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Captain William Roland Stacey DSC RCNR
by Lieutenant–Commander Raymond Stacey RCN (Ret.) (2012)
Captain William Roland Stacey DSC RCN(R) (Photo from the Stacey collection)
Born in 1901 at Shoreham by Sea, Sussex, England, William Roland Stacey emigrated to Vancouver, BC with his family at the age of ten. Early in his life he developed a love for the sea as a member of Canada’s First Sea Scout troop under Louis V. Masters, spending summers on Sea Island B.C. in the Sea Scout guardship Casco, better known as the ship that took Robert Louis Stevenson to the South Seas.
The Vancouver Sea Scouts 1911–1915 (Photo from Stacey collection)
In 1917, at fifteen and a half, ‘Bones’ as he was known, being rake thin, was indentured as an apprentice to the motor schooner Geraldine Wolvin of the Canada West Coast Navigation Company, under her master Captain J.R. Mathieson. A bout with malaria in the Philippines saw him hospitalized for a time tended by one of his shipmates. Two trips across the Pacific to Asia and finally through Suez to Dunkirk, France saw him discharged, the ship being sold into French hands. He made his way home via various merchant ships as an Able Seaman. While he was serving in the Geraldine Wolvin during a storm he had to be lashed to the mast and had his shirt blown off during a typhoon. Another time the crew saw signal fires on Mopelia Island in the South Pacific Ocean. As the First World War was underway the ship did not respond to the signal fires which turned out to have been set by the crew of the German raider Seeadler that had recently grounded on the island.
Cargo on the Canadian Highlander (Photo from Stacey collection)
By 1921, Stacey was an Able-Seaman (AB) in the S.S. Canadian Highlander. While on a voyage returning from China a crewman came down with smallpox and Stacey volunteered to be battened down in the forward hold to nurse that individual. Regrettably, the sailor died three days before the ship arrived at the William Head quarantine station near Victoria BC. The crew were quarantined there for two weeks and the ship fumigated. As a result of his courage and compassion toward the sick sailor, and in recognition of his scouting years, Lord Robert Baden-Powell awarded him the Scouting Gilt Cross for gallantry (one of the highest awards that a Scout can receive).
Into the 1920’s, Stacey rose in rank in the merchant service and crewed in the Robert Dollar Line ships Bessie, Esther, Grace, Harold, and Mabel Dollar on both trans-Pacific and trans-Panama Canal voyages. The Robert Dollar Line was, at one time, one of the major passenger and freight carriers on the Pacific coast. It was while with this line that he attained his Master Mariner’s Certificate.
Captain W.R. Stacey while Master of the Mary Tayler (Photo from the Stacey collection)
As well as deep sea service, Stacey served in British Columbia coastal service on such ships as the Unacana, Mary Taylor, and Crofton. In 1930, he began service as Chief Officer and soon after as Master of William E. Boeing’s yacht, the Taconite, sailing out of Coal Harbour (Vancouver). His travels there took him from Puget Sound to Alaska. Taconite’s rescue of the crew from the M/S Soloy, stranded in vicious weather on Thormanby Island, made headlines during this time.
In September 1939, while walking along Burrard Street in Vancouver, Stacey was beckoned by B.D.L. ‘Barney’ Johnson, the Vancouver Harbour Master. He advised Stacey that he had been appointed as a Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve, and "would he be so kind as to report to Esquimalt, forthwith, for training". He put in time in the Examination Service at Victoria and Vancouver with long time acquaintances such as Captain ‘Foghorn’ Davis, the shipmate that had tended him in the Philippines years earlier.
In 1941, Stacey was given command of the Bangor minesweeper HMCS Malpeque and in company with HMCS Minas they sailed to Halifax N.S. with only him and his Chief ERA having had any sea time under their belts. Time on the ‘Newfie’ run followed with little rest for the crew. A particularly rough passage back to Halifax saw many ships suffer severe damage, but Malpeque came through unscathed. Stacey never forgave the comments of his having missed the storm rather than the acknowledgement of his ability to steward a ship safely through such a storm.
In 1943, Stacey was given HMS Ettrick to commission into Canadian service. Her Royal Navy Captain had been the author Nicholas Montserrat. The state of the ship was found not to be up to Canadian standards Although only six months old, daylight was visible through the deckhead rivet holes, only one head was operational and star–shell lockers were blocks of ice in the Halifax winter weather. Stacey caused not a little consternation when he refused to accept the ship.
