Navy veteran Gerry Hay passes away at 90

Men like Gerry Hay safeguarded the North Atlantic and helped to secure the Allies’ final victory.

Gerry Hay

Gerry Hay

Gerry Hay, whose story of wartime service in the Royal Canadian Navy was profiled in Nov. 10, 2011 Times for Remembrance Day, passed away on Dec. 25 at his home in Osoyoos. He was 90.

He grew up in Mount Lehman and Aldergrove, and attended Langley High School.

Together with other students at high school, he joined the town “broomstick army,” a volunteer militia unit under command of First World War Major Archie Payne.

He had an interest in stationary engineering and thought that joining the military would provide him with the ability to learn that trade. His parents objected, however, so he did not do so until after the war began.

After training in Langley and North Vancouver, he was called up to join the navy.

He was sent to Halifax in 1941 after completing basic training, and was initially a stoker aboard HMCS Saskatoon, one of Canada’s fleet of corvettes.

Because of the work he did, he had little sense of the battle going on above him in the fierce and ongoing Battle of the  Atlantic. He was below decks keeping the ship operating.

“As a stoker, you didn’t know where you were,” he said.

Historian Warren Sommer, who wrote Hay’s story for The Times, concluded his Nov. 10 article in this way:

“Known in his youth as “little Gerry Hay,” he seems anything but the stereotypical image of a warrior.  But Gerry is precisely the sort of man on whom the Allied victory ultimately depended: quietly courageous, dutiful and determined; an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances.

“It was men like Gerry who safeguarded the North Atlantic, preserved Britain’s freedom, enabled the Normandy invasion, and helped to secure the Allies’ final victory.”

He remained in the navy until 1947, rising to the rank of stoker petty officer.

After the war, Hay found employment as one of the original staff members at Langley Memorial Hospital, when it opened in 1948. He worked at the hospital in engineering and maintenance for 38 years, retiring in 1986. He was chief engineer from 1958 on.

“He was very well thought of by staff and management, and was chief engineer for many years,” said Doris Riedweg, a longtime LMH colleague and author of the history The Hospital on The Hill.

He is survived by his wife Reta. No service is planned, at his request.