Contrary to popular belief, St. John’s, Newfoundland, rather than Halifax, Nova Scotia, was Canada’s major convoy escort base during the Second World War. Over the course of the Battle of the Atlantic, in excess of 500 Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) warships were posted at Newfyjohn and hundreds of American, British, and Halifax- and Sydney-based naval vessels used St. John’s as a turnaround port. Personnel at HMCS Avalon – as the base at St. John’s was commissioned* – rose from less than 1000 in 1940 to upwards of 7,000 men and women by Germany’s surrender in May 1945, and thousands of ships’ crew were accommodated at the Buckmasters’ Field naval barracks. Even more so, Newfyjohn facilitated the “safe and timely arrival” of over 25,000 RCN-escorted merchant ships in the United Kingdom over the course of the war.
As a port of refuge, upwards of 6,000 survivors, including U-boat POWs, were landed and cared for in St. John’s, and thousands of merchant seamen and visiting forces personnel found respite at the various hostels established throughout the city. The Caribou Hut, probably the most famous, served more than 1,500,000 meals, rented in excess of 250,000 beds, showed over 1500 movies, and held close to 500 dances, with a total attendance of more than of 700,000 people – this in a city with a pre-war population of 40,000.
Yet, relatively little has been written on how Newfyjohn developed from what was originally merely a poorly defended harbour into “the key to the western defence system.” Over the years, I’ve tried to remedy this situation. I have written papers, essays, and articles, and spoken publicly on all aspects of Newfoundland during the Second World War, and still do. Much of this research ended up in my book The Newfyjohn Solution, but I still had some left over. Rather than have it gather dust on my computer, I wanted to make it available to anyone interested in Royal Canadian Navy/Battle of the Atlantic/Newfoundland history. This website is the result, and continues to evolve. I hope it piques your interest in this intriguing bit of Second World War history and, for you students out there, aids you in your own research.
– Paul W Collins
* It was actually the barracks complex that was commissioned but, for ease, I refer to all Canadian bases using this nomenclature.