The Fog of War!

The Fog of War!

Like many members of Marine Services at the outbreak of WW II Robert Auburn Stewart MacNeil, OBE, arm raised, served in the RCMP Marine Services, Reg # 12199-Officer # 0.359, joining the RCMP in 1932.  He switched over to the Royal Canadian Navy at the