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Ceremony to commemorate HMCS Esquimalt sinking in '45

Apr 14 2012

A ceremony in Esquimalt on Monday will mark the anniversary of the sinking of HMCS Esquimalt off Halifax at the close of the Second World War.

HMCS Esquimalt was the last Canadian warship lost to enemy action when it was torpedoed on the morning of April 16, 1945.

Before the public ceremony, which will be held at 5: 30 p.m. at Esquimalt Memorial Park, the family of the longest-living survivor of the stricken vessel will commit his ashes to the sea.

Joe Wilson, of Chase, died on Jan. 1. Navy officials and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins will accompany the family on the short voyage.

Fred Mimee, the ship's second-longest-living survivor, was 17 when war broke out and about 20 when he signed up, his son Kevin Mimee said Friday. Fred Mimee died Nov. 9, 2011.

HMCS Esquimalt was hit by the torpedo in its stern quarter at 6: 30 a.m. Many crew members were still in their bunks.

"It was a very, very warm night, so hot they had the porthole open on the top," said Mimee.

"When the ship got torpedoed, most of the guys scrambled up through that porthole."

Forty-three men escaped, but 16 died soon after from exposure.

There had not been time for the vessel to send a distress call, so the survivors were in the water six hours awaiting rescue.

"He'd be talking to a buddy on one side, then he'd talk to the buddy on the other side," Mimee said of his father.

"After four or five minutes, he'd come back to the other buddy and he would have drifted off - he couldn't take the cold."

Mimee now wonders what it was that kept his father hanging on long enough to be rescued.

"A lot of guys gave up," he said. "What made him go that extra two or three hours?"

HMCS Sarnia finally came to look for the vessel and rescued the surviving men from the water.

Fred Mimee never really talked much about the sinking, said his son. None of his five children knew until later in life that their father had lived through the harrowing event.

"He was proud that he served, and in later years he participated in the Nov. 11 activities," Mimee said.

"When I look at some of the pictures, he had that sparkle in his eye, and when he died at 89, he still had that sparkle in his eye."

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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