Halifax, Nova Scotia

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

By far the best port and finest town I ever had the honor of visiting. It is populated by wonderful clean living citizens who welcome bluejackets and take them into their homes and into their hearts. They produce the most hospitable ladies (and damn fine cooks) who come down to submarines laying alongside, and invite lonely boat sailors to Sunday dinner. In short, someone should make a serum called "Halifax attitude" and inoculate everyone in every submarine port in the world.

In the late fifties, Halifax was a litter-free beautiful town where every morning, pretty girls and healthy looking boys with hockey sticks waited for school buses. I was from east Tennessee... I saw my first hockey stick in Halifax.

I have spent the better part of 40 years wanting to put together enough bucks to take my blue-eyed Norwegian bride to Halifax and show her God's branch office here on earth.

In World War I, convoys from North America formed up in Halifax to draw escorts for the run to Great Britain. Two ammo ships collided, setting off most of the other ships in the harbor. The town got leveled in what became known as the Halifax Disaster. Those gallant people rebuilt the town and got back in the convoy business.

Damn near 100% of the stuff sent to Murmansk and Archangel in World War II went in ships out of Halifax. No one suffered the pain of loss by torpedo that these granite-spined Canadians endured. They are very special people.

Go there... Visit the Citadel, walk their public gardens, have a drink in the Admiral Lord Nelson Hotel, and above all, do yourself a favor... Meet and come to know the people.

One funny story comes to mind. Canadian Navy stores are called 'Nafi...' Known as 'Naffy stores.' We had some kind of reciprocal NATO agreement that let us draw stores against some kind of U.S. Navy account.

Hard living and battery acid was hell on dungarees, so we got this bright idea to order a load of Canadian dungarees from the Halifax Nafi to replace the Raggedy Andy stuff we were wandering around in.

They came by waist size... No sweat. We drew two sets for each animal in the crew. The COB picked 'em up right before we singled up and issued them at sea the next day.

When we went to put them on, they had zippers on the side and enough room in the ass for a moderate size hippo. We had drawn Canadian female dungarees.

That raised the level of our female sensitivity... Up to that point in our lives we had never spent a lot of time on the finer points and techniques of how girls take a leak. Peeing became a real hoot... It wasn't uncommon to pass through the after battery head and see a fellow shipmate peeing with his pants down around his ankles.

"You're doing great Sally... Imagine, you figured it all out by yourself without a 'Rig for Pee' bill." (Each compartment had rig bills to tell you how to do stuff... Laminated instructions that Zip the trained ape could follow.)

I sure was glad to get decent dungarees before we left so I didn't have to deal with being a female every time I hit the head.

Dresses, lace panties and parking on a freckle-maker head three or four times a day, kept women off submarines more than anything else... The bra burners never broke the code on that one... That, and no place for a discreetly located Tampon machine. None of this lends itself to a screenplay so don't look for it at your local theater. If they made the film, the Chief of Naval Operations would have to set fire to a lot of movie houses.

Back to Halifax. When we came in, Mrs. Sandwell would have me over for pot roast and potatoes. Their son was riding a Canadian can in the West Indies squadron. Mrs. Sandwell was like the grandmother I never had... I think of her often. I wasn't the only one either... She had photos of American sailors on every horizontal surface in her living room... Some of them yellowed and faded from age.

They were not a wealthy family. Mr. Sandwell was a winch operator on a fishing trawler. If the Navy ever paid them for all the pot roast and potatoes they put in American sailors, they would be rich. I truly believe the Big Sea Daddy in the Sky keeps book on folks like that and when the Sandwells report in, He'll assign them to two gold bunks in the Saints compartment and give Mrs. Sandwell a silver stove so she can work her galley magic.

In life, you come across a few truly wonderful people. The Sandwells made my list.

Halifax was first rate... 4.0 in every respect.


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