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HMCS Haida, the fiercest warship in the Royal Canadian Navy, commemorates its 80th anniversary | Breaking:


It was one of those wet and chilly days so common in Halifax at the end of December when Andy Barber first saw his new destination in the harbor.

At first he didn’t think much of it. For the 20-year veteran signalman, the job was, in some ways, just another job.

It was 1953 and their new home, the destroyer HMCS Haida, which will turn 80 on August 30, had just been refitted and was preparing to sail to the Pacific, where it would patrol the choppy waters off Korea. Only months earlier a shaky armistice had been established in the Korean conflict, silencing the guns after three years of bloody and relentless warfare.

A young Andy Barber stands in the signal station aboard HMCS Haida during her deployment to the Pacific following the armistice in the Korean conflict. (Andy Barber)

Founded in 1941 and commissioned in August 1943, Haida was part of a small fleet of heavily armed “tribal class” destroyers purchased by the Royal Canadian Navy at the height of the Battle of the Atlantic. They were intended less for convoy protection and more for bringing the war to the Nazis by hunting down German U-boats and ships.

Under the command of Commander (later Vice Admiral) Harry DeWolf, Haida and her crew did that job with a bravery that ultimately earned the ship the unofficial title “Most Fighting Ship of the Royal Canadian Navy.” She was responsible for sinking 14 enemy ships in just over a year.

a naval legend

Barber said he did not feel any particular sense of history as he gazed at the slate-gray lines of the warship that December day.

“I didn’t know what a big role she had played in World War II,” Barber told Breaking: in a recent interview. “I’ve heard guys that I did, but you know, at that age, she goes in one ear and out the other.”

Several crew members at the time, including the yeoman, had served on board Haida during world war II. Over the dining room table, they traded stories that Barber would listen to as the ship headed for Korea.

Only later, after learning more about the ship’s history (and becoming its unofficial ambassador), did Barber immerse himself in Haida lore..

Crew members crowd around a gun on the deck of HMCS Haida during her Pacific deployment.
Crew members crowd around a gun on the deck of HMCS Haida during her Pacific deployment. (Andy Barber)

By the time he joined the crew, Barber was more concerned with deployment to what had recently been a war zone. During tension-filled patrols along the misty Pacific coast, the ocean kept delivering its dead.

From his post at the signal station on the open bridge, Barber could see bloated bodies floating past the hull, wreckage to be picked up by a nearby South Korean gunboat.

“Most of the time you couldn’t tell if they were enemies or fishermen,” he said.

Barber may not have served during wartime, but he was on the Haida Bridge when it was nearly lost to Typhoon Grace off Japan in 1954.

He recalls how the 2,500-ton destroyer was thrown into the ocean like a toy, and recalls the superhuman efforts of his companions to keep her afloat.

“We were running into waves that were like 60 feet high and were crashing against the top of the boat,” Barber said.

‘We all flew away’

At one point, the Haida was caught in a confluence of waves, inundating the bow as the stern with its spinning propellers rose out of the water.

“We all went flying to the side and the whole ship almost somersaulted,” Barber said. “It was only by the grace of God… that everything was righted.”

Haida served in the Canadian Navy for 20 years. According to Barber, approximately 6,000 sailors called the ship home at various times during those decades.

Andy Barber, an 87-year-old Korean War veteran, poses for a photo at the Halton Naval Veterans Association, Burlington, Ontario.  on Friday, November 6, 2020. Barber served as Communications Lead Sailor, Visual Trade Group 2, on HMCS Haida in the navy as part of a peacekeeping force immediately after the armistice in July 1953.
Andy Barber poses for a photo at the Halton Naval Veterans Association in Burlington, Ontario. on November 6, 2020. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

It was originally scheduled to be scrapped in the early 1960s after being dismantled, but it was saved and turned into a floating museum and memorial, initially at Ontario Place in Toronto. The destroyer is now a National Historic Site managed by Parks Canada in Hamilton, Ontario. Oceanfront.

Barber often speaks to tour groups, asking them to think about the thousands of people who served aboard the ship during peace and war.

“I would like people to know that this is a beautiful piece of Canadian history that is in Hamilton at Pier 9,” he said.

August 30 is the 80th anniversary of the commissioning of the Haida and Events are planned on the Hamilton waterfront. over the next few days to celebrate the milestone.

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