was in his bed, and this explosion happened, and the whole of the back end of the ship fell off, and he found himself lying in bed looking at the sea, an extraordinary, remarkable escape…”

"..."we picked him up; he climbed up there, and was unhurt, except he cut his feet on the jagged metal.”

“...no human casualties, and they tried to tow it back, they got a tug there to tow it, and got it to within forty miles of Falmouth, and a big gale blew up, and she broke up…”

Picking up U-boat survivors

Doctor Canti:  “…all very friendly, There’s something about the sea which unites sailors...”

The Russian Trip

March 1944 – HMS Wren and the Second Escort Group protect convoy JW58 bound for Murmansk in Russia.

Doctor Canti: We went right up to Murmansk, and that was quite an adventure, to Russia…”

No ships in the convoy were lost, and three U-boats were sunk.

Some quiet moments onboard

Doctor Canti:  “…there was no drinking at sea, it was a rule, you couldn’t stand the strain, keeping watch, if you had any alcohol, but when we got back, we made up for it…”

Ten minutes after these photos were taken a U-boat was sighted and sunk.

Epilogue

Captain Walker, Commander of the Second Escort Group, died of a stroke in July 1944.

Under Walker’s command, the 2nd Escort Group sank fifteen U-boats.

Gordon Canti survived the war, and went on to become an expert in lung cancer diagnosis.

Dedicated to the men and women of many nations who worked, fought and died to keep the Atlantic lifeline open for Britain and her allies during the Second World War.

Credits

National Museums Liverpool would like to thank Gordon Canti and Matthew Canti for their assistance in making this film.

Newspaper clippings reproduced with kind permission of the following:

  • Daily Express
  • Illustrated London News Ltd / Mary Evans
  • Liverpool Daily Post
  • Liverpool Echo
  • London Evening Standard

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