Second World War vet has lots to remember

Gary Kean
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Willis White has attended Remembrance Day parades in many communities and, in fact, organized a few of them himself.On this Remembrance Day, the St. George's native, who served with the Royal Navy in the Second World War, will get to play an important role once again.

White, 90, has been asked to place a wreath at the memorial located in the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) unit at the Corner Brook long-term care centre as part of that facility's observance of the sacrifices made by soldiers throughout history.

Upon his return from the war, White went to work for Bowaters as a mechanic and welder. While the company had its paper mill in Corner Brook, White's job took him to many parts of the province and he was involved with Royal Canadian Legion branches in those places. He served as president of the branch in Baie Verte when he worked there and was president of the branch in St. George's when he returned there to work at the former American air force base in Stephenville.

White retired from the base and lived in his own home until four years ago, when he moved to the veterans' unit housed in the O'Connell Centre, one of the former long-term care facilities in Corner Brook. He was then among the first crew of veterans to move into the new unit in June 2010.

He is looking forward to taking part in Friday's Remembrance Day ceremony.

"I'm getting too old to travel out any more, so it will be nice to take part in what they have planned here," White said Wednesday.

Among the 16 residents of the DVA unit are three other Second World War veterans from Bay St. George.

"I haven't seen them in quite a while now, but we talk about everything when we get together," said White, adding the others were in the army and had different experiences than he did.

During his wartime service, White found himself aboard three ships and travelled all over the world. One of his most vivid memories is of being aboard the Dunnottar Castle, a passenger ship converted into an armed merchant cruiser that was later used for troop transport.

The Dunnottar Castle was near Gibraltar in the Mediterranean Sea when it was attacked by the German naval fleet. The ship was on its own as the Allied fleet was about 100 miles away.

"They started firing on us as soon as we came upon them," he recalled. "But that didn't last long. We had some good gunners on our ship."

The German air force was also a constant threat in the Mediterranean. One close call from a dropped bomb did some damage to the ship, but nobody was injured and the crew got the Dunnottar Castle safely back to port, where it spent about a month in drydock.

White joined the navy when he was 18. he had five uncles who fought in the First World War and he was determined to go when his time came in 1939.

"My uncles never told me everything about it, but they told me some of it and some of it was true," said White. "I probably wouldn't have went if they told it all. There were times I wished I hadn't have went, but it was nothing to worry about.

"My mother didn't want me to go, but her brother went and four of my father's brothers went, so I told her I was going regardless."

Organizations: Department of Veterans Affairs, Royal Canadian Legion, O'Connell Centre

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Baie Verte, St. George's Mediterranean Sea Gibraltar

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