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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Skipper Isaac Walton Horton - A Royal Canadian Navy Officer's Story

Date of Birth: December 31, 1891

Place of Birth: Sandy Cove [now Dort's Cove], Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Isabelle Maude Crane (1869-1946)

Father's Name: Freeman Whitfield Horton (1860-1938)

Date of Enlistment: April 12, 1915*

Regimental Number: OFF VR-426

Rank: Skipper

Force: Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve

Location of service: Halifax & Sydney, NS

Occupation at Enlistment: Mariner

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single**

Next of Kin: Mrs. Gwladys Mary (Jenkins) Horton (wife), 32 1/2 S. Clifton St., Halifax, NS**

*: Official date of enlistment as recorded in Royal Canadian Navy personnel file.  Isaiah began service with the RCN on February 4, 1915.

**: According to family sources, Ike and Gwladys were married in June 1915, shortly after his enlistment.
*****
Skipper Isaiah Walton 'Ike' Horton
While the vast majority of Canadians who enlisted in military forces during World War I served with various branches of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Canada, England and continental Europe, a small but significant number made a vital contribution at home.  Approximately 1800 individuals joined the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve (RNCVR) and played a crucial role in defending Canada's coastal waters during the war years.

Isaiah Walton 'Ike' Horton was one of such individual, the oldest son and third of six children born to Freeman Whitfield and Isabelle Maude (Crane) Horton of Guysborough, Nova Scotia.  Ike's family traced its Nova Scotia roots to his namesake, who was one of Guysborough's 'Nine Old Settlers'.  It is not surprising that Ike pursued both a civilian and military career at sea.  His father was a master mariner who also served as an officer with the RNCVR during the war, and all of his paternal uncles earned a living on the water.

Ike with sisters Gertie and Hilda (l to r), parents Isabelle and Freeman Horton.
Ike began his career with the Fishery Protection Service, a branch of the Canadian Department of Marine & Fisheries.  On July 25, 1913, he joined the crew of the Canadian Government Ship (CGS) Constance as a Carpenter, a 'rating' traditionally responsible for the maintenance of a ship's hull and masts.  Originally built for the Department in 1891 as a fisheries cruiser, the Constance served several years with the Department of Customs' "Preventive Service" (anti-smuggling patrol) before betting refitted as a minesweeper in 1912.

In the years prior to World War I, the RCN's lack of resources meant that Royal Navy ships and Department of Marine & Fisheries' 'Dominion Cruisers' such as the Constance provided most of Canada's coastal protection.  In fact, the first Director of the Naval Service of Canada - later re-named the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) - was the Marine & Fisheries Department's former head, Rear Admiral Charles Kingsmill.

Ike had served in the Canadian coastal defence service for more than a year when Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914.  The RCN immediately assumed responsibility for the Department of Marine & Fisheries' operation, as its vessels formed the nucleus of its coastal defence resources.  The Constance was absorbed into the naval service and assigned to patrol and 'examination' duties on Canada's Atlantic coast.

HMCS Constance
In later correspondence, Ike dated the commencement of his RCN service from February 4, 1915, although his personnel file records the date as April 12, 1915.  Whatever the case, as a member of the Constance's crew, Ike was 'unofficially' a part of the RCN from the war's early days and served for the duration of the conflict on various ships operating on Canada's eastern coast.

On June 25, 1915, Ike was officially promoted to Mate, serving with HMCS Canada for two months.  A former CGS vessel that conducted patrols as part of the Fisheries Protection Service, HMCS Canada is considered the nucleus of the modern-day RCN due to its central role in training naval officers and asserting Canadian sovereignty.  Commissioned into service for the war and refitted as a naval patrol vessel, its forecastle was raised and four guns - two 12-pounders and two 3-pounders - were mounted to its decks.  HMCS Canada was anchored in Halifax Harbour on December 6, 1917, sustaining only minor damage and one slight casualty in the famous explosion.  Decommissioned in 1919, it returned to service as CGS Canada before being retired in 1920.
Crew of HMCS Canada (Ike Horton not identified in photo).
On September 1, 1915, Ike was transferred to HMCS Sable Island, a steamer that made regular runs between Halifax and St. John's, Nfld. prior to the war before being commissioned into the RCN as a coastal patrol vessel.  Three months later, Ike was assigned to HMCS Hochelega.  Formerly the private yacht Walrus, the vessel became part of the RCN's coastal patrol fleet in 1914.  After the war, Hochelega served as the Pictou-Charlottetown ferry.

