HMS Ajax & River Plate Veterans Association

 

Ajax Visit June 2014

Visit to Ajax Ontario

 

Tuesday 10th June 2014 saw Association members muster at UK airports to fly to Pearson International Airport at Toronto before transferring to Ajax on the shores of Lake Ontario.  The town of Ajax, Ontario is named after HMS Ajax and a close relationship exists between the Town and our Association with many of its streets named after crew members.

 

8 members, including Dennis Talbot from the cruiser and 6 Associate members, who with friends and relatives, totalled 23, travelled from the UK. They were joined by one member and his wife from the States and one Associate and his partner from Australia. The members included four Frigate members, Fred Coates, Mike Fox, Alf Larkin & Nigel Masters who visited Ajax on HMS Ajax in 1976, and were later joined by two more, Clive Morris who lives in the States and Ian Cunliffe who lives in Ontario. The 1976 crew had been granted the freedom of the town and this was the first time they had been back to exercise their rights!

 

We woke on the Wednesday morning to decidedly British weather which made getting to the Town Hall interesting. Here we boarded the coach taking us the hundred odd miles to the Niagara Falls along the 401 Expressway that seemed to be perpetually “rush hour” every time we went near it. As we skirted Toronto the tower blocks disappeared in to the low cloud but as we cleared the city the weather picked up and by the time we parked up at the Falls the sun was out. We agreed on a 5 o’clock return and off we went to do our own thing. The Falls are really impressive, either viewed from the top in the relative dry or from the bottom in the very wet Maid of the Mist boats. The Falls dominate the Canadian and American towns either side. All safely back on the bus we headed home to Ajax.

 

Next day Malcolm & Judi Collis, along with some of the others, had a drive around Ajax in the car they had hired to visit and photograph some of the streets named in honour of our members, present and past.

 

Back at the Garden Hilton Inn by 4 p.m. we were all ready to board the limousines, laid on by the committee of the Ajax Bomb Girls, to head to Toronto waterfront to board our cruise ship. The six limos were actually donated by a funeral parlour chain with most of the drivers not local. We got in to the city centre quite easily but the last mile or so was thwarted by the total chaos caused by incredible road works and road closures with no obvious diversion routes. Our convoy fragmented leaving our drivers to find their own way. We probably wasted an hour here but the boat, the Jubilee Queen, fortunately, waited for us. Once on board we were reacquainted with Councillor’s Pat Brown & Coleen Jordon and Cherry Sevigny and others. We were also joined by Associates Ben & Kate Harwood, who had holidayed in Canada, and Jonathan Harwood who only arrived that day. The cruise had been arranged to raise funds towards a memorial to the “Bomb Girls” – those that had worked during the war at the Defence Industries Limited munitions plant that is now Ajax: two of them were present (www.honourajaxbombgirls.ca) A lovely meal and good company was topped off by stunning night-time views of waterfront Toronto, dominated by the impressive CN Tower, the tallest in the world until 2010. The journey home was a lot less exciting than the one in.

 

Friday 13th June saw most members at the Town’s Public Library to listen to the first of Jonathan Harwood’s excellent presentations on The Battle of the River Plate. His 45 minute presentation was very well received by the public and school children present and he wasn’t flummoxed even when one of the school children asked if he knew Roald Dahl had been in the war: we were all impressed with Jonathan’s answer! Dinner that evening saw us all in Magwyers Pub; an establishment that became quite popular with some members!

Saturday 14th; after much debate over dress code, we were all very glad we had decided on formal as it turned out we were the guests of honour at the 40th Anniversary review of the Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Harwood. Jonathan, Ben & Kate Harwood performed the role of reviewing officers and undertook the task with great aplomb. The display put on by the Sea Cadets was quite fantastic and everyone present appreciate the amount of dedicated hard work that had been put in to it. They really appreciated having “Harwood’s” there to review them.

That evening, Debbie Steer had bravely invited us all to her place for a BBQ and to watch a certain world cup football match taking place. The hire car again came in useful for a visit to the liquor store to stock up on essentials for the festivities. Ian Cunliffe, who had been in the ’76 visit, drove from his house north of Toronto to join his shipmates who he hadn’t seen in 38 years. Nigel and Mike, being ship’s cooks were co-opted to perform BBQ duties.

Sunday 15th; off to the Forest Brook Community Church for a service of remembrance for the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the River Plate; the reason for the trip. Association members paraded in. Following a moving service, accompanied by a musical tribute by a local Orchestra, we transferred to the Royal Canadian Legion Club. Here lunch had been laid on for the many present and a convivial couple of hours passed. Stephen & Henry Harwood’s book sold like hot cakes with proceeds being split between the Cadets and the Association’s memorial fund. Bob Adams, whose father had been the designer of the Ajax Cruiser, donated his book to various people including the Mayor.

 

We were once again back at the Town Hall on the Monday in Council Chambers where Jonathan & Ben formally presented to the Mayor Steve Parish Commodore Harwood’s uniform, which occupies pride of place in the Town’s display area. Clive Sharplin also presented a print of The Battle for Crete featuring HMS Ajax. Malcolm Collis, on behalf of the Association thanked the Mayor for inviting us once again to his Town and presented him with an Order of Service for the Dedication of the 75th Anniversary Memorial of The Battle of the River Plate held in April in recognition of the Town’s generous donation. He formally invited him to attend the Anniversary luncheon to be held in Portsmouth. He also presented Debbie Steer with a line drawing of the Frigate that visited Ajax in 1976 along with other gifts in sincere gratefulness for all that she had done to oversee and organise our visit.

 

Before we moved off for the street dedication ceremonies the Mayor presented street signs for John Garrard’s street, Garrardview Street; John, who wasn’t present, is one of our River Plate Veterans and officiated at the National Memorial Arboretum. John’s street sign turned out to be too long to fit into a suitcase and arrangements were to be made to have it shipped over!

 

Also presented was Weld Drive; Captain James Weld had been a Commanding Officer on Ajax 14 September 1942 to 8 September 1944 and was in command when Ajax was bombed in Bone harbour, D-Day operations and as part of the bombarding force for Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France. He was unknown to the Association but Alf Larkin has subsequently traced one of his relatives and will present the street sign to him.

 

First port of call was Hawkins Crescent. George Hawkins had been in Ajax at the time of the River Plate and although he died in 1984 relations live in Ontario and were present for the dedication. Terence Michael, not yet an Association member, was present for the dedication of his Michaelman Road. Terence was in HMS Ajax 1943/45 and now lives in Pickering next door to Ajax.

 

Next was Collis Lane. Although Joseph visited Ajax in 2005 and received his street sign from the Mayor the street was still under construction and so not officially dedicated. Joseph died in 2012 so Malcolm & Judi were present for the dedication in his memory.

 

Sharplin Drive was in honour of Robert Sharplin who was on Ajax 1940/41 and Clive Sharplin was also present for his father’s street dedication.

 

Another of our members, Len Porte, was not well enough to travel to Canada but Cherry Sevigny & Pat Brown received Porte Road on his behalf. Vic Wilson on return to the UK presented the street sign to Len.

On completion of the street dedications we returned to Council Chambers for lunch. Photos of this day can be viewed here

 

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