'Major role' of Halifax recognized in Battle of Atlantic ceremony

Uniformed members of the navy, air force, army and cadets attended a ceremony to remember the Battle of the Atlantic.  (CBC - image credit)
Uniformed members of the navy, air force, army and cadets attended a ceremony to remember the Battle of the Atlantic. (CBC - image credit)

A bell chimed 24 times on the shore of Halifax's Point Pleasant Park on Sunday morning during a roll call counting the number of Canadian navy ships lost in the Battle of the Atlantic.

People gathered in honour of the more than 2,000 navy sailors and more than 1,500 merchant mariners who died during the six-year campaign (1939-45) against German and Italian naval forces.

About 100 uniformed members from the navy, air force, army and cadets marched to the sailors' memorial as part of the ceremony.

"Without their sacrifice there would be no world as we know it today," said Rear Admiral Brian Santarpia, who laid a wreath at the ceremony in tribute to those who lost their lives.

The navy commander said both Halifax and Sydney were vital to the Allied war effort by transporting troops and desperately needed supplies to Britain.


"Halifax played a major, major role in what happened in the eventual victory," Santarpia said.

Navy ships escorted more than 25,000 merchant vessels carrying tons of cargo across the North Atlantic. German submarines made the missions perilous.

Santarpia said 377 of the convoys left from Halifax, with 177 leaving from Sydney.

"The vast majority of the merchant sailors who sailed in Canada's merchant marine, they came from Halifax, from Halifax's north end, and their death toll was horrific," he said.


HMCS Sackville, which played a pivotal role in winning the battle, was in the harbour at Point Pleasant Park for the service. A CH-148 Cyclone helicopter participated in a fly-past.

Bob Noakes, who served in the navy decades after the battle, was there to remember.

While now nearly 78 years since the war ended, he is keen to make sure it is not forgotten. He is president of the White Ensign Legion.

"I think remembering what they went through is very important," he said. "It was not a small thing to fight a war for as long as they did that. That's a significant achievement. And I give them all the credit in the world."


The sacrifices of the battle, which lasted 2,075 days, cannot be overstated, according to Santarpia.

But beyond the statistics are the individual stories he spoke about to the crowd present for the memorial.

"The fear that those sailors, those merchant mariners and the aviators who fought in the Battle of Atlantic must have felt every single day for over six years," he said.

The legacy of the battle and its meaning to Nova Scotia is one he hopes lives on in the memories of those who were involved.