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Hun Raiders Held By Canadian Subs
26/06/2006

My father, uncle and I have been working on a genealogy project, spurred in part by some discoveries we happened upon at FamilySearch.org. If you had any relatives living in Canada in 1881, you should be able to find their household's census data from that year. I'll explain how below.

Anyway, looking around some old files in the house, my Dad found this article from World War I. I wanted to post it to see if anyone familiar with military records could help us with information on the people mentioned. But as I read it, I realized it is actually a very interesting article with some Canadian naval history pertinent to the west coast, and a general glimpse of life in the navy during that period.

Anyway, this is from the London Free Press, sometime towards the end of the war...

Hun Raiders Held By Canadian Subs


War Vessels Purchased By Borden Government Saved British Columbia From Attack


Invasion of Canadian cities, Victoria, Vancouver and other British Columbia towns at the beginning of the war was averted only by the purchase of the two submarines, which were added to the Canadian navy on the initiative of Sir Richard McBride, according to Able Seaman Richard Spicer, now of H. M. S. Canada, son of Mr. Henry Spicer, 932 Waterloo street, who enlisted in Victoria and saw active service at first on the Rainbow and subsequently on the Shearwater.

In those early days fear of an invasion was very great and banks on the coast commenced moving their gold stores as far inland as Calgary. But when the "subs" were purchased the German cruisers, which came within 20 miles of Victoria, heard somehow from the small army of German spies which then infested Western Canada and thinking that the submarines were already on duty, discreetly withdrew from proximity to the Canadian cost.

Saved Coast Cities

The Canadian navy did not take part in the battle of Jutland, it is true, but the Canadian navy actually did stave off an invasion of British Columbia, or at least saved the coast cities from destructive raids, and yet very little is ever heard of the good work of the Niobe, Rainbow and submarines and other boats which have been added since the war began. In the splendid work of the imperial battleships and cruisers which cleared the Pacific of the German cruisers, it is not altogether surprising that the minor part played by the smaller Canadian craft has been somewhat overlooked, but, minor part though it was in the world drama of naval combat, it looms mighty large and important when one realizes that it actually prevented Canadian cities from being bombarded by German boats.

Japanese Were Active

Seaman Spicer does not fail to acknowledge the value to Canadian defense of the presence nearby of friendly Japanese cruisers also, and the presence of thousands of Japanese men of military age and experience in British Columbia now and at the beginning of the war. He goes so far as to say that it is a tacitly admitted opinion that Germans in the Pacific states might have taken chances on crossing the international boundary and making what trouble they could.

Now all Canadian naval recruits are enlisted in the Royal Canadian Volunteer Naval Reserve, and man both the Canadian boats and some of the imperial boats doing service in Canadian waters, as well as also going overseas to serve on imperial ships in the lareger naval drama in European waters. The Canada, on which Seaman Spicer has been serving for the past nine months is an imperial battleship.

The Niobe, after playing a splendid part in the war, is now laid up as a training ship and distributing base.

First Londoner to Join

Seaman Spicer is a native Londoner, and is said to have been the first Londoner to join the navy after the outbreak of the war. It is some 12 years since he last resided here, having gone from here to Cobalt, later to Calgary and subsequently to Victoria, where his wife and family still reside. Since his transfer to the Canada he has participated in two important prize siezures, but of these little can be said without contravening the censor's orders. Both were American boats carrying contraband.

He enjoys the distinction of being the second best shot on the boat, and can hit a target two miles away while the ship is moving 20 miles an hour, three times out of five with ease. Because he was an expert mechanic, they made him carpenter's mate, but he has not allowed this to interfere with his gun practice, and he is captain of the port gun. He was on the Canada when it went out to meet the Grilse, and saw the havoc wrought by the storm on this fast light cruiser, which was on its way to Bermuda. How it weathers the storm is regarded as a miracle. Six men were lost, the chief engineer being one of the first to go, and the engineer's artificer stood waist deep in water for 19 hours and kept the pumps going. The quartermaster was lashed to the bridge for 50 hours, during which time his only food was an occasional biscuit. The bridge was a twisted mass of iron and the funnels were staved in.

Routine on Ship

Routine on board ship in the navy commences daily at 5.30 with cocoa, work until breakfast at 8, exercises and work until dinner at 12, more work until tea at 5.30, and after that fire drill, abandon ship drill and other emergency drills. Besides his son in the navy, Mr. Henry Spicer has a grandson, Pte. Reginald Faryon, in the A. M. C. who has been five months working in the trenches, although he only enlisted a year ago, and two nephews, Pte. Fred Spicer, Mounted Rifles, and Gunner John Spicer, 12th Battery, son of Mr. James Spicer, 54 Richmond street. Mr. James Spicer is himself a veteran of the South African war, during which his two boys were also in South Africa with their mother.

Seaman Spicer will speak on Sunday evening at 8.15 in the majestic Theater.

The Henry Spicer mentioned here is my great-great-grandfather. As I mentioned above, it was easy to find him in the 1881 census. Just go to FamilySearch.org, go to the search page, and look for the person you know was in Canada at that time. If you know the province, it certainly helps. Multiple individuals may come up, but just click the "household" link to see who he or she was living with. Based on the dates and other relatives, you may be able to figure out if this is the right person. (Note that years of birth may be off a bit when someone was born late in the year.)

There are lots of other places to look for records. For example, BC Archives shows a Richard Spicer died on March 15, 1932 in Victoria, so there's a fair chance he's the Seaman Spicer mentioned above.

Anyway, if anyone knows how to search military archives to find records on the people mentioned in the article, I'd appreciate the tip. We don't know much about any of these guys, except Reginald Faryon who went on to be President of Quaker Oats Canada and has a bridge named after him at Trent University.

I'd also be interested in knowing a bit more about some of the vessels mentioned. There's a bit about the subs in this article, which also discusses a Rainbow and a Grilse that can't be the same ones mentioned above.


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