Edward McNab (Mac) Wilson
Article in the Oregon Journal,
Friday, August 28, 1942
“‘Stubbornness’ Helps to Overcome ’13’ Jinx Buttermaker-Sailor Relates Thrills of Sea”
Edward Wilson, 26 has a “worry date” each month, January through May and, to make it worse, it’s the 13th.
The young Forest, Ont., buttermaker, entered radio school on January 13, 1941. He was sleeping in his bunk on a merchantman; a Panamanian ship bound from Canada to Russia with war material at 4 a. m. on January 13, 1942, when a torpedo struck the ship.
The vessel settled so rapidly that the crew, including Radioman Wilson, was ordered off into small boats in the stormy sea before the second torpedo hit, sinking the vessel almost immediately.
Four days in an open boat, 19 aboard at the outset. On the morning of the fourth day, when they were discovered almost miraculously by a British warship, there were only six alive. The bodies were given sea burials over the side.
Of the six survivors, five including Wilson lost both legs. They had frozen. The other, described by Wilson as “a tough old Swede,” got through with frostbite.
“My legs were amputated on Friday, February 13; I got out of bed on March 13, was quarantined for diphtheria on April 13, and changed to a hospital nearer my home on May 13,” Wilson related at the Chamber of Commerce Thursday.
“We were torpedoed without warning. It was a terribly rough sea and we had difficulty getting the lifeboat off. There were 18 in another boat. They’ve never been heard from”.
“We were about 250 miles off Newfoundland when the torpedo struck. We were cramped in the boat and our legs were continually doused by water over the side. I was conscious when we were rescued. It was snowing and we sighted the rescue ship at about 50 feet away through the snow. They saw us at the same time.”
Wilson attributes his survival of the gruesome trip to “stubbornness.“
The radio operator had no opportunity to send a distress message following the torpedoing. None saw the submarine.
“They fed us rum, mostly, on the warship,” he said. “There was little chance for surgery or extensive treatment.”
He will be joined here shortly by Lawrence Impey, for 17 years a British correspondent in the Orient for the London Daily Mail. The two will comprise a speaking team for the maritime commission at Portland.
A year after Mac lost his legs; he was out of the hospital and walking around on artificial legs. Mac was hired to go on a Victory Bond drive on the west coast of the United States in the fall of 1942.
Mac married his sweetheart, Alice Jean Mitchell, of Strathroy shortly after he returned from the Victory Bond drive. Mac then went to work for Trans Canada Airlines (now Air Canada) until the early 1950’s when he bought the Forest Bluewater Creamery from his father Jim Wilson. Mac and Jean raised four children and worked hard together running the creamery.
Mac never let his disability slow him down, he would try anything, and he worked alongside of his employees, drove a route collecting milk from the local famers, went deep sea fishing and even tried skating once.
In 1959 the man who survived four days in the cold North Atlantic was unable to survive lung cancer and on November 29th, 1959 passed away.
Jean never remarried and loved Mac until the day she died in April of 2006.
U.S. Decoration for Canadian Hero
Edward Mack Wilson, 28-year-old Forest, Ont., hero, now employed as a radio operator by Trans-Canada Air Lines at Halifax, is presented with the Mariners’ Medal of the United
States War Shipping Administration by Edwin C. Kemp, U.S. Consul at Halifax. V. J. Baherich, district manager of the U. S. War Shipping Administration, was in attendance. As the result of the presence of mind of Wilson and a companion, a lifeboat with six survivors was kept afloat after their Russian-bound ship, the S.S. Friar Rock, was torpedoed and sunk in January, 1942. There were 19 men in the lifeboat to start with, 13 of whom died. Wilson lost both legs as a result of the four days spent in the tiny boat.
INSERT PHOTO HERE
Nursing sisters with No. 12 Canadian General Hospital, R.C.A.M.C., who have arrived overseas with the unit. Sitting, left to right, M. V. Duff, London; A. Brown, London; M.C. Younge, London. Standing, left to right, W. M. Balkwill, London; F. O. Waugh, London; J. M. Hadden, Listowel; F. A. Kemp, Forest.