Monday, 10 November 2014

Small city park part of our experience of war

There is a small park in Owen Sound across from the Cenotaph. It is more commonly noticed during the Festival of Northern Lights, as it is the place that the dinosaurs seemed to congregate.

The park has a name. HMS Jervis Bay Park. But the question could still be asked, "Why is there a park named for an obscure Royal Navy ship in Owen Sound, a long way from the Atlantic Ocean?"

The story is one of our history and, by extension, our experience of war.

HMS Jervis Bay was sunk while protecting a convoy of ships travelling between Halifax and England. She was a converted ocean liner, armed with a few ancient naval guns. She was the main protection for a 37 ship convoy.

On November 5, 1940, the convoy was attacked by the German battleship Admiral Scheer.

Outgunned and out run, the captain of the Jervis Bay, Edward S.F. Fegen ordered the convoy to scatter, laid down smoke to protect their movement and then turned toward the Admiral Scheer to draw its fire.

The captain’s plan was bold and foolhardy. Outgunned and outmanouvered, the first shells from the German ship tore into the bridge of mthe Jervis Bay, seriously wounding Captain Fegen.

The attack lasted 24 minutes. By that time the order was given to abandon ship and three hours later the Jervis Bay went down with 190 men, including Captain Fegen on board.

Thirty two of the thirty seven ships made it safely to port, the Admiral Scheer sinking five.

Captain Fegen was awarded the Victoriua Cross posthumously. The citation read, "For valour in challenging hopeless odds and giving his life to save the

many ships it was his duty to protect."

But why a park in Owen Sound? Fegen was, from all records, a Royal Navy officer. What is the tie to this city?

The answer lies in the casualty list of the HMS Jervis Bay.

Amony the 190 officers and men who does was Stoker A.M. "Jimmie" Johnstone, RCNR. And Stoker Johnstone was the first death of anyone from Owen Sound in World War Two.

I am sure that the family and the city were grief-stricken with the news. As a result, the city dedicated a park to Johnstone’s memory. The J. James picture of the park, which is undated but likely takes shortly after it was dedicated, shows an open, light-filled space with low shrubs and trees. That’s a far cry from the thick trees and shrubs that surround the park today. The location is significant in that is it across the street from the Cenotaph, a memorial in the day and now, to those who died in World War One.

Last week, Melanie Pledger, a student at OSCVI, researching the lives of local soldiers said this in this newspaper: "When discussing war, it's easy to get swallowed up in the numbers. By highlighting the efforts of one individual, the service and sacrifice Canadians made during times of war becomes more relatable. We only forget the individuals involved if we let ourselves!"

2015 will be the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the HMS Jervis Bay and the death of Owen Sound’s first casualty in the Second World War. I hope there will be some recognition, apart from Remembrance Day, of the death of Jimmie Johnstone and our response to it.

Thinning out the trees in the park might be a good beginning.


Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County