He was offered a newly built River class frigate then working–up in Saint John N.B. The ship, having failed workups, was thought to be in need of fresh leadership and Stacey and his Executive Officer were sent to Saint John to take the city’s namesake ship, HMCS Saint John into service. With one third of the ship’s company adrift, a fresh start was needed and soon after his arrival Stacey took the ship to sea and located the remains of the US Liberty ship Joel R. Poinsett which had broken in two. Escorting the salvage tug Foundation Franklin and the Poinsett back to harbour brought the ship’s company into a cohesive team and they never looked back. Known for his quiet arrivals and departures, a single hand whistle, followed by hand signals fore and aft were necessary to have the line handlers carry out their tasks.
HMCS Saint John and Stacey, now an Acting Lieutenant–Commander, joined Escort Group 9 under Commander A.C. Layard RN and served in the Western Approaches for the remainder of the Second World War. In 1944 Stacey was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts, with HMCS Swansea, and HMCS Port Colborne, in destroying U–247 off Lands End, Cornwall. Later, while he was on leave, HMCS Saint John, under the Command of Commander Layard, sank U–301 in the Irish Sea. Layard later wrote that the U–boat kill should have been credited to Stacey as it was his leadership that developed the skill of the team.
Short postings saw Stacey in other ships for brief periods. One of these, HMCS Matane, would, after the war, see his maritime career come full circle. Stacey was in Matane during her refit period after a glider bomb attack.
After the war, Stacey returned to Vancouver, demobilized, and worked as a supercargo on the Vancouver waterfront. While working as a supercargo, Stacey also undertook some work for his brother–in–law, Captain F.L. Clarke, the Chief Surveyor in Vancouver for the San Francisco Underwriters. Surveying the ‘black fleet’ of demobilized naval ships in Bedwell Bay on Indian Arm, he re–visited the ex–Matane. A young naval sentry introduced himself and indicated that he was the nephew of the sailor that had succumbed to smallpox in the ship’s hold those many years earlier in the S.S. Canadian Highlander and stated that it was an honour to meet the man that had meant so much to his family.
In 1947, Stacey was offered command of HMCS Discovery as a Commander RCN(R). He maintained this position until 1950, hosting visiting ships such as, HMS Sheffield and the USS Missouri and working tirelessly through the 1948 Fraser River flood disaster. At his dining out mess dinner in 1950, HRH Prince Phillip, was an honoured guest. The first two life memberships to the Discovery’s Wardoom were given out that night, the first to HRH Prince Phillip, the second to Captain Stacey. HRH reached across the PMC and quickly stroked out the number two in Stacey’s membership card, replacing it with the number one, stating that this was Stacey’s night, not his.
1950, saw Stacey and his family move to Victoria where he took over an existing marine survey business left vacant by a death. W.R. Stacey Marine Surveyors was to be the only marine survey business on Vancouver Island for some years. In 1961, while overseeing the salvage of the ex–HMCS Coaticook, taking on water off James Island while being towed for scrapping at Capital Iron in Victoria, Stacey became ill and a few days later passed away from a massive heart attack. An article in the Times Colonist was headlined, "The Gentleman of the West Coast" Has Passed Away.
Captain Stacey on the day of his retirement from the RCN(R) (Photo from the Stacey collection)
As a final reminder that the world of mariners is a small one, in 1984, Captain Stacey’s younger son, Raymond, upon being given command of HMCS Miramichi, visited Point Hope Shipyards to see the ship on the ways. As he had done many times as a youth, Raymond poked and prodded, spoke with the shipwrights and enjoyed the memories of being there with his father. The shipyard manager asked if Lieutenant Stacey would like to meet the guarantee skipper who would be carrying out the contractor sea trials. Saying yes, the two walked up to the Princess Mary restaurant. Hearing a booming voice from the coffee shop, the manager turned and introduced Stacey to the skipper. On hearing the name Stacey, Captain ‘Foghorn’ Davis boomed out "J***** C***** you’re Bill Stacey’s son"! What a wonderful feeling to know that some 67 years of friendship had been reawakened in that moment.
HMCS Discovery with HMCS Naden organized a ceremonial funeral in Victoria. A 50 man guard and gun carriage crew saw Captain Stacey to his last resting place. HMCS Saguenay was tasked to spread his remains off Race Rocks with Captain Stacey’s family in attendance.
Editor’s Note: The author of this article, Lieutenant–Commander Raymond Stacey RCN (Retired), is the son of Captain Stacey. He started his career as a member of the University Naval Training Division (UNTD) and retired from the RCN in October 2006.
To quote from this article please cite:
Stacey, Raymond (2012) Captain W.R. Stacey DSC RCN(R) (1901–1961). Nauticapedia.ca 2012. http://nauticapedia.ca/Gallery/Stacey_WR.php
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