You can’t help but feel patriotic after spending an afternoon with a Second World War veteran. For Sidney (Roland) Winsor who was born, raised and still residing in Triton, Remembrance Day is not only a day to reflect on his time in the war but a day to celebrate. He will be 90 years old on November 11th this year.
Roland enlisted in the British Royal Navy in April 1941. The first requirement of course was a full medical, and the closest clinic was Springdale. What we consider today to be a routine trip to the doctor was not a simple task back then. There was still a lot of snow on the ground and the only way to Springdale from Triton was by dog sled which took two days there and back.
He didn’t get deployed until June 1941 as they had to wait for the next convoy taking troops over to England from Canada. He made his way to St. John’s for orientation where he was officially enrolled and fitted for uniform and then sailed for England. The barricks and training base for the Royal navy was located in Chatham, England. Seaman training took 10 weeks and there they waited for their first assignment. When receiving a 7 day leave Roland and his new friend Steve Rogers of Bonavista Bay, who enlisted at the same time, took a train to Glasgow Scotland where they stayed at a boarding house run by Mr and Mrs Lee. Roland remembers how nice they were and that they held a birthday party for him to celebrate his 20th birthday. While in Glasgow they met up with another Newfoundlander from Pilley’s Island who was with the forestry. On the train ride back to England the train was overflowing with people and Roland remembers giving up his seat for a lady and when arriving at their destination the lady offered him money for his kindness.
After returning to the barricks it wasn’t long before he received his first assignment and was deployed for duty on the HMS Warspite, a Queen Elizabeth - Class battleship. The Warspite, built in 1913, served both the First World War and the Second World War and has more battle honours than most, having served at the battle of Jutland in 1916 and battle of Normandy in 1944.
Before embarking the HMS Warspite in January 1942 Roland had to travel back to America where the ship had spent the last 4 months getting refitted because it was hit by a Bf109 bomb while covering “Operation Tiger” (a Mediteranean Convoy), causing extensive damage and killing 38 men on board. Temporary repairs were made prior to a full repair in the USA. She reached Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington in August 1941 and remained there until January 1942 when she was recommissioned and ordered to the Eastern Fleet, sailing for Australia and the Indian Ocean.
Roland left England in November 1941 to make his way back to America on the Louis Pasteur to meet up with the Warspite. This would be Roland’s first experience as a Seaman on board a battleship. He remembers being so impressed by the size of the ship and its guns, as he had never seen anything like this before other than in pictures. The ship was equipped with eight 15” guns, eight 6” guns, two anti aircraft guns and two spotter Walrus planes. The 15” guns, which hold 15” shells, was 43 feet long. Roland held the position of gun house operator (on radio) taking orders from the gunnery officer. The spotter planes were used for spotting enemy ships, submarines and planes and were catapulted off the side of the ship to do an aerial search whenever necessary to report back any enemy threat nearby. When the planes returned, they landed in the water beside the ship, and deck hands hoisted the plane back into its catapult position by hand with ropes and a pulley.
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The ship crossed the equator in February and headed west to Australia, arriving in Sydney the end of February. It left Sydney for Freemantle, Western Australia but en route enemy submarines were reported off the coast there so it reversed course. They arrived in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) the end of March where she was nominated the Flag Ship of the Eastern Fleet (29 vessels) by Admiral James Somerville. Roland will have spent the next year as part of the Eastern Fleet carrying out many operations and seeing many ports along the way like Bombay, Madagascar, Freetown and Seychelles which was a popular refuelling station but where they were not allowed to disembark due to a VD outbreak on shore.
Transferred to Resolution
By early 1943, Roland was to have already left the Warspite for leave back to America, however the ship that was to pick him up was torpedoed en route. So in May Roland was drafted aboard the HMS Resolution - Royal Soveign - Class battleship which was part of the same fleet of ships commanded by James Somerville. He transferred from the Warspite to the Resolution in Kilindini Harbour, Mombassa which is in Kenya, East Africa. The resolution then sailed for Durban, South Africa escorted by destroyers Nizam and Quickmatch where she remained for a refit for about a month. While in Durban Roland received a 2 1/2 day shore leave pass where he was assigned to a boarding house run by Mrs. Burnette who Roland speaks of fondly.
