Title--Remembering HMCS Bras d'Or

Welcome to this page which is a tribute to the Canadian World War Two minesweeper HMCS Bras d'Or and the men who served on her. When Canada declared war on Germany on September 10th, 1939, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) was tiny in size and possessed only a few ships. There was a desperate need for naval vessels to undertake the many duties involved in protecting Canada's coastline, but until Canadian shipyards began producing new minesweepers and corvettes later in the war, the RCN had to make do with whatever ships they could find. Along with fishing trawlers from the Fisherman's Reserve the navy requisitioned a collection of ships from such sources as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, various government departments and even obliging owners of private luxury yachts. One of the new vessels-- a government-owned lightship in her civilian career -- was converted into the minesweeper HMCS (His Majesty's Canadian Ship) Bras d'Or .

HMCS Bras d'Or from Canadian Naval Chronicle

Built to WWI-era plans, the 265-ton trawler had been in government service for 13 years when World War Two began. She was named Bras d'Or after Bras d'Or Lake, the arm of the Atlantic Ocean which nearly cuts the island of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in two.

The famous inventor Alexander Graham Bell had his summer home at Baddeck on the shore of Bras d'Or Lake. In 1917 Bell and one of his partners, F. W. Baldwin, began testing their fast new hydrofoil watercraft, the HD-4, on the waters of the lake.

Photo Courtesy of: The Canadian Naval Chronicle 1939-1945 by Commander Fraser McKee and Captain Robert Darlington. Vanwell Publishing: St. Catharine's, Ontario, c1996.

Unable to spare members of its permanent navy to command the newly converted vessels, the RCN looked instead to skilled seamen from the Fisherman's Reserve and Merchant (Mercantile) Marine to provide captains and officers whenever possible. To fill the other positions on board these new naval auxiliaries, the RCN relied on the thousands of enthusiastic young men who volunteered to join the navy from all across Canada. The duties undertaken by auxiliaries were varied -- Bras d'Or, for example, found herself practising minesweeping, escorting local merchant ships, patrolling for enemy submarines and even capturing an enemy freighter, the Italian Capo Noli, when Italy declared war against the Allies on June 10th, 1940. Map of St. Lawrence On the night of October 19th, 1940, only four months after her celebrated capture of Capo Noli, Bras d'Or was on routine patrol duty in the St. Lawrence River when she was ordered to escort a Rumanian freighter, Ingener N. Vlassopol from Baie Comeau, Quebec to the port of Sydney, Nova Scotia. Sydney, situated on Cape Breton Island, was the port where the slower merchant ships assembled before they set out in convoy for the United Kingdom. Romania had just recently been occupied by German troops, and the Canadian authorities wanted to make sure that Ingener N. Vlassopol didn't slip away to deliver her cargo to an enemy country. The two ships travelled down river together but in the Gulf of St. Lawrence they ran into a terrible storm and heavy seas which eventually separated them. The little minesweeper and the thirty men aboard her disappeared into the storm and in spite of rigorous searching efforts no trace was ever found of them.

The following newspaper clipping from a Montreal, Quebec newspaper would have been the first information released to the public about the suspected loss of HMCS Bras d'Or. The four men whose photos are shown -- Lieutenant (Engineering) Malcolm Cumming, age 45; Telegraphist Ib Korning, age 19; Able Seaman Joseph Emile Richard Pelletier, age 33; and Ordinary Signalman John Joseph Stasin, age 20 -- all came from the Montreal area. Bras d'Or's commanding officer, Lieutenant Charles A. Hornsby came from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

HMCS Bras d'Or Feared Lost Clipping from Montreal Newspaper

The following two clippings focus on the minesweeper's Engineer Lieutenant Malcolm Cumming of Verdun, Quebec. Malcolm's nephew, Bill Lavery, has made all these clippings available in the hope that they will help put a human face on the tragedy.

Parents Here Learn of Lost
Canadian -- clipping from Westbrook, Maine Newspaper

Malcolm Cumming's parents lived in Westbrook, Maine, and this article is from a Westbrook newspaper. Portland is a nearby city. During the war the shipyard at South Portland built many Liberty Ships, one of which, the SS Jeremiah O'Brien is a living memorial now berthed at San Francisco.

Malcolm Cumming's Obituary

In order to differentiate the old permanent navy personnel from the new volunteer wartime-only sailors, the navy used the terms Royal Canadian Naval Reserve (RCNR) for reservists who like Malcolm Cumming and C.A. Hornsby had previous seamanship experience. For the others who had little or no experience, but who soon formed the majority, the navy used the term Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR). The RCNVR officers wore wavy gold bands on their uniform cuffs and because they so greatly outnumbered the other RCN and RCNR officers, this wartime Canadian navy came to be dubbed the "Wavy Navy".

