Commander Reginald Amand (Jumbo) Webber D.S.C., C.D.
1911 - 1968
Commanding Officer, HMCS Haida 1950 - 1951
Submitted by Brian Webber (son of R.A. Webber)
The following is drawn from his service record and additional sources.
“Jumbo” Webber, as he was known throughout his career, actually started his military service with eight months in the Army Reserve (1st Field Brigade, R.C.A.). He entered the Royal Canadian Navy as Cadet on 28 December 1929 and was “Honourably Released to Pension” on his 50th birthday on 24 December, 1961. He died at his home in the Algarve province of Portugal on December 3rd 1968.
Upon joining the Canadian Navy in late December 1929, he was transferred to the United Kingdom for officer training at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich and aboard a variety of Royal Navy ships. There, as a "Snotty" (midshipman) serving as an aide to the Admiral commanding the group, he never forgot his most important task - to bring to the bridge for said Admiral, his late-night cup of cocoa. This feat of memory brought to mind for that illustrious Admiral, the fact that ‘elephants never forget‘ least of all "Jumbo" - so the name stuck. He returned to Canada in 1935. Early in 1940, he was sent to Victoria, British Columbia to supervise, as Executive Officer, the start-up of an officer training program on the Dunsmuir Estate, re-named HMCS Royal Roads. He served there till late 1942 with a stint at HMCS Naden in Esquimalt, to start up a New Entry training program. Upon leaving Royal Roads his commanding officer wrote: “ ....... his influence with officers-under-training has undoubtedly been of the greatest benefit to them.”
He went back to sea duty in January 1943, serving on HMCS Prince Robert, HMCS Saskatchewan and in March 1944, was appointed Executive Officer of HMCS Prince Henry. It was with HMCS Prince Henry that he participated in the D-Day landings. After D-day it was into the Mediterranean, eventually returning the King of Greece back home from his exile. In June 1945 received command of the 'V' class destroyer HMCS Sioux.
He attained the rank of Commander in 1947 and from 1951 – 1955 he held the acting rank of Captain for appointments as Canadian Naval Commander Newfoundland where he served from 1951 – 1953 and later as Director Personnel (1953 – 1955). He reverted to the rank of Commander to take command of HMCS Huron in August 1955.
In January 1945, while Executive Officer of HMCS Prince Henry he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Other decorations are: 1939 – 1945 Atlantic Star with France and Germany Clasp; Italy Star; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Clasp; War Medal 1939 – 1945; Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Medal – 1953, Canadian Forces’ Decoration – 1941 and First Clasp to Canadian Forces’ Decoration – 1951.
From May 1949 through April 1951 he was based in HMC Dockyard Halifax as Commander of the Dockyard, King’s Harbour Master and, shortly thereafter, Senior Officer Reserve Fleet Atlantic Coast. It was during this period that he took command of HMCS Haida, as the flag vessel of the reserve fleet. Although in the reserve fleet Haida, as I recall, had a substantial crew and was undergoing modernization and conversion to an Anti-Submarine escort with Squid mountings on her quarterdeck and improved ASDIC. The Dockyard was a hectic place in those early Cold War years. It was home base for HMCS Magnificent, the aircraft carrier, HMCS Nootka and other Tribal Class destroyers that were soon preparing for war in Korea. There was a seemingly endless round of visiting Allied naval ships, including the largest battleship afloat, USS Missouri – The Mighty Mo.
While serving with First Canadian Escort Squadron, Cdr. Webber is being interviewed by a CBC reporter sometime around 1955-56. The commander's clothing illustrates the rough and ready foul-weather gear of the times. (Photo via Brian Webber)
A recollection from that time is of my father preparing one Christmas Day for a traditional ‘lower-deck’ function where he changed places with the youngest member of the crew, the latter wearing the Captain’s cap and my father wearing sailors uniform. True ? Or just a myth ? Another recollection is definitely true, but can probably only now be told publicly. The Captain’s Cabin of HMCS Haida appeared to be a great place for the CO to receive visitors around noon on Saturdays: all good public relations, I am sure. And I spent many a happy Saturday running around the ship in between seemingly endless bottles of Coca-Cola. Who knows what other libations the CO’s steward presided over—there was no prohibition as in the US Navy ! I do remember one noon-hour in the Captain’s Cabin learning how to break a beer can. This was no mean feat in those days when the Oland’s cans were almost as thick as the steel plates of Haida’s hull ! Anyway, this was a long time ago. Indeed, Halagonians are always astonished when I tell them that this was before the first bridge was built ! Haida’s berth would probably, today, be under the bridge !
To reprise the story, Jumbo went from Halifax to HMCS Avalon, the base in St. John’s Newfoundland, at that point only about 18 months into Confederation, and then to Ottawa. Upon leaving Naval H.Q. Ottawa in 1955 he was appointed as Commander First Canadian Escort Squadron principally on board HMCS Huron and occasionally HMCS Algonquin. He served there through January 1957. They must have been at sea most of the time. I recall reports of trips to Cuba, in the days of Batista, to New York (an evening at the ‘first run’ of My Fair Lady), Dublin, Lisbon and a great day circa 1956 when I was on the dock as he lead the Squadron into Plymouth harbour.
So, Tribal Class Destroyers are very much a part of my childhood. And, thanks to HMCS Haida Historic Ship, they continue to be for myself and for my family, far into the future.
Cdr Webber and Harry DeWolf circa 1955. (Photo via Brian Webber)