From June to September the Resolution patrolled the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa to South Africa between Mombassa and Durban until she was nominated to return to England where she remained in reserve for 3 months. Roland would finally get his chance to take leave home to Newfoundland. He left England in December 1943 crossing on the Queen Elizabeth to return home to see his family. This was Roland’s only trip home during the time he spent in the war.
After his leave he was deployed once again, this time to the HMS Queen (D-19) Escort Aircraft Carrier which at that time was undergoing modifications in Esquimalt dockyard in Vancouver. Roland made his way to the West coast to join up with the Queen which sailed for the Panama Canal in March 1944 with passage to Norfolk, Virginia where they loaded 112 Avenger aircraft for transport to the UK for the 855 squadron. After delivery it returned to New York to load US aircraft destined for Casablanca. After which it spent most of its time in the North Atlantic. In March 1945 the Queen was chosen for a planned aircraft mine lay off Norway as part of Operation Cupola. She joined up with aircraft carriers as Force 1 and aircraft laid mines. The ship then took part in operations against shipping off Norway during which time three enemy aircraft were shot down. Shortly after she was deployed with 3 other aircraft carriers for operations off Norway where they carried out air attacks on U-boat Depot ships near Narvik. Aircraft made attacks during which time U711 and a Depot ship Blackwatch were sunk.
The U711 was the last German submarine to be destroyed by aircraft during the war with Germany. Roland remembers that the day after their fighter planes bombed the German U boat there was an announcement that the war with Germany was over. During his service time on the Queen, Roland received his stripes for three years of service with good conduct and by this time he had long since been promoted to Able Seaman from Ordinary Seaman. When showing a picture of himself with this sailors uniform which boasted three gold stripes, he chuckled and said “I was just fortunate not to get caught doing anything wrong”.
The war with Germany may have been over but there was still much to be done and peace with Japan did not come until 118 days later. Roland had heard that the army was looking for volunteers to patrol the River Rhine and he along with his best pal Steve Rogers and two other seamen volunteered. However, when returning to the barracks in England they were told that arrangements had already been made for all Newfoundlanders to go back to America. Before leaving for America, Roland and Steve, along with friends, had an opportunity to visit Trafalgar Square to see the “Victory over Germany” monument with a statue of Lord Nelson at the top. Roland left England on November 18, 1945 on the Lady Rodney, along with is his friend Steve Rogers, and arrived back in Newfoundland on November 25, 1945. Steve and Roland were fortunate to have joined the war at the same time and assigned the same ships during their four and a half years service in the Second World War. They remained good friends after the war, but unfortunately Steve died in a boating accident in the 1970’s while living and working in Labrador City.
Married after the war
Not long after returning from the war Roland met the love of his life Marie and was married in 1947. They had a wonderful marriage doing everything together as they enjoyed the same things in life. They had six children and 12 grandchildren.
Roland’s wife passed away 3 years ago and he still misses her a lot but he is surrounded by friends and family who love him. He has such a zest for life and is still involved with the community and loves spending time down in his store and stage. Roland still holds a lobster license to this day and has his own boat and lobster pots. His shed is filled with memorabilia from the war and everything is labelled and dated. One wall is covered in newspaper clippings and souvenirs from events that took place.
Roland’s travels during the war give new meaning to the lyrics “from sea to shining sea”. He has a map of the world which has pins showing all the places he travelled to as a Royal Navy Seaman, and he stands very proud with his map and his suitcase filled with his memories.
His family and friends are holding a special birthday party for him on Remembrance Day to celebrate his 90th birthday. Happy Birthday Roland.