HMCS Bras d'Or was not the only vessel to be lost in the St. Lawrence during World War Two. Between May 1942 and November 1944 in what historians now refer to as the "Battle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence", a total of 19 merchant ships and 4 naval ships were sunk in the St. Lawrence River and Gulf by a few German U-boats. At least 340 people -- 136 of them aboard the Newfoundland ferry SS Caribou -- died as a result of these attacks.

In the years following the war the sacrifice of the little minesweeper Bras d'Or was not forgotten and in 1961 the Canadian Navy christened its revolutionary new hydrofoil HMCS Bras d'Or. By choosing the name Bras D'Or the Navy paid tribute to Bell and Baldwin's earlier hydrofoil, the HD-4, and honoured the memory of the first HMCS Bras d'Or and her gallant men.

Walter G. Armes

George W. Brenton

Walter J. Brown

Joseph P.L. Burton

Harold G. Chaddock

Harold G. Clancy

Elward R. Conrad

Malcolm Cumming

Joseph F. D'Entremont

William J. Doherty

Gerald K. Ellis

Gilbert B. Gordon

John W. Hacker

Leonard Hill

Walter M. Hillier

Charles A. Hornsby

Hugh J.F. Jones

William D. Keating

Ib Korning

Clarence L. May

Harry Murphy

Joseph E.R. Pelletier

Guy D. Pettipas

Herman Ruel

John J. Stasin

Joseph E. Stewart

Gordon W. Walters

Matthew Watson

Miles L. Webb

James L. Young



The Books of Remembrance This Veterans Affairs Canada site displays each page from the beautiful Books of Remembrance which are located in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. One of the other features of the Veterans Affairs Canada website is the Canadian Virtual War Memorial which welcomes digital images of photos and personal memorabilia of all those who are commemorated.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission This site commemorates all members of the Commonwealth Forces who died in WWI and WWII along with 60,000 civilian casualties of WWII.

The Canadian Navy of Yesterday and Today This site created by Sandy McClearn presents information about the ships and aircraft of Canada's Navy. Sandy has listed many useful links and sources. These pages are part of the huge Haze Gray and Underway Naval History and Photography site.

New Lest We Forget: HMCS Bras d'Or This page which is part of the Coat of Arms of J. Stewart a. Le Forte website, features a beautiful painting of HMCS Bras d'Or.

For more suggestions please visit this site's other Links and Sources Pages:
Allied Merchant Navy of WWII LINKS Allied Merchant Navy of WWII SOURCES
CPR Ships LINKS and CPR Ships SOURCES Pages. Chuck Betworth's Maritime Links and Sources

The Canadian Naval Chronicle 1939-1945: The Successes and Losses of the Canadian Navy in World War Two, by Captain Robert A. Darlington and Commander Fraser M. McKee. Published by Vanwell Publishing Ltd. of St. Catharines, Ontario, c.1996. This book is an indispensable research tool for anyone interested in the role of the Canadian Navy in WWII. The authors have also included a chapter on Canadian merchant ships lost to enemy action along with a helpful glossary, an extensive bibliography, various indexes and wide variety of other very useful information.


Sink All the Shipping There: Canada's Lost Wartime Merchant Ships and Fishing Schooner Sinkings, by Commander Fraser McKee. Published by Vanwell Publishing, St. Catharines, Ontario, 2004, ISBN 1551250551. Commander McKee's eagerly awaited new book about Canadian Merchant Navy losses, is now available from Amazon Books. The book includes the full story of HMCS Bras D'Or's capture of the Italian merchantman Cap Noli and the role played by the Canadian pilot and war hero, Flight Lieutenant (later Air Commodore) Leonard J. Birchall, "The Saviour of Ceylon".

The Longest Battle: The Royal Canadian Navy in the Atlantic 1939-1945, by John D. Harbron. Published by Vanwell Publishing Ltd., St. Catharines, Ontario, c.1993, 1995.

Far Distant Ships: An Official Account of Canadian Naval Operations in World War Two, by Lieutenant Commander Joseph Schull. Published by Stoddart Publishing, Toronto, c.1987. (First published in 1950).

The Sea is at Our Gates: The History of the Canadian Navy, by Commander Tony German. Published by McClelland and Stewart Inc., Toronto, c.1990.

Bill Lavery can be contacted at

Please visit the HMCS Bras d'Or Guestbook

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This page is maintained by Maureen Venzi and is part of the Allied Merchant Navy of WWII website.

Updated 28 August 2003

This Atlantic Canada Webring site is owned by Maureen Venzi

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