Royal Canadian Navy : Memorial For Guy Theriault, 1922-2017.
By Barbara Zarlengo.
Guy Maurice Clement Joseph Theriault.
Stoker 1st Class, V38688, RCNVR.
Died: 06 Nov 2017, Tucson, Arizona, USA.
(Note: His names were listed in reverse order in the official Canadian Navy register during World War II.)
Guy was born in Montreal, Quebec in June 1922. In his later teen years he studied and began work as an apprentice for a career as a machinist.
In 1941, as World War II was raging, he enlisted in the Canadian Navy, training in Halifax NS, and Toronto ON. He was ultimately assigned to
HMCS Athabaskan G07 as a stoker (1) and sailed with her until the ship’s demise on 29 April 1944. The sinking of
HMCS Athabaskan G07 in the English Channel is a well-known story. Although many shipmates were lost that morning,
Guy survived and was picked up in the cold and oily waters of the English Channel near Plouescat, Brittany, France, by
HMCS Haida before the Germans returned to the scene. He was badly burned on his arms and face, especially his eyes,
and he spent a month partially recovering in a hospital north of Plymouth, England. In June of 1944, he returned to Montreal, a couple of weeks
before his 22nd birthday, where he continued his recovery. Guy remained in the Navy during his convalescence but was no longer fit for duty in the war
overseas. He was assigned to Hull House, a home converted into a recovery center in Montreal, where he drove the ambulance for the medical facility
until his honorable discharge in December 1945.
On 27 August 1943, less than a year before the battle in which HMCS Athabaskan G07 was lost, the ship was involved in a
major battle southwest of the Bay of Biscay off the coast of Spain. A German aircraft glider bomb (a newly invented bomb) hit the ship, bursting through
the Chief Petty Officers’ mess. Guy was just coming off his shift in the boiler room and he was thrown across the deck through the kitchen. He badly
injured his knee and his hearing was greatly impaired. The ship itself was seriously damaged and had to return to Plymouth, England, sailing very slowly
and listing hard on one side because some lower rooms were flooded. Amazingly, the ship made it to England despite its being a “sitting duck” all the way back.
The ship was in dry dock for about two months, which gave Guy and other injured shipmates time to recover from their injuries. He was able to return to duty on
HMCS Athabaskan G07, and at that time Lieutenant-Commander John H. Stubbs (age 31), took command of the ship, replacing
Commander G.R. Miles.
There are many hardships being in a war, and an additional struggle for Guy at the beginning of his enlistment was the fact that he was from Montreal and spoke
only French. It was not easy learning the language of the English speaking crew. Gratefully, there were a few other Frenchmen on board, but Guy was one to mingle,
and so he worked hard to learn English and fit into the English Canadian ways. As a result, he became known as “Fenchy” and that stuck throughout the war.
He was a jovial sailor and made many good friends among the crew. He could be the life of the party and, since he knew how to play the piano "by ear," he would often
go to bars with his fellow shipmates and play tunes while everyone enjoyed their all too brief recreation times on shore. He said the best part of those times was
the free beer the proprietors would lavish on him for keeping the party going.
Guy cherished his Canadian roots and was proud of, but humbled by, his service to his country. He passed away in 2017 at the age of 95. He totally embraced the
HMCS Athabaskan motto: "We Fight As One!"
Can you provide details or corrections?
Please email Charlie Dobie.
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