HMCS St. Julien

There has been only one vessel named HMCS St. Julien in the Royal Canadian Navy.

HMCS St. Julien / Battle-class trawler

HMCS St. Julien was a Battle-class trawler built during the closing days of First World War. Based on the British Castle-class trawlers, these ships were of slightly larger tonnage than the British ships. The Battle class was the first class with a distinct Canadian designation. All 12 vessels of the class received names for land battles of the First World War in which components of the Canadian Army took part. Many of these vessels also served in the Second World War but five of them exchanged their name for numbers in 1942.

HMCS St. Julien was named for the Battle of St. Julien (24 April - 5 May 1915), a component of the larger Second Battle of Ypres (22 April - 25 May 1915). This was the first major battle fought by Canadian troops in the First World War, and the first large-scale poison gas attack in modern war. In the early evening of 22 April, the Germans released a gas cloud several kilometers long towards the French lines, forcing the French to retreat. The gas did hit the Canadian lines, but not to the same extent or at the same strength as it had the French. This left the Canadians’ left flank open and threatened the entire Allied position. From 22-25 April, the Canadians fought hard to defend the newly exposed position, despite the German superiority in numbers and firepower. On 24 April, the formal start of the Battle of St. Julien, the Germans released another gas cloud, this time directly at the Canadians. Many Canadian troops died or were injured, but quick thinking medical officers identified the gas as chlorine and advised soldiers to hold urine-soaked handkerchiefs and rags to their faces, which had the effect of neutralizing the gas. Despite some 6,500 losses, the Canadians would hold their position long enough for French and British reinforcements to be brought in. This battle cemented the reputation of Canadian troops as tough and dependable, and the Second Battle of Ypres would become an important moment in the development of a new, independent Canadian nationalism. It was during the Second Battle of Ypres that John McCrae was inspired to write the poem In Flanders Fields.

HMCS St. Julien was built by Polson Iron Works, in Toronto, Ontario. Her trials were carried out satisfactorily on Lake Ontario 18 October 1917. On 20 October 1917, she collided with SS Molton which was at the time berthed at Kingston, Ontario. HMCS St. Julien proceeded to Sorel, Québec, for repairs, requiring a hawse pipe and a new anchor. From there she sailed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy in November 1917. Until the end of the war, she was employed as an escort to convoys and local patrols. She was in port on 6 December 1917 while the Halifax explosion occurred but no report of damage could be found.

HMCS St. Julien was transferred to the Department of Marine and Fisheries in 1920. She then became the property of the Department of Transport in 1948 and was known as Lightship No. 22. Sold out of government service in 1958, she was renamed Centennial, and still existed as recently as 1978.

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