Nov 9, 2022
It may surprise many of you to learn that the town of Blairmore had a Bangor Class minesweeper named after it in 1942.
How the ship named after the town came to be is an interesting story that involved 35 Miss Canada’s, a group of young Blairmore women who, as part of a competition, tirelessly sold the greatest number of War Savings Stamps per capita than any other group in the country. War stamps were sold during both wars to raise funds to buy all manner of things in support of the war effort. That amazing effort won the right for the community to choose the minesweepers name.
In February of 1940 the first of the Bangor type minesweepers, (named after a seacoast town in Wales) was launched by the British Royal Navy and became the first of 61 such British sweeper ships put into action. The Germans had placed mines by the thousands along coast lines and laneways and even along our East Coast.
In Canada there were no less than 57 of them built in places like North Vancouver, Toronto, Prince Rupert and Montreal. The H.M.C.S. Blairmore was laid down in January of 1942 in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) and launched in May of that year. There were two types of Canadian sweepers being built back then, with 46 of them having reciprocating steam engines and 11 having diesel turbines. The H.M. C.S. Blairmore was a larger reciprocating engine type vessel, 180 feet long and only 28 feet wide. Its pennant name was J314 and it had a crew of 6 officers and 77 enlisted men, which sounds awfully crowded to me. Other towns and cities across this country also earned the right to use their communities’ name on sweepers including places like Esquimalt, Truro, Cowichan, Goderich, Kelowna, Red Deer and so on. The Blairmore ship saw service as an escort to coastal shipping and to convoys in the North Atlantic for a couple years and then was ordered to European waters to be part of the Invasion of Normandy. There it worked as part of a flotilla of sixteen sweepers to clear the waters for the American landings at Utah and Omaha.
According to Crowsnest and Its People Millennium Edition there is an interesting story about a piece of equipment on the minesweeper. The CPR Odgen Shops in Calgary were turned into a munitions shop during the war and made what were known as 12-pound guns for the Navy. A 12 pounder is a 3-inch diameter cannon capable of firing a 12-pound projectile. Apparently when it came to the 100th gun produced at the Odgen Shops the employees chipped in to buy the gun and donated it to the Blairmore. The H.M.C.S. Blairmore was also equipped with what was known as a hedgehog, an anti-submarine weapon that fired up to 24 spigot mortars ahead of the ship when attacking a U-boat.
Working on a minesweeper could be dangerous work. The way sweepers often operated was to work in pairs dragging a cable in tandem to snag and cut the cable that held dangerous mines floating just below the surface of the water. Sweepers could also operate by themselves with a special cabled float that they launched that ran alongside and behind the ship with a cutter on the towing cable. This was known as an “otter.” Once the cable was cut and the mine surfaced, they would open up on it with the 12 pounder or with a pair of Oerlikon 20mm machine guns until it exploded.
It was, as I said, dangerous work and there was always the chance of a direct mine encounter. The H.M.C.S. Blairmore did not ever have any Crowsnest Pass enlisted men or officers that served on it. It is reported to have had one casualty during the war and that was the ship's mascot, a little dog named Salty whom the crew was very proud of. It is said that on D-Day, when the guns started firing, Salty was terrified and jumped overboard and was lost at sea.
The 31st Mine Sweeping Flotilla, that Blairmore was attached to, was sweeping and marking channels off the coast of France when her sister ship Mulgrave (J313) hit a mine and was crippled. The Blairmore towed the Mulgrave to Le Havre for re-pairs. It then sailed to Halifax for refitting, then rejoined the war effort at Plymouth Command until September of 1945 after which it returned to Canada, to Sydney, Nova Scotia where it was “paid off”. That is an old sea term that was once used for sailors who had finished their voyage and is also used to indicate when a ship is re-tired from duty.
The HMCS Blairmore was decommissioned, acquired by Marine Industries and kept in strategic reserve, then reacquired in 1951 to be put into coastal service during the Korean War. It was never recommissioned and remained at Sydney until 1958 when it was transferred to the Turkish Navy and renamed Beycoz. That transfer was part of a program of Mutual Aid to member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In all 11 Canadian minesweepers went to Turkey and each one was renamed, each, oddly enough, starting with the letter B including names like Biga, Bandirma or Bodrum. The Beycoz (Blairmore) remained in service until 1971 when it was finally scrapped.
Having seen what rough seas in the Atlantic can be like I have tried to imagine that overcrowded crew on the H.M.C.S. Blairmore plunging through high seas on the Atlantic, on a ship with only a nine-foot draft. There is a wonderful collection of memorabilia of the Blairmore in the special military room of the Crowsnest Museum. In the Millennium Edition there is a writeup of a sailor from Blairmore named Joe Maruca R.C.N. who worked tirelessly and at his own cost to collect as much of the Blairmore’s memorabilia as possible.
The museum collection, transferred there from the old Blairmore Legion, includes the ship’s bell, crew photos, a lifesaver, and a lovely picture of the Miss Canada’s, whose determined efforts succeeded in winning their town the right to name that minesweeper.