HMS Ajax & River Plate Veterans Association


Town of Ajax

Taken from Town of Ajax website:


On September 10, 1939, Canada declared war on Germany. On that day, the present site of the Town of Ajax was peaceful rolling farmland nestled  on the edge of Lake Ontario in Pickering Township. It had been to this area, 150 years prior, that the first white settlers had arrived to start their new life in a new land. All this was to change very quickly. In 1941, this farmland became the site of Defence Industries Limited (D.I.L.), Pickering Works.


Thus began a vast shell filling plant which before 1945 had: filled 40 million shells; employed over 9,000 people at peak production; boasted of its own water and sewage treatment plants; a school population of over 600; 30 miles of railroad and 30 miles of roads. The entire D.I.L. plant site included some 2,985 acres. People came from all over Canada to work at D.I.L. This enormous burgeoning war plant community needed a name.


The name was supplied by the first significant British naval victory of World War II. From December 13 to December 19, 1939, a flotilla of British warships - HMS Ajax, HMS Exeter and HMS Achilles  - commanded by Commodore Henry H. Harwood  - engaged and routed the powerful German pocket battleship Graf Spee at the Battle of the River Plate, near the Uruguayan port of Montevideo in South America. The name Ajax and the names of her sister ships became worldwide symbols of courage and determination. Ajax was chosen, therefore, as the name of this war-born community.


In 1945, World War II ended, but not Ajax. As the young veterans returned home, accommodation was required for thousands of additional university students. Consequently, the University of Toronto leased much of the D.I.L. plant to house the new flood of engineering students. War machines were moved out and the buildings were converted to classrooms and laboratories. The residences that had housed war workers now housed university students. All the facilities of the University of Toronto were duplicated at Ajax. By 1949, the last year of the University of Toronto, Ajax Division, some 7,000 engineering students had received their basic training here.


But what was to become of Ajax? Many people who worked or lived in Ajax during D.I.L. or university days wanted to remain here. Due largely to the vision of George W. Finley of Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Ajax became a planned modern community using the war time base for its post-war foundation. The sword was now beaten into ploughshares. Post-war Ajax began its growth.


Industry and people came from everywhere to take advantage of the many assets of Ajax - its schools, its churches, its hospital, its steam plant, its comprehensive planning, its geography - close to Toronto but setting a separate pace - and its friendly, industrious, involved citizens.



The Connection between HMS Ajax and River Plate Veterans Association and the Town of Ajax continues today:


When you look at a street sign in Ajax, you are looking at history: most of our streets have been named after the officers and men that served on the HMS Ajax Cruiser before, during and after the war and at the Battle of the River Plate . The street names include Exeter Road named after HMS Exeter and Achilles Road named after HMS Achilles. Harwood Avenue is named for Admiral Henry Harwood, commander of the Ajax. Occasionally members of the crew of HMS Ajax or their families visit our Town to see the streets named after them. On such occasions a tree planting is done, and a plaque is placed at the foot of the tree. The visitor is presented with a street sign bearing his name. We have had several significant events to mark our link with the HMS Ajax and World War II: Ship’s Visit. A tradition dating from 1963 has each incoming Mayor extend an invitation for the HMS Ajax to visit. The tradition started when then-mayor William Parish visited Birkenhead, England to attend the commissioning of the eighth Royal Navy vessel to carry the name Ajax. (The seventh vessel was the one involved in the Battle of River Plate). The invitation could not be accepted until a few years later when it was extended by Mayor Clark Mason. The HMS Ajax docked at Oshawa on August 25, 1976. The crew was given "Freedom of the Town," the highest honour that can be bestowed on a visiting military unit. The crew paraded down Harwood Ave with swords raised, bayonets fixed, and colours flying.



Ship's Bell in Council Chambers

When the eighth HMS Ajax retired in 1985, the Town was presented with the ship's bell, which now hangs in the Council chamber and is used to call meetings to order.


Ship's anchor memorial

The anchor from the retired ship was brought to Canada on the HMS Fife in 1987, and was presented to then-Mayor Bill McLean. It rests in front of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 322 on Hunt Street. It is a memorial to Canadians who died serving overseas, and to those who served on ships named HMS Ajax. Several hundred veterans and residents attended the dedication ceremony, which was broadcast to England by special trans-Atlantic hook-up.


D.I.L. 50th Anniversary

The Town celebrated the 50th anniversary of D.I.L. in June 1991 with a reception for those who worked at the plant and those who attended the University of Toronto engineering school in Ajax from 1948-49. A plaque was erected to honour the munitions workers of Ajax.


Veteran reunion

In October 1999 the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of the River Plate was marked in Ajax with the veterans' association's annual reunion. Many activities were held during the week, including dedication of the Harwood Point Historical Garden, a flypast of a Canadian Forces plane, tree planting ceremonies, and a parade. The town had a total of 65 visitors, including 12 veterans who served on HMS Ajax at the Battle in December 1939. There were also crew members from the Achilles and Exeter, along with family members and other representatives. The 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the River Plate was celebrated in October 2009. Notable events included dedication of a memorial Obelisk at Veteran’s Point, gala dinner & dance, Toronto Harbour boat cruise and historical town bus tour.

The Association also visited again as part of the 2014 75th anniversary celebrations and again in 2016 to mark the 40th Anniversary of the visit of the Frigate.

The planned 2020 Mayor’s Gala Ball for 65th Anniversary of the Town was cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.



Visits to England

There have been several visits by Ajax mayors and Town representatives to England for the annual reunion of the HMS Ajax & River Plate Veterans Association, including in 1997, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2014.

The planned 2020 visit was cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Town of Ajax website Veterans' biographies

This link takes you to the biography pages for the veterans who have had street dedications

scan0014 Harwood Ave DSC03607 P1040458 IMG_6103 Ajax Street Index as of Feb 2018