Fred Seeley and his wife, Rosemary, who passed away due to ovarian cancer in 1998. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)

Fred Seeley and his wife, Rosemary, who passed away due to ovarian cancer in 1998. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)

Colwood veteran recalls harrowing experience during Second World War

The 95 year old one of 32 survivors after German sub sinks warship

German submarine attacks, love at first sight, and love lost — Fred Seeley has experienced it all.

These days, life is smooth sailing for the 95-year-old veteran, who loves playing darts on Monday night and shuffleboard on Tuesdays at the local Legion.

But nearly 75 years ago, on March 17, 1945, he woke up on the deck of his naval ship with a broken left ankle and a swollen arm.

“A German submarine had sent a torpedo straight for our boat, the [HMCS] Guysborough,” Seeley said. “I had been knocked unconscious. When I came to, my left ankle hurt like hell, my left arm was twice the normal size, and my left eyebrow was bloody and bruised.”

READ MORE: ‘I’m just an ordinary pilot,’ insists veteran awarded France’s highest honour

Just moments before, the naval seaman was checking the damage done from a previous torpedo launched by submarine U-878, completely stopping the minesweeper in its tracks. Now, they were sinking in the Bay of Biscay, off of Ushant Island in the English Channel.

Seeley said his captain wasn’t too worried as an SOS was sent out, but he had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“The torpedo blew off the back part of the stern and we were taking on water. I went up on the deck to check if the Germans were still around and they circled us before sending that final torpedo that sent me flying in the air.”

Seeley realized he had to get out of there quick. Most of the crew jumped into large lifeboats which were ‘shaped like donuts’, according to him. The veteran says everyone who was still alive jumped off the boat except two men who stayed behind in the rum locker, drinking as the ship sank.

“It’s a shame that liquor meant more than their lives,” he added.

The crew spent 19 hours at sea before being rescued. Seeley noted that some seaman died from exposure. In all, 51 of 83 crew members on board lost their lives that day, according to the Government of Canada website.

After HMCS Guysborough sank, Seeley spent nearly six months recovering at a hospital in Plymouth, England.

This wasn’t the war that Seeley envisioned when he first signed up at 17, in December 1941. His brother had signed up for the army two years before.

“Everyone was doing it,” he pointed out. “If you didn’t go, people would have ridiculed you saying, ‘Why won’t you fight for your country?’”

Seeley began training in his hometown of Dauphin, Manitoba, but soon found himself in Greater Victoria at the Naden base. He was taught how to use sonar technology for his work on minesweepers. Each of these small naval ships was equipped with mechanical devices, known as sweeps, to disable mines.

The training helped him immensely on the infamous D-Day. On June 6, 1944, he was in the waters off Omaha Beach.

ALSO READ: Three young West Shore sisters well painting for veterans

“It was scary all right,” Seely said. “The sky was full of bomber jets. There were a couple of dogfights right above our heads, but we were okay.”

His team dealt with most of the mines for the American front. He says people who were given his task usually survived 50 per cent of the time because minesweepers commonly sailed through uncertain waters, well ahead of the attack front.

Though he was able to steer clear of the trouble that day, he had his heart stolen by a woman in the navy at a British pub in 1945. Her name was Rosemary.

“She was dancing with a tall redhead across the room when I spotted her,” Seely said. “She had amazing red hair and was really lively for being five feet tall. It was love at first sight for me on that dance floor.”

Three months later, they were married. She was 19 and he was 20. Seeley recalls that day as an unforgettable one, alongside VE Day.

“I knew that we were gonna win all along,” Seeley said. “I was grinning when I read the headline in the newspaper that day.”

With the war finished, Seeley moved with his wife and their first child to Winnipeg, then to back to his hometown to work on local railroads as a freight conductor.

Before he knew it, the couple had five children and the family moved to Kamloops in 1956. A couple decades later, they made their way over to Victoria to escape the cold winters. The marriage that lasted 53 years came to an end in October 1998, when Rosemary died from terminal ovarian cancer.

Now, the 95 year old lives with one of his daughters and her husband in a quiet Colwood neighborhood. The veteran has 11 grandchildren and estimates ‘at least a dozen’ great-grandchildren.

When asked if he had the choice to rewind his life back to 17, Seeley said he would ‘do it all again.’

aaron.guillen@

goldstreamgazette.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This image shows northbound traffic on Highway 17 looking to turn west onto Keating Cross Road (far right top corner), crossing the southbound lane on Highway 17. A new flyover overpass promises to ease delays and improve safety, but the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce is calling for revisions in joining other critics. (Screencap/Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)
Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce calls for revisions to Central Saanich flyover overpass

Chamber deems current proposal necessary but insufficient in calling for full movement interchange

North Saanich Municipal Hall. The District released its annual report last week. (Peninsula News Review)
Pig shelter at Sandown Agricultural Lands comes down

North Saanich warned centre of stop-work order and possible fine

The Capital Regional Hospital District has approved awarding a tender to QM Environmental for the demolition and hazardous materials disposal of the Oak Bay Lodge. (Black Press Media File)
Winning bidder approved for Oak Bay Lodge demolition

Capital Regional Hospital District board approves $4.266 million budget for project

The Greater Victoria Women’s Transition House Society provides an essential service and has only seen an uptick in need since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Pixabay)
Greater Victoria women’s shelter adds second safe harbour

Costs soar as need does for Greater Victoria Women’s Transition House Society

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: Lookout Lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

The plane blasted through an airport fence and down a hill, before stopping before a cement barrier on Highway 5A, right in front of a school bus. Photo submitted.
Student pilot crashes plane onto Highway 5A almost hitting school bus

Aircraft hit pavement right in front of school bus

Eight-year-old Piper and her family were raising money to help Guinevere, the bearded dragon, get a gynecological surgery. Sadly, the reptile didn’t survive the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Lizard fails to survive surgery, GoFundMe dollars help Langley family offset medical bills

Guinevere, a pet bearded dragon, underwent an ovariectomy on Tuesday

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Premier John Horgan booked to get AstraZeneca shot Friday

‘Let’s show all British Columbians that the best vaccine is the one that’s available to you now,’ he said

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks about the province’s COVID-19 vaccine plans during a news conference at the legislature in Victoria. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
P.1 variant likely highest in B.C. due to more testing for it: Dr. Henry

Overall, just under 60% of new daily cases in the province involve variants

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you have a plan in place in the event of a tsunami?

Tsunamis have claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people between 1998… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 13

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

An armed officer walks outside Cerwydden Care on Cowichan Lake Road near Skinner Road Wednesday, April 14 around 5:30 p.m. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Police standoff at Duncan apartment ends peacefully

Officers surround building as homeowner held in apartment for nearly four hours by adult son

Most Read