History by Sheila Sims
Able Bodied Seaman William Donald McCrindle contemplated a fitting name for a buckskin colt due to be born back home as his ship was tossed upon the waves of the Atlantic. Perhaps the ocean reminded him of the home he longed for, waves like the ripening fields of grain tossed lightly in the wind. McCrindle wrote the folks back home and suggested the name Sea-Biscuit for the colt.
Throughout the long and arduous military training that spanned Canada — some in Saskatoon, then Nadden, B.C. and finally Timmins, Ont. — McCrindle wrote continuously to his folks back home. Never far from his mind were the animals, the neighbors, the shingle mill and the farm. He would also speculate on ways he and his dad could make an extra buck, like logging. Then there was the constant longing for a special girl of his own. His reality, though, was the sea and fighting in the Second World War, many miles removed from all he held dear.
Weekly letters were full of questions about life in Pontrilas and generic ramblings about his new life. The longing tone of the letters suggested that there would never be anywhere else in the world that could become a haven of warmth to him except for Saskatchewan. Though he was quick to mention his appreciation of other ports and enter into any amusements or wonders found therein, none else held the attraction and feel of home.
In another reflection from the endless personally written archives of my great uncle’s life, he returned to the thought that “owning a horse was the best part of one’s life.” Skipper, May and Blondie were all asked about as If they were part of the family instead of work and riding horses. Thoughts of buying a neighbor’s team for spring work were debated in a letter.
Later his letters reveal that while he was proud to be able to defend his homeland, and grateful to provide some much needed money to send to his parents, these two truths were colored with the thread of the endless weighty yearnings of a homesick farm boy.
Girls occupied many of Mccrindle’s waking moments. There were the girls back home, especially Olga. She was a consistent encouragement to a lonely seaman through her letters, pictures and prayers. On the other side of the ocean, there were new girls to catch his fancy and flatter him about how handsome he was in his uniform. Still at 23, he feared becoming a confirmed bachelor and teased his younger sister about becoming his maid upon his return.
Finally he was granted leave to recover after being seriously injured. Although the pain was great, his joy at being home overshadowed the injuries and the memories of war. While at home, McCrindle was infused with a renewed passion to protect all that he held dear, his loved ones and their land.
Before he was fully recovered, the call came to return to duty and McCrindle did not hesitate. His new ship, the Athabaskan, was short-handed and he could work in the kitchen while he continued his recuperation, he cheerfully told his family.
McCrindle wrote the last letter his family received on April 6, 1944. His mind was on many things like taking extra precautions with women. He shared that he had decided not to drink so much, even going as far as to refuse his rum ration. Once again the longing for the land was evident as he wished he could be home for Spring work.
The Athabaskan was attacked and McCrindle was listed as “missing, presumed dead” by the Navy. His mother’s agony is evidenced in her letter asking the department for an updated list of prisoners of war.
McCrindle was believed to be in the gun section that received a direct hit. The likelihood of him surviving the blow, or a swim in the cold and dark sea was dismal. Some of the men were rescued from the water and taken prisoner but McCrindle was not listed among them.
His father, on hearing the news of the Athabaskan, did not hold onto the hope that his mother and sisters did. McCrindle’s father William was working in the field with his son-in-law Jack wnen the news came. tvunam paused and said: “He’s gone, my boy’s gone.”
Eleven years after McCrindle went missing in action, Cora was invited by the secretary-general of the Imperial War Graves Commission to attend the unveiling ceremony of the Halifax Memorial July 31. Cora had no money for such a trip so did not attend.
Three years after the memorial, a small lake in Saskatchewan was named in memory of the young sailor. McCrindle Lake lies at the south end of Reindeer Lake.