Gilbert Eldridge
Eldridge survived to tell the tale
Gib Eldridge BEAVER HARBOUR - When his corvette was torpedoed off the coast of England during the second world war Gilbert "Gib" Eldridge got a cold dousing in the English Channel but he survived to tell the tale unlike some of his comrades.
    The 84-year-old Beaver Harbour native was 20 years old when the second world war broke out and by the time he celebrated his 21st birthday he was in Bermuda serving on board a British ship which had been a passenger vessel in peace time.
    Eldridge signed up for the navy in Saint John in 1940 and was there for a couple of weeks before he was moved to Halifax for some basic training but he was only there a short while too before volunteering to serve on board The Maloja.
    "There was a call for volunteers to go on this British armed ship The Maloja which had been a big passenger ship in peace time.   It had been fitted with eight six-inch guns.  There were British navy on board her as well as some merchant marines. The gunners and the officers were all from the British navy - and the officers were quite strict."
    While on board the vessel Eldridge said the Canadians were paid $1.65 a day which wasn't much but was quite a bit more than the British who were only getting the equivalent of 52c a day.   The Canadian sailors were getting as much as the British officers, he said.
    He recalled that a lot of the new sailors were seasick at first but, fortunately, it didn't bother him.   Some of those who joined the navy and came to Halifax had come from out west, he said, and had never even seen a boat before.
   The ship went from Halifax to Bermuda were they picked up convoys and escorted merchant vessels bound for the British coast stopping in Iceland on the way to fuel up.   Eldridge remained with The Maloja for only ten months then he was sent back to Saint John where he joined the corvette Amherst.
    The Amherst sailed between St. John's, Newfoundland and Londonderry, Ireland, and he served on board the corvette for 18 months making 22 crossings during that period.
    "We would pick the convoys up in St. John's and cross over to England with them and then escort the empty ships back.   We lost a lot of ships but during that period I never even broke a finger."
    After serving on board the Amherst Eldridge went back to Halifax for three months training as a petty officer then he was sent to Trenton, Ontario to pick up another corvette the Trentonian.     
    The corvette was doing escort duty and they were also on the beaches on D-Day then the vessel was assigned to a small convey traveling between Cardiff, Wales and Antwerp, Belgium.
    "We made one trip and Belgium was all clear of the Germans.   We were going down with the second convoy when we got torpedoed eight miles off Falmouth (Devon) and the ship went down in less than 15 minutes."
    There were 101 people on board the corvette, said Eldridge, and eight of them were killed - one of them a buddy of his who was an electrician from Grand Manan.
    "It hit the stern of the boat and blew the stern right off.   I was down in the boiler room but he was setting depth charges.   He was killed and so were seven other people."
    When the corvette went down there were lifeboats but Eldridge didn't make it into one so he jumped into the water which was pretty cold since it was Feb 22, 1945.
    "Everyone was detailed for a float and mine was on the upper deck but by the time I was up out of the boiler room I could not get in so I had to jump in the water but I had a life jacket.   I wasn't the only one.   There were quite a few heads bobbing in the water."
    Fortunately, he said, they were rescued fairly quickly and were only in the water for about half-an-hour before help arrived.
    By that time Eldridge said he was getting pretty cold since he had only been wearing a pair of dungarees and a shirt as he had been working in the boiler room when the corvette was hit.
    The crew were taken into Falmouth and from there they were sent by train to Scotland.   From Scotland he was supposed to join a troop ship to England but Eldridge said he never went to sea again.
    Even though he was a long way from home it was while he was here that he meet another New Brunswicker - Herb Matthews from L'Etete.
    Eldridge said he heard this voice asking the way to the wet canteen and realized he recognized it.   He had known Matthews back home.
    "They had taken over an old hotel and they kept us there then in April I came home.   I got annual leave and 30 days survivor leave.   I was home on VE day."
    After the war Eldridge worked for a short while on a small coastal freighter belonging to Connors Bros and then in 1950 he joined the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as a fishery officer where he remained until he remained until he retired in 1984.
    He met his wife, Amy, when she came on holiday to New Brunswick from PEI and the couple were married in 1949 - they have one son.
    Although he stills sees Matthews, who he said often talks about their chance meeting in Scotland during the war, Eldridge said he has not kept in touch with any of his old comrades since the reunions are always held in Ontario although he said he got to know a lot of people during his service in the navy.
    Since his retirement Eldridge said he has not done too much except to enjoy hunting and fishing.
    He and his wife continue to live in the house on the water's edge where Eldridge was born and grew up.
    Apart from his service during the war he has spent most of his life in Beaver Harbour.   He went to school in Beaver Harbour and when he left school went lobster fishing with his father.
SOURCE: The Saint Croix Courier (Tuesday, November 11, 2003) - written by permission.

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