Canada in the Second World War


Maurice Waitson

DATE OF BIRTH: May 5, 1924
PLACE OF BIRTH: Napanee, Ontario, Canada
CORPS: Royal Canadian Navy

Maurice was born on May 5, 1924, the sixth child born to Alma and Stephen Waitson. One more brother would complete the family. Moe’s father had emigrated from England to Canada in 1912 and was soon after joined by his fiancée, Alma, to settle in Napanee, where Moe and his siblings would grow up. Although times were tough for the Waitson family during the years of the Great Depression, the children, raised under strict Victorian rule, still managed to have their fun. They were great hunters and fishermen, as well as good swimmers, and Moe was an exceptional hockey player. He is remembered by his elder sister as being a kind, gentle sort, but also as being very stubborn.

When his oldest brother signed up for the war, Moe could not wait to take the leap as well, even though he was only 16 years old. He enlisted on January 15, 1942 in the Canadian Navy. Although the recruiting officer knew the Waitson family well and was aware Moe was under age, he knew the war effort desperately needed young men. The Royal Navy in England had already suffered heavy losses and was looking to the Canadians to reinforce their troops and fund the building of more state-of-the-art ships. Moe had to face his parents who were cross, but they could not stop his determination. A couple of weeks later, Moe said goodbye to his family in tears.

Moe’s initial training at HMCS Cataraqui lasted almost two months, from the middle of January to March 3, 1942. He is recorded to have spent brief periods of time on HMCS York, Stadacona, Cornwallis and back again to Stadacona until December 11, 1942. His last stop for onshore training was NIOBE in Scotland. On February 4, 1943, Moe reported for his final posting on board the HMCS Athabaskan. He was assigned to the crew of “B” guns. There were two gun stations on ATHABASKAN’s bow, one behind the other. The “A” guns were the most forward on the deck, in close proximity to the bow. The “B” guns station was on a platform above and behind the “A” position. There was a similar configuration for the gun stations at the stern of the ship where “X” guns were mounted on a platform above “Y” guns, which were the furthest aft on the ship.

HMCS Athabaskan was commissioned to the RCN on February 3, 1943. After severe damage on several dramatic occasions, and a Scapa Flow mission, Athabaskan was assigned to the 10th Flotilla. The offensive task was to clear the English Channel of enemy ships in preparation for the D-Day landing. Lieutenant Jack Scott was the commander. Due to enemy aircraft surveillance, the 10th Flotilla sweeps were done off the coast of France at night at speeds exceeding 30 knots, with radar silence. On the night of April 29, 1944 the Flotilla came upon two German Elbing-class destroyers, off l’Ile-Vierge in Brittany. At 4:17 am, ATHABASKAN received a torpedo hit. Thunderous explosion followed, and she began to sink.

ATHABASKAN had set out on her mission with a crew of 261. HAIDA and her cutter rescued approximately 50 sailors. The enemy returned hours later to retrieve another 80 some men, who were to spend the remainder of the war in POW camps in Northern Germany. Of the crew, 128 lost their lives. In the ensuing days, 91 bodies washed ashore, which were later buried in 9 civilian cemeteries in Brittany, including 59 in Plouescat. To this day, 3

7 men remain missing in action.

Moe had switched gun details on April, 1, 1944. He moved from “B” to “X” gun. The “X” and “Y” gun stations were in the midst of the chaos created by the torpedo hit from German T24. His friend reported that Moe had survived the initial blast and was making his way to HAIDA’s side when he succumbed to the chilling Channel waters.


During the Battle of Britain, Moe was still a young boy living in Napanee. However, part of his British family was directly affected by the terrible Blitz in London, England. On his mother’s side, his grandmother, grandfather, siblings and 90 year old great-grandmother had been relocated to bomb shelters. Their neighbourhood had been decimated by relentless air raid attacks.

Although it is clear that Moe’s ship stopped in British harbours, and photos of Moe taken in London show that he spent some time in Great-Britain, we do not have any details.

On May 1, 1944 a telegram arrived from Ottawa addressed to Alma Waitson. An official letter from national defence in Ottawa, dated the same day, was sent by Canada Post to confirm the contents of the telegram. AB Maurice Waitson was reported missing from the ATHABASKAN after it had sunk in the English Channel. In February 1945, Alma received another letter from National Defence. Moe was now officially listed as “MPD” or Missing Presumed Dead.


This account, was based on and contains extracts of Sherry J. Pringle’s book All the Ship’s Men – HMCS Athabaskan Untold Stories, Vanwell Publishing Limited, 2010.