Last October I attended a Legion Workshop in Charlottetown, PEI. As I had not been to the east coast since 1986, I decided to take my wife Gloria. Arriving in PEI a week prior to the workshop we rented a vehicle and spent the week on a leisurely drive around the Maritimes.
As it was Gloria’s first trip to the east coast, we decided to share the beauty of Nova Scotia, including the former Navy Base HMCS CORNWALLIS. While walking around the old Base, I noted that only a few original huts were still standing. However, the Base Commander’s Mansion was still intact and being used as a residence.
As we were walking on the property, we happened upon a veteran who shared that he had also served in Cornwallis during the 1960’s and we began a “do you remember” conversation.
He shared how interesting the Base Commander’s house had been back in the early days. This prompted a salty yarn from me whereby I told him the story about how, at the age of 18, I had gotten in trouble and been ordered by my Chief to clean up and rake the perimeter of the Base Commander’s residence. I fondly recalled that Captain (N) John Paul had been the CO at the time and that the CO’s house was strictly out of bounds.
Looking back, I related the incident of how I managed to rake and clean within the “off limits” area of the house where two teenage girls were sitting on the front steps. While engaged in profound conversation with these two beauties – the front door opened and Captain (N) Paul came out onto the porch. After a few moments of interrogation, he asked me where I was from and what prompted me to join the navy. I told him that I was from Duncan, B.C. and that my girlfriend’s dad was a retired navy chief and that he had encouraged me to join the RCN.
Still annoyed that I was on the property, the CO asked me the name of the Chief – whereas I casually responded; “Francis Hill Coverdale.” Captain Paul drew in his breath and with a quaver in his voice shared that Frank Coverdale had saved his life in the North Atlantic in 1943 while they were serving on a British Warship that had been torpedoed south of Murmansk, Russia. He explained that the ship had been hit at around 5:00 in the morning and recalled being in the burning sea several minutes later and that Frank had pulled him from the flames and held him on some debris until they were rescued.
He was so overwhelmed that I personally knew Frank that he invited me inside the house for tea. CPO Frank Coverdale joined the RCN as a 15 year old boy seaman in 1942 and wore 13 service medals by the time he retired from the navy in 1962. I had the honour of officiating at his Celebration of Life.
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