Untold Secrets: HMCS Haida – Tribal Class DestroyerOn May 27, 2020 by Jeremy Jagusch
I’m going to let you in on an old Live History trade secret… I dare say it’s my favourite of all of Live History’s secrets. The entire crew of the Canadian of the tribal class destroyer ship HMCS Haida became honorary Texans. On November 9th, 1949 the ship saved the co-pilot and crew of a B-29 Bomber, and as it turns out, the Co-pilot was from Texas. The whole crew was given certificates commending them for their service and letting them know that as “honorary Texans, it entitles them to wear cowboy boots, a ten-gallon hat and to generally conduct themselves as Texans. No bronc riding test is necessary at this time in order to conserve horsepower”.
That is just incredibly neat to me. I love that fact perhaps more than any fact I’ve learned over the years of writing for Live History. That is one of those facts that I consider to be “the other ninety percent of the iceberg of facts”: Those neat facts that for whatever reason don’t make it into a show. Most of the time, it’s because it’s too far removed from the actual story we’re trying to tell. A big part of what I do for our shows is research. Afterall, at Live History, we want to fully immerse our audience. We want to create or even re-create that perfect moment in time that will hopefully last a lifetime for our audience. We do our best to be as accurate as possible, even if that means leaving out amazing facts because they happened a year or two after the time period of the show.
The above fact was something I found when doing research on a show we were lucky enough to do aboard HMCS Haida at HMCS Haida National Historic Site in Hamilton Ontario, Canada. It still stands out as one of my favourite venues that I’ve been to. It’s one thing to see one of these destroyers in the media. However, just walking up to the ship took the air out of me. This was an actual piece of Canadian history that we were able to walk around on. Walking up the ramp to the gunmetal grey ship, I couldn’t help but imagine what it was like for a recruit walking up that ramp for the first time. The space inside the ship, what little of it there is, felt very cramped. I did bonk my head climbing down one of the ladders after I was warned about just that. The jury is still out on if that knocked some sense into me or not. I looked over at the lounge area as I imagined what this ship must have been like fully staffed. A mixture of young sailors out on their first taste of adventure. Grizzled sea dogs who knew no other way of life. An absolute hive of activity especially in the heat of battle. Some of them would come home. Some of them wouldn’t. Even now, when I think of that ship, I imagine these men having to spring from their beds and rush to their various stations. Adversity is what tests a person’s character. For many, if not all of these men, there were moments in their time of service that they all found out exactly who they are.
It’s not all cliche war movie stuff though. I also picture what that lounge must have been like. That mixture of sailors sharing stories of life experience, lost loves, first loves, plans if any when they are back on dry land. One of the great paradoxes to historical artifacts like Haida is that they serve as a physical memory, but also as safe for the stored memories of those involved in its history. The adage of “if these walls could talk..” fits Haida, “the Fightingest Ship in the Royal Canadian Navy,” to a T. My point is, I’m sure people must have hit their head way harder than I down there, and had to carry on in chaos-fueled times instead of sitting on the floor in shock like I did. But in all seriousness, I was and still am in awe of that great vessel. It was nicknamed the “Fightingest Ship in the Royal Canadian Navy” because between 1937 and 1945 it sunk more enemy surface tonnage than any other Canadian Warship. During her time in service, Haida saw action during World War 2 and the Korean War, before finally being decommissioned in 1964. If you get the chance, I really can’t recommend enough to check out the amazing venue. It’s a great part of Canada’s history and despite all that wartime accomplishments, I keep going back to the fact on November 29th, 1949, the entire crew became honorary Texans. It’s a reminder in life that our legacy is made of both big and little moments.
Every man who served on that ship was a hero. They made sacrifices and their names are honoured. At the end of the day, HMSC Haida is just a ship that performed the tasks she was set out to, like many others that have served in and for many other nations. What not only secures its place in history but ties it to all of the vessels of war were the crew who served aboard her. Their stories and memories are forever intertwined with this incredible ship. The stories that we know, and the stories that are forever lost to time, stored in the wall, make her priceless… Like the fact that on November 9th, 1949, the crew of HMCS Haida all became honorary Texans…(just in case you forgot!)