George Van't Haaff
HMCS Prince David
George’s brother joined the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in 1937, leaving the dust and swarming locusts behind. George intended to do the same, even as war threatened in Europe.
In January 1940, the RCN shipped George to Esquimalt, British Columbia for basic training. George remembers a lot of running, physical training (PT), and rowing a 27-foot whaler around the harbour in the face of ice-cold spray from the sea and bitter gusts of wind.
George became a victualler for the base in Esquimalt. He was responsible for supplying food and drink to the sailors stationed there, including their daily rum ration, a navy tradition.
On D-Day, George was aboard Prince David, which served as an infantry landing ship (medium). George’s crew brought troops of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade to positions off Juno Beach in time for the assault.
George and the crew of HMCS Prince David played a similar role during Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France in August 1944.
George Van’t Haaff passed away on 31 July 2007, aged 87. He left behind Patricia, his wife of 60 years, and three sons.
HMCS Prince David
On D-Day, George Van’t Haaff served aboard HMCS Prince David, one of three passenger/cargo steamships commissioned into Royal Canadian Navy service during the Second World War. The others were HMCS Prince Henry and HMCS Prince Robert. They were built and launched just as the Great Depression hit, and their owner, Canadian National Steamships, had difficulty finding work for the new vessels.
The Royal Canadian Navy converted all three into armed merchant cruisers in 1940. The idea was for these larger vessels, armed with four six-inch guns and two three-inch guns, to deter powerful German warships seeking to attack convoys on the high seas. The former steamships served in this role until 1943, when they again underwent refits.
HMCS Prince Robert became an anti-aircraft escort ship, bristling with over 20 anti-aircraft guns. HMCS Prince David and HMCS Prince Henry became infantry landing ships (medium) or LSI (M). Prince David now had two twin four-inch guns, ten anti-aircraft guns, cranes for lifting cargo and smaller landing craft from the sea, and accommodation for nearly 500 soldiers and their equipment.
After the assault, HMCS Prince David turned its focus to casualty evacuation. On the evening of 6 June 1944, she returned to Southampton, England at full speed with a load of casualties from the beaches. Between 7 and 14 June, the ship crisscrossed the English Channel, bringing reinforcements for the Canadian and British armies to Normandy.
The Royal Canadian Navy on D-Day
An assault exercise prior to D-Day.
The Chaudières boarding ship in Portsmouth on June 4, 1944.
Soldier loaded with equipment prior to boarding landing craft.
Régiment de la Chaudière loading onto landing craft.
Landing craft headed towards Juno Beach on D-Day.
Soldiers loading onto a landing craft.
Landing craft heading towards Juno Beach on D-Day.
Reinforcements wading ashore on Juno Beach.
Wounded soldier being hoisted onto th Prince David on D-Day.
Wounded man being loaded onto the Prince David on D-Day.
Canadians landing in Vichy France, August 1944
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