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Prairie Sailor honours sacrifice

Statue a memorial to the war at sea

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Veterans of the Battle of the Atlantic Bob Watkins (left) and Harold Hughes after pouring water from the High Arctic at the statue's base Sunday.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Veterans of the Battle of the Atlantic Bob Watkins (left) and Harold Hughes after pouring water from the High Arctic at the statue's base Sunday. Photo Store

They served in some of the world's deadliest seas, and Sunday they were honoured for their courage and sacrifice.

A bronze statue depicting a young sailor looking into the distance with his seabag by his side was dedicated by HMCS Chippawa to honour the memory of Canada's Prairie sailors, many of whom came from Winnipeg.

Called the Prairie Sailor Statue and sculpted by Winnipeg artist Helen Granger Young, the monument recognizes that Winnipeg was the third-largest naval recruiting centre in Canada during the Second World War, exceeded only by those on the East Coast and West Coast.

The dedication was held in conjunction with the annual Battle of the Atlantic commemoration ceremony at 1 Navy Way.

"The Prairie Sailor monument is a beautifully crafted, physical promise that as long as there is a Royal Canadian Navy, the memory of you, the memory of the battle that you fought and won and your sacrifices and the sacrifices that were made by those not with us today, will live on," said Lt.-Cmdr. Paul Stiff, the HMCS Chippawa commanding officer.

The commemoration is held on the first Sunday in May to remember those lost at sea during the Battle of the Atlantic in the Second World War.

'The biggest thing, I think, is this statue will bring home to the citizens of Winnipeg and visitors that we do have a navy barracks here and we do have a navy in Canada'

-- navy veteran Bob Watkins

The Battle of the Atlantic was fought from 1939 to 1945 and, lasting 2,075 days, was the longest and largest campaign of the Second World War. It is described in a National Defence statement as "the fight for supremacy in the North Atlantic" as Allied naval and air forces battled German and Italian submarines, ships and aircraft whose primary targets were the convoys of merchant ships carrying life-sustaining cargo from North America to Europe.

Canada's navy provided 47 per cent of all convoy escorts of merchant vessels across the North Atlantic during the Second World War.

Among the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Merchant Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force, more than 4,600 servicemen and servicewomen lost their lives in the Battle of the Atlantic.

"Thousands of Canadian men and women, members of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Merchant Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force, mostly volunteers from small-town Canada, had to face situations so perilous that they are difficult to imagine. As Canadians, we should be proud of their courage," Stiff said.

During Sunday's dedication ceremony, Second World War naval veterans Petty Officer Bob Watkins and Engine Room Artificer 4 Harold Hughes poured water at the base of the Prairie Sailor statue that was taken from the High Arctic where Canada's three oceans meet. The water represented all of the waters on which Canadian sailors served.

"It (the statue) is a great thing. And yes, they are remembering," an emotional Hughes said. "The worst time was when we had to leave so many behind. Remembering coming home without them."

Watkins said he helped start the statue project and was pleased to be able to see its placing.

"It reminds me of the training here, the shipmates that I lost and those who also served," Watkins, 89, said. "The biggest thing, I think, is this statue will bring home to the citizens of Winnipeg and visitors that we do have a navy barracks here and we do have a navy in Canada. I don't want them to forget that."

HMCS Chippawa, Manitoba's only naval reserve unit, was created in 1923 and is located at the corner of Navy Way and Assiniboine Avenue.

There were 8,000 sailors and 300 officers -- Prairie sailors -- who joined the Royal Canadian Navy out of Winnipeg during the Second World War.

"It (the Prairie Sailor Statue) will stand to remind us of the sacrifices and dedication shown by the many Prairie sailors who served and continue to serve on the oceans of the world," Lt.-Cmdr. Jack Barrett, the 1 Canada Air Division chaplain, said during the dedication.

The Royal Canadian Navy lost 33 vessels and suffered 2,210 fatalities, including six women, during the Battle of the Atlantic.

Barrett reminded the crowd of about 300 of the words by John Maxwell Edmunds etched on the Kohima and the Westbury on Trym epitaphs:

"When you go home,

Tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow,

We gave our today."

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2014 0

History

Updated on Monday, May 5, 2014 at 6:35 AM CDT: Replaces photo

7:35 AM: Corrects location of HMCS Chippawa

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