Walter McGiffen Love: The Legacy of one of our first volunteers

January 30, 2023 - Royal Canadian Navy


Engine Room Artificer Third Class Walter Love

Walter McGiffen Love was one of 128 men lost on His Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Athabaskan during the Second World War. He was among the first of many volunteers to enroll in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve and swell the ranks of the Canadian Navy to near 100,000 strong by the end of the war. Volunteers like Walter Love were essential to the RCN’s wartime service and we celebrate their contributions and legacy.

Love’s naval story began at the age of 20, when on May 8, 1923 he was sworn into HMCS Star, one of the founding Naval Reserve Divisions located in Hamilton, Ont. Hamilton had been his home since the age of two, when his family moved there from the hamlet of Natural Dam in upstate New York.

Love was sent aboard HMCS Patriot, an older British World War One era destroyer that was used as a training ship for those initial ranks of the Reserve, where he received training as a motor mechanic and served as an Ordinary Seaman.

While continuing his education at Hamilton’s Technical School to become an engineer, Love was mobilized for active service and assigned to the eastern fleet in 1939 as the Second World War broke out. For the first two years of conflict he served on an assortment of minesweeping vessels that searched shallow waters along the coast looking for mines left by German U-boats. During this period Walter continued his training and obtained an Engine Room Artificer Fourth Class – a specialist in marine engineering, and a long held aspiration.

“Good workman… trustworthy and someone who takes interest in his work.”

In early 1942 Love was selected to sail as an Engine Room Artificer Third Class (ERA 3) the recently commissioned HMCS Athabaskan. Walter would spend the rest of his service in the Atlantic aboard this ill-fated Tribal-class Destroyer. The first 18 months aboard the warship were spent laying mines off German waters, patrolling the English Channel, and escorting convoys. The Athabaskan was almost sunk by a Henschel Hs 293 glided explosive during an anti-submarine chase in the summer of 1943. Several sailors were killed, but fortunately for the rest of the crew the bomb passed through Athabaskan before detonating outside of the ship’s hull. However, the crew of Athabaskan’s luck wouldn’t last forever.

On the morning of April 29, 1944, the Athabaskan was patrolling with its fellow destroyer HMCS Haida. With orders to intercept German warships near the English Channel the Canadian ships engaged a number of German torpedo boats, and Haida successfully drove off two of the attacking vessels. As Haida returned to the Athabaskan’s last known location it discovered the destroyer was fatally struck with a torpedo and sunk. After an extraordinary 966 cumulative days at sea, Walter, 40 years old, was lost to the ocean. He left behind his wife and three children, ages eight, five, and two.

Of those who survived, 44 were rescued by Haida, and six by small boats. Eighty-three sailors were taken as prisoners of war by Germany.

For his service ERA 3rd Class Walter Love was awarded the 1939-45 Star, the Atlantic Star, the Canadian Volunteer Service medal and clasp, and the Defence medal. Walter is remembered on panel 12 of the Halifax Memorial located in Halifax, N.S.; the HMCS Star memorial and the Second World Book of Remembrance, page 368, Centre Block at the Houses of Parliament, Ottawa, Ont.

This year the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve is celebrating its centennial and the legacy of its members, like Walter Love, on January 31. After the end of the First World War, Rear-Admiral Walter Hose established the Volunteer Reserve to stoke and garner nation-wide support for Canada’s naval fighting forces. His strategy was to create a naval presence in major cities, including landlocked regions. Today those Reserve Divisions are the Royal Canadian Navy’s connection to communities across the country, thanks to the commitment by early Volunteer Reserve members like Walter Love.

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