There was a time, not so very long ago, when this country had a proud navy, its far distant ships plowing the world’s oceans. Between 1940 and 1945, the Royal Canadian Navy’s 400 warships influenced the balance of Allied sea power by sinking 27 Nazi U-boats and 42 surface ships. One of the volunteers who fought those battles with all the courtesy his trade allowed, was Jeffry Brock, who emerges with The Dark Broad Sea, his first volume of memoirs, as an important chronicler of our maritime tradition. With a style as terse as a ship captain’s commands, his book is a warm yarn about cold waters, and the best writing about the sea since Nicholas Monsarrat.
Brock served almost continuously in blue waters during the Second World War, witnessing action in five theatres. He eventually took command of the 6th Canadian Escort Group, shepherding convoys out of St. John’s, Nfld., and led Canada’s first naval contribution during the Korean War. But the image that emerges from these pages is less that of a fierce warrior than of a man fighting a losing battle for civility in a world of chaos. One can imagine him at the lieutenant-governor’s teas in Victoria, B.C., during the lazy, late 1940s as an eligible commander-bachelor, in starched whites with an ironed handkerchief stuffed up his sleeve. While Brock deals with mutiny and hurricanes, Nazi submarines and obdurate, shore-bound bureaucrats, it is the heaving sea that holds his focus. Without sounding any false notes, he captures the ocean’s might and the daring of those who venture out from shore: “The harshness, the discomfort, the deprivation of life in the escort groups brought to a whole generation of Canadians a new appreciation of the joys of everyday life ashore: the song of birds, the soft sound of a girl’s laughter, the smell of land, the excitement of lights and crowds or the exquisite pleasure of being entirely alone when one wished. No landsman ever yearned for the infinite blessings of the shore with such a fierce intensity as the bone-weary crews of the crowded, salt-caked corvettes at the end of yet another interminable passage of the western ocean.”
Twice mentioned in dispatches, awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Service Cross, Brock was the last Canadian flag rank officer to be retired in naval uniform. The only battle he lost was not against the dark broad sea but with shortsighted cabinet ministers and an uncaring public. A victim of politicians, he was ordered to resign by Paul Hellyer in 1965 because of the defence minister’s ill-conceived determination to do away with Canada’s three services, Brock’s cherished navy among them. “Unlike attitudes prevailing in other countries,” he notes sadly, “there is no great honor attached to the profession of arms in Canada. In fact, quite the reverse was and still is true.”
It’s typical of Brock that even while verbally torpedoing the partisan tormentors who destroyed his career, the admiral does so with a touch of chivalry. He accuses them of “a scandalous act in derogation of God’s honor and corruption of good manners.” Rear Admiral Jeffry Brock believes in God, country and good manners—not necessarily in that order.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.