HMCS Hochelega
During his service with HMCS Hochelega, Ike was officially assigned to base depot on HMCS Niobe.  One of two initial RCN vessels purchased from the British Navy, the Niobe was designated a depot ship on September 6, 1915.  For the next two years, Ike served as mate and acting commander on three coastal patrol vessels - HMCS Starling, Premier and Wilfred C. - operating out of Halifax.  He also transported two vessels - Paragon and Meredith - from Saint John, NB to Halifax and was mate on CD (Coastal Defence) 81 during its passage from Montreal to Quebec.

Crew of HMCS Sable Island (Ike Horton above the letter 'E').
In June 1915, Ike married Gwladys Mary Ann Jenkins, a native of Wales. Gwladys resided at 23 1/2 South Clifton St., Halifax while Ike was posted in Halifax.  On September 25, 1916, Ike was granted unscheduled leave, as an infant son had passed away the previous day and his wife was 'dangerously ill'.  Sadly, the couple lost two more sons in infancy, although Gwladys gave birth to two healthy daughters in later years.

Ike's service record contains several letters written during his time in Halifax, relating to two matters discussed at length with his superiors.  In a letter dated August 20, 1916, Ike stated that he had served 18 months as Mate with the RNCVR at a pay rate of $ 2.50 per day.  As he had been in charge of several patrol vessels during this time, he requested an increase to 'Command Money'.  Navy Headquarters initially denied his request, noting that his navy pay was considerably more than his $ 45.00 monthly salary as a Fisheries Protection Officer.

A second letter dated February 9, 1917 again requested payment of 'Command Money', noting that Ike had served as commander of HMCS Starling for nine months and HMCS Premier for three months.  Upon reconsideration, Naval Headquarters approved a raise in salary to 'Command Money' effective December 19, 1916.

Ike's father Freeman Whitfield Horton (left) & unidentified crew.
The second topic discussed was the question of promotion.  In a letter dated March 26, 1917, Ike referred to his service as Mate with the RCN since February 4, 1915 - a period of more than two years - as well as his recent completion of the examination for Master's Certificate 'Coastwise' in requesting a promotion to 'Skipper'.  A Royal Navy Captain wrote a letter to Admiral C. E. Kingsmill in support of Ike's request, stating: "He [Ike] has carried out his duties in every way to my satisfaction, and I consider he is deserving of advancement". 

Once again, Naval Headquarters in Ottawa initially rejected Ike's request, stating that while his service was "well known", at this point in his career Ike lacked "the necessary experience and cannot be offered appt. [sic] at present while there are so many older men with years more experience."  Meanwhile, on January 17, 1918, Ike was appointed Mate of the tugboat Gwennith, operating out of Halifax Harbour.  Almost exactly one month later - on February 18, 1918 - he was promoted to the rank of Skipper.
Subsequent events, however, did not unfold as Ike may have desired.  The Gwennith was involved in a minor collision with another RCN vessel - C.D. 4 - shortly after Ike's promotion.  After investigating the incident, naval authorities concluded that, "although C. D. 4 might have avoided a collision, the 'Gwennith' was entirely in the wrong.  Mr. Horton is to be so informed, and cautioned to be more careful in the future."
On May 8, 1918, Ike and the 'Gwennith' were transferred to Lansdowne, the newly created RCN base at Sydney, NS.  While the RCN had operated out of Sydney Harbour since the beginning of hostilities, activity there increased dramatically in the last year of the war for two reasons.  By mid-1917, several German submarines were active in waters along the North American Atlantic coast.  At the same time, Allied Countries implemented a convoy system for the transport of supplies and troops across the Atlantic.

Skipper Isaiah Walton Horton (left) with father, Freeman Whitfield Horton.
Sydney provided an ideal location from which to patrol the Cabot Strait and Gulf of St. Lawrence for German submarines as well as provide convoy protection.  The much smaller Continental Shelf along the Cabot Strait significantly reduced the threat of mines, in comparison to the extensive shallow waters along Nova Scotia's Atlantic coast.  As a result, in 1918, Allied convoys began forming in this area.

In response, the RCN rented facilities on the Sydney waterfront and established Lansdowne base early in 1918.  By year's end, almost 100 RCN coastal patrol vessels, 1500 crew and shore personnel operated out of Sydney, patrolling the Cabot Strait and Gulf of St. Lawrence.  A "Mobile Patrol Flotilla" consisting of several divisions, each outfitted with one or two former CGS vessels and a pair of trawlers, patrolled the Gulf of St. Lawrence and waters along the Newfoundland coast ready to respond to reports of German submarine sightings and assist convoys as they departed Halifax and Sydney.

The remainder of the RCN trawlers and 'drifters' located at Sydney were assigned to the "Forming Up Escort & Outer Patrol Flotilla" and tasked with acting as a screen protecting 'HS' (slow-moving) convoys as they left Sydney and formed up in the Cabot Strait prior to crossing the Atlantic.  The first convoy departed from Sydney in early July 1918, escorted by three United States submarine chasers, vessels considerably faster than any RCN craft.

Meanwhile, Ike and the Gwennith operated out of Sydney, hauling a small supply barge capable of navigating tiny coves to various locations on the Newfoundland and Labrador coastline.  Robert H. Worthen, a Captain with whom Ike worked in this area, described him as having "a studious, rather locked-in face, which belied his real self.  He was as riotous as sea captains of myth."  According to the Captain's memoirs, throughout the last months of the war, Worthen and Ike sailed along the Newfoundland and Labrador coast while their wives passed the time in Sydney pursuing a fascination for fortune-telling.  Worthen recalled at least one occasion on which Ike guided their vessels to safety into a tiny cove after sighting a German submarine.

Skipper Isaiah Walton Horton (back row, 3rd from right) with unidentified crew.
Upon cessation of hostilities, Ike and Gwladys returned to Halifax, where he was discharged from the RNCVR on April 15, 1919.  The RCN provided him with transportation money to Guysborough, a subsistence allowance of $ 3.75, and the first installment of his war gratuity - the sum of $ 108.50 - as he transitioned to civilian life.  Returning to his home community, Ike converted a workshop and double house on Guysborough's Main Street into a single-family dwelling and set about earning a living in coastal shipping.

A government notice the following year provided the opportunity for funds to finance such an endeavour.  It was a long-standing Royal Navy tradition to pay 'prize money' to ships' officers and crews for capturing or sinking enemy vessels in wartime.  A similar reward was provided for saving or salvaging ships and cargo. 

On October 4, 1920, Ike wrote to the Department of Naval Service, claiming his share of "prize money".  He cited his service as "watch keeping officer" on the vessels Canada, Sable Island and Hochelega as well as his role as mate and commander of Sterling and Premier before his promotion to Skipper, adding that "about all my time was on patrol duty".  While there is no record of the sum received, in later years his daughter Gertrude recalled that Ike used the funds to purchase the Westport III, one of two ships with which Ike established a coastal freight and passenger business.

Coastal steamer Westport.
Built in Shelburne in 1903 and powered by steam engines manufactured in Yarmouth, the SS Westport first operated as a passenger and freight ferry between Yarmouth, Digby and Saint John, New Brunswick.  Its lower deck contained a spacious "ladies' cabin" with twelve berths, complete with oak trim, red plush upholstery and a large lavatory with the latest enameled fittings.  A spacious dining room, cook's galley and gentleman's toilet completed the deck's facilities.  The upper deck consisted of a large pilothouse, captain's cabin, and staterooms for the first officer and engineer in addition to crew accommodations in the forecastle.  Large fore and aft holds provided considerable space for freight.

Ike's second purchase was the SS Elaine, initially built as a coastal defence (CD) boat in Montreal in 1917.  Slightly smaller than the Westport - 84 feet in length in comparison to the Westport's 101 feet - it was the namesake for Ike's first post-war business venture.  The Elaine Steamship Company initially operated at 32 Hollis St., Halifax and Guysborough before focusing exclusively on passenger and freight traffic in the Strait of Canso.  Ike refitted the Westport with two Fairbanks, Morse & Co. gas-powered engines after securing the contract to move freight and passengers between the towns of Mulgrave and Canso.

On its operating days, the Westport travelled from Canso to Mulgrave, arriving prior to 11:30 am, the departure time for Canadian National's train to Truro.  The vessel remained dockside until the afternoon train arrived at 2:30 pm, at which time it made its return run, stopping at Queensport en route.  As owner and Captain, Ike maintained this service throughout the 1920s, eventually selling the Company and Westport III to the Eastern Canadian Steamship Co., a Saint John business that gradually purchased and operated virtually all Maritime coastal shipping routes.  The Westport continued to operate along the Strait of Canso until March 1934, when it ran aground near Oyster Ponds/Hadleyville and was crushed in sea ice during a spring storm.  All on board safely reached shore, but the vessel was damaged beyond repair.

Ike (left) with siblings Hilda, Maud & Aubrey in later years.
During his time in Guysborough, Ike was an active member of the community.  He became a Freemason, serving a term as Master of Eastern Light Lodge, No. 72, Guysborough.  He was also one of eight local individuals involved in the establishment of the Guysborough Heat, Light & Power Company.  Founded in 1927, the company used a small power plant - constructed by Ike's father Freeman - to provide electricity to the town's residents from one hour prior to sunset to one hour after sunrise.  It operated until 1939, when its assets were sold to the Nova Scotia Power Commission.

In 1936, Ike relocated his family to Halifax, where he established "Horton & Co. Ltd., Ship Brokers".  The Company sold marine engines and supplies in addition to buying and selling ships in the Atlantic region and beyond.  A March 1958 letter to Ike from Commercial & Shipping Agency, Kingston, Jamaica inquiring about "a list and particulars of small ships which you have for sale" indicates that his clientele extended as far as the Caribbean Islands.  A second letter from the Jamaican Ministry of Trade, dated November 28, 1960, provided addresses for two Jamaican shipping brokerages, suggesting that Ike's company was actively pursuing business on the small island.
Letterhead of Horton & Company Ltd.
During these years, Ike also worked as a salesman for Fairbanks, Morse & Co. and occasionally drafting plans for ship construction.  Upon retirement, he and Gwladys remained in Halifax.  One of his two daughters, Gertrude (Mrs. O. W. Crummey), married and returned to Guysborough, while his second daughter, Ruth (Mrs. W. M. White), resided in Porter's Lake, as her husband was employed with Ike's ship brokerage.

Isaiah Walton Horton passed away at Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax on August 17, 1979.  Pre-deceased by his wife Gwladys, who died in 1969, Ike returned home to Guysborough, where he was laid to rest in Evergreen Cemetery beside his beloved wife.

Gravestone of Gwladys & Isaiah Horton, Evergreen Cemetery, Guysborough, NS.
*****
Sources:

Cook, Christopher A.. Along the Streets of Guysborough, 2nd Edition.  Antigonish, NS: The Casket Printing & Publishing Co., Ltd., 2003.

RCN Ledger Sheet for I. W. Horton, OFF VR-426.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, 1992-93/170, Volume 27.

RCN Service Record of I. W. Horton, OFF VR-426.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 24, 1992-93/169, Box 100.  Copy provided by Mrs. Maureen Horton Taylor, Spruce Head, Maine.

Tennyson, Brian & Sarty, Roger.  "Sydney, Nova Scotia and the U-Boat War, 1918".  Canadian Military History, Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 1998, pp. 29-41.  PDF copy available online.

A special thank you to Maureen Horton Taylor, Spruce Head, Maine, who provided valuable information on Ike's life accumulated from a variety of sources, in addition to the family photographs displayed in this post.

1 comment:

  1. The photo of Ike with his siblings -- Ike is on the left with his brother, Aubrey on the right - Maureen Horton Taylor

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