Vet recalls life at war and at sea

Clarence Buchner still finds it strange spending most of his time on land.

“I grew up on Pelee Island,” Buchner said. “The thought of still being on the water while at war sounded just like a dream come true.”

While serving in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War seemed a hasty choice, Buchner feels it was the perfect fit.

“I was excited enough to lie about my age – left when I was only 15,” he said.

Buchner, now 83, joined the navy with his older brother at the very start of the war. While their choice to fight at sea and avoid hand-to-hand combat relieved their loved ones, life in the navy proved challenging.

“You know, even on a navy ship, I was one of the few boys who could swim,” Buchner said. “I thought that made me special at first, until I realized anyone who spent over a minute in water that cold was a goner anyway.”

Buchner served most of his time on the HMCS Calgary, a flower-class corvette responsible for escorting convoy ships carrying infantry and important cargo across the Atlantic. They were the only line of defence against the German U-boats.

“There were a couple scrapes that came a bit too close, but we were lucky enough to always get out without too much damage,” Buchner said.

At sea Buchner said he felt isolated from loved ones and everyday life. He found himself in incredible pain shortly after setting out, but the ship was already too far out to head back to shore.

“(My) appendix gave me trouble the second week out. Wouldn’t have been too much of a problem to have it taken out back home, but it gave the ship’s doctor a hell of a time,” Buchner said.“(I) couldn’t even tell anyone until we got to send letters out a month later.”