Remembering Able Seaman William Dearl Trickett of Kelwood



Submitted photos

AB William Trickett, Athabaskan survivor.

By Blar Gilmore


Like any good Navy ditty, this tale starts in a bar. Little did I know, a visit to the local Legion in my home village of Kelwood, MB would end up as a quest to uncover some of my own Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) family history.

While sipping on a beer, I was perusing the mass of military memorabilia on the Legion walls. Then to my great surprise, I saw the crest of my old HMCS Athabaskan 282 up on the wall labeled with the date of the original Athabaskan’s G07 sinking. A relative identified it as a donation from my deceased Great Uncle Willie. Unbeknownst to me, Able Seaman William Dearl Trickett, RCNVR, Stoker (1st Class), V38773 had served onboard HMCS Athabaskan G07!

Due to my obvious RCN ties, I wanted to know more and started my first queries with my parents. Mom said, ‘Oh yes, he was a Japanese POW and complained that his stomach was never the same after being interned.’ Well, the family’s account of Uncle Willie’s war exploits was about half a world off and the wrong Axis power, so I started hunting for actual documentation to see if I could uncover Willie’s true war experiences.

As a previous bridge officer and Public Affairs Representative for HMCS Athabaskan 282 for two years, I was already intimately acquainted with the history and sinking of the original ship. The ship had been one of four RCN flagship destroyers and the pride of Canada. While taking part in an action against a German task group, she was fatally struck by torpedoes off the coast of France, April 29, 1944. The sinking of one of Canada’s cherished destroyers and loss of 128 men, including the captain, was the greatest RCN loss due to enemy action of the war.

The RCN regularly conducts Remembrance ceremonies near the site of the sinking each time a ship is near that particular stretch of French territorial waters. In fact, in 2015 while on a NATO deployment to the Mediterranean, my Athabaskan did a ceremony over that lonely patch of the English Channel. I was unaware that 70 years previously, my young Uncle, oil soaked and hypothermic, was desperately clinging to life at that very spot. In a twist of fate, their sister ship HMCS Haida, was unable to stay in the area long enough to rescue all their stricken comrades but the German torpedo boat T24 that they had been hunting just a few hours before returned to fish the Canadians out of the sea.

Unlucky lady

There have been numerous writings describing the exploits and disposition of the ill-fated Athabaskan G07 and her crew. Two excellent books, Unlucky lady: The life & death of HMCS Athabaskan and All The Ship’s Men, detail the history and personal stories of many of the crew. After poring anew through my copies, I found Uncle Willie’s name listed on the crew manifest and a couple of photos. In one, he is clearly seen seated in the back of a truck flanked by German soldiers after being brought ashore at Brest, France. In another, he is lined up with his messmates in the POW camp Marlag und Milag Nord, near Bremen, Germany. Luckily, he did not appear to have suffered any severe injuries from the torpedo blasts, the resulting explosions and fire, or his hours of floating in the oily debris of his sunken ship. Unfortunately, he and 82 other Athabaskans spent the rest of the war locked up as German POWs.

But other than a few tantalizing tidbits of specific information, Bill Trickett’s military story might have easily gone to his grave when he passed away in Victoria, BC, December 14, 2004 at the age of 79. Considering the trauma of shipmates dying all around him in the water, the hardships of POW life, and some friendly fire tragedies leading up to his liberation in May 1945, it was no wonder that he never really spoke of his experiences.

Online-Trickett Log 017

From William Trickett’s Wartime Log: Signed by AB/ST R.A. Westaway, RCNVR Toronto, CAN, MARLAG(M) Germany March 4, 1945. AB Westaway was a friend who was doing a similar job to William Trickett.

Ebay ad turns up log

Of course, complicating matters as I continued to dig, most of his military memorabilia had been liquidated and was scattered who knows where. But I turned up an old Ebay ad for his Y.M.C.A. Wartime Log (POW No. 1295 of Marlag und Milag Nord, Germany). After a lot of sleuthing, I tracked the logbook down to a military collector in California who graciously sold it back to me.

The Canadian Y.M.C.A. in December 1944 gave every Canadian POW a Wartime Log so that they could keep a diary of their experiences. Although Uncle Willie’s logbook did not have much in the way of personal writings, it did contain much of the flotsam and jetsam that a Navy sailor collects during their travels.

Many of Bill’s friends drew intricate drawings and cartoons in the pages of his logbook. There are old photos of G07, the POW camp, and fellow sailors. He had a receipt from his mother, Mrs. W. Trickett, listing the contents of a POW parcel. Daily camp rations were basically a chunk of bread and a potato. Red Cross parcels and food mailed from relatives saved the POWs lives. There were also receipts for cartons of 300 Sweet Caporal cigarettes from Mr. W.E. Trickett, Mr. A. Trickett and Mrs. Lyle Wilson of Kelwood. Cigarettes were too valuable in camp to smoke and were traded with the German guards for food and material. For example, the going rate for a radio was about 5000 smokes. In letters to home, prisoners would often ask for the prized Canadian commodity as German cigarettes were rather inferior. Aid groups and support from the home front made the tedium and privations of life behind barbed wire tolerable.

Online-C-Trickett Log 026

From William Trickett’s Wartime Log: William Trickett’s “V” Barrack messmates in the Prisoner of War camp.

Jubilee Medal

Also, to my surprise, William D. Trickett had been presented the Soviet Union’s Jubilee Medal “Forty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945” from the USSR Ambassador to Canada, Aleksei Alekseievich Rodionov on October 1, 1988. Known as the Murmansk Medal, only a small handful of non-Russians have ever received this honour.

The RCN, USN and Royal Navy convoy runs up to the high Arctic region of Russia from 1941 to 1945 kept the country in the war and provided the critical eastern front that divided Hitler’s forces.

Bill Trickett was a genuine, unsung war hero. It was sad that his story had been in danger of slipping away. Precious few veterans are left and although the mantra of ‘We will remember’ is repeated each November 11, most of their tales have faded away as they have. Their accounts of their experiences are fascinating, compelling, tragic and occasionally interspersed with a bit of levity. They are worthy of our attention and remembrance.

Talk to the veterans who are left including those from Afghanistan and all the other Canadian Armed Forces deployments. Listen to their stories, write them down, pass them on and actually remember what these people have done to guarantee our Canadian freedoms.

This Remembrance Day, I will be presenting an Athabaskan 282 main gun 76mm shell casing to the Kelwood Royal Canadian Legion #50 in the name of my Great Uncle Willie and fellow Athabaskan.  Dubbed as a ‘Sister of the Space Age’, Athabaskan 282 was the last of the RCN’s destroyers and will be the last ship to carry that proud name.

Able Seaman Bill Trickett’s Wartime Log has been scanned in its entirety and is available for viewing in a series of blogs on my website at: