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Going down with the ship: The principled sacrifice of Rear-Admiral William Landymore

September 2016

Throughout the history of the Royal Canadian Navy, many thousands of men and women have worn the uniform and served with pride and distinction.  Few fought harder for the survival of the Royal Canadian Navy than Rear-Admiral William Landymore, OBE, CD, a fight that would ultimately cost the decorated war hero his job, but not his integrity and the respect of the sailors who served under him.

William Moss Landymore was born on 31 July 1916 in Brantford, Ontario, the only son of Frederick and Gladys Landymore.  A graduate of Brantford Collegiate Institute, Landymore began his career in the military when he commenced his studies at Royal Military College in Kingston on 28 August 1936.

As a cadet, Landymore served aboard the Royal Navy training ships HMS Frobisher and HMS Emerald.

He was commissioned as a Midshipman in the Royal Canadian Navy on 1 May 1937 and an Acting Sub-Lieutenant on 1 March 1939, six months prior to the start of World War II.

Landymore served aboard Canadian destroyer HMCS Fraser in 1940 as a torpedo and communications officer, surviving her sinking after colliding with HMS Calcutta in the Gironde estuary.

Landymore was promoted to Lieutenant on 1 November 1940 and survived his second sinking while serving aboard HMCS Margaree.

Landymore continued serving on convoy escort missions in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans. On 5 June 1944, the day before D Day, he was promoted to acting Lieutenant-Commander.

Later in 1944, Landymore was posted to Naval Service Headquarters (NSHQ) in Ottawa as Director of Warfare and Training, but this would be a brief posting as he was posted to the cruiser HMCS Uganda.

He returned to NSHQ in 1945, first as Staff Gunnery Officer, and then as Deputy Director of Weapons and Tactics in 1946.

Landymore continued to serve in the RCN in the post-war years and was made a substantive Lieutenant-Commander on 1 May 1947, serving as a Gunnery Officer aboard HMCS Uganda and earning a Mention in Dispatches.

Landymore was promoted to Commander on 1 July 1949 and given command of the Tribal-class destroyer HMCS Iriquois, where he was awarded a second mention-in-despatches and was appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire.

He was promoted to acting Captain on 14 June 1952.  During the Korean War, Landymore was given command HMCS Iroquois from 21 October 1951 to 31 October 1953.  He was promoted to acting Captain on 14 June 1952 and then a substantive Captain on 1 January 1953.

Landymore served in a variety of positions throughout the remainder of the 1950s, including the position of Commander Canadian Destroyers Far East when he was awarded the Order of the British Empire.

Landymore became the second Commanding Officer of the light aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure, the flagship of the east coast fleet, on 15 January 1958.  He relinquished command of Bonaventure on 11 September 1959 to take the first of four senior posts in the RCN.

On 1 October 1959, Landymore was promoted to Commodore and assumed the position of Chief of Staff to the Flag Officer Atlantic Coast.  He held the position until he was promoted to Rear-Admiral on 1 November 1962 and assumed the position of the Flag officer, Pacific Coast.  He held that position until 1964, when he assumed the position of Flag Officer, Atlantic Coast.

In 1966, Landymore was appointed the first Commander of Maritime Command, the new name for the naval forces, in accordance with the restructuring of the forces under the Unification.  This new position replaced the Chief of the Naval Staff, which was abolished in 1964.

Landymore publicly and bitterly disagreed with Minister of National Defence Paul Hellyer over the Unification of the Forces, a contentious and controversial plan to unite the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force into a single entity; the Canadian Armed Forces.  The individual service branches would be abolished and replaced with “elements”.  The traditional ranks and uniforms were to be replaced by a common rank structure using army ranks and a single green “walking out uniform” (the Navy did manage to get their ranks restored in 1972).  This new defence structure damaged the esprit de corps for sailors, soldiers, airmen, with many criticizing the idea by pointing out that infantrymen were not interchangeable with sailors, signalers on land were different from those on ships, among other issues.

At a senior officer’s briefing in Ottawa in November 1964, Landymore deliberately defied Hellyer by refusing to support the unification plan, telling the Minister that he couldn’t accept a plan that meant demolishing the Royal Canadian Navy.  In Landymore’s opinion, the unique identity and soul of the RCN, along with its traditional blue uniform and rank structure, were at stake. He believed passionately in the RCN’s British heritage and felt he had a strong moral duty to oppose unification.

Landymore was adamant that both unification and integration were a huge mistake since those serving on ships needed to be sailors first and tradesmen second.  This point was never more apparent when a fire broke out in the dental laboratory aboard HMCS Bonaventure and the Army-trained dentists were unable to extinguish the fire because they weren’t familiar with the fire-suppression systems.  A naval aviator had to extinguish the fire, which was around 10 feet from Bonaventure’s main aviation gas lines.

The RCN was facing institutional chaos, diminishing budgets, a 40% drop in recruitment and suffering an acute identity crisis, making Landymore even more determined to restore morale to the fleet.

Landymore’s defiance was, in naval terms, a clear shot across Minister Hellyer’s bow to back off his unification plans.  Landymore organized a series of meetings with high-ranking naval officers in the summer of 1965 in Halifax, gaining the support of 364 of the 367 officers attending the meetings.  He promptly advised the Chief of Personnel the result of these meetings.

Minister Hellyer didn’t take to kindly to Landymore’s very public actions and considered firing him as the Commander of Maritime Command at that time, but backed off after realizing that would have meant replacing a second top operational commander in less than a year.

Robert Caldwell wrote in his 2006 book “The Admirals: Canada’s Senior Naval Leadership in the Twentieth Century,” that Landymore was “popular, admired by all ranks, and is remembered as being a forthright, four-square, hands-on commander and staff officer.”

A war of words erupted between the two, hitting a low on 11 April 1966 when an unnamed source was quoted in a Globe and Mail article stating, “Naval officers still retain to some extent an above-decks, below-decks mentality … Sailors just don’t scrub decks now, they’re skilled men and the old attitudes of officers just doesn’t fit. We’re trying to change that.”

Landymore was furious at this grievous insult to RCN officers, one that he suspected came from former RCAF Wing Commander Bill Lee, who was then serving as a special assistant to Hellyer.

In June 1966, Landymore had his pre-submitted testimony to a Parliamentary standing committee on defence altered, deleting his comments outlining serious moral problems because of unification.  Landymore delivered the altered report to the committee, believing at the time that he had no other choice, but he was thoroughly disgusted.

Landymore’s time finally ran out on 12 July 1966, when Hellyer asked for his resignation from the Royal Canadian Navy.  Defiant to the end Landymore refused, leaving Hellyer no other alternative but to relieve Landymore of his command and order his early-retirement.

Although his career was now over, Landymore still refused to roll over and play dead.  He asked Liberal MP David Gross, a former RCN officer, to arrange a meeting with Prime Minister Lester Pearson for the following day. The Prime Minister stated he supported the unification, but promised that naval traditions would be retained.

Pearson would admit years later that if one more Admiral had resigned, he would have ordered Hellyer to stop the unification.  None did.

Returning to Halifax, Landymore kept up his refusal to go quietly and went public about his firing and forced retirement, turning it into a national story.  Landymore officially resigned from the Royal Canadian Navy on 19 July 1966, with an effective date of 5 April 1967, ending a 31 year career.

On 19 July 1966, sailors and civilian employees lined ship’s sides and roadways in the Halifax Dockyard to pay tribute and farewell to Rear-Admiral William Landymore, with ships flying signal flags that spelt out his name with “BZ”, Bravo Zulu, flying above them.  Landymore used this day to once again publically blast the Unification and Minister Hellyer personally.

Former Canadian senator Bill Rompkey, reflecting on Landymore’s final stand against Hellyer in January 2009 stated:

“It was his final act of service that earned him a place of honour as one of Canada’s greatest naval heroes. A staunch opponent of unification, Admiral Landymore refused to sacrifice his principles to save his career.  He foresaw the many problems unification would bring for the navy and to the morale of his sailors and he fought with a true ‘Heart of Oak’ to serve his navy and keep true to the motto of the RMC: ‘Truth, Duty, Valour.’”

However, the war of words between Landymore and Hellyer didn’t end with his retirement.  Hellyer told a parliamentary defence committee on 23 February 1967, that he had fired Landymore for, “18 months of consistent disloyalty to the people he was paid to serve,” a statement that Hellyer was forced to retract four days later.

In the end, Landymore wasn’t the only one to go down due to the Unification.  Within the space of two years, the RCN’s six senior admirals, along with some air Marshals and Generals, had been forcibly retired or fired for their refusal to support unification, such as Rear-Admiral Jeffry Brock, Landymore’s predecessor as Flag Officer Atlantic Coast, and Air Chief Marshal Frank Miller, the first Chief of the Defence Staff (1964-66) and the only RCAF officer to achieve the rank while still in the service. Many more voluntarily resigned from the forces rather than serve under this new defence plan.

The animosity and hatred towards Minister Hellyer was never more apparent than in September 1966, when Hellyer visited HMCS Stadacona in Halifax to speak to officers assembled in the Stadacona drill hall on various topics surrounding the Unification.  Hellyer was asked prepared questions by Lieutenant-Commander Nigel Brodeur, Senior Staff Officer, Naval Personnel (Men), one of them making reference to how esprit de corps would be damaged by replacing the individual service uniforms with the new dark-green Canadian Armed Forces uniform.  Hellyer caused an outburst by the assembled officers that bordered on a riot when he insisted that naval personnel wanted to keep their existing uniform because they believed it was “ordained by God.”  Commodore John O’Brien, Senior Canadian Officer Afloat (Atlantic), had to order silence to quell the unprecedented outburst of military officers towards a Minister of National Defence.

In retirement, Rear-Admiral Landymore did various charity work and as chairman of the board of Halifax’s Grace Hospital.

Rear-Admiral William Landymore died 27 November 2008 in Halifax at the age of 92.

His ashes were buried at sea during in a ceremony aboard the HMCS Toronto, during which a 13-gun salute was fired for him, one for every ship he had served on, as the full Atlantic fleet in Halifax stood at attention to honour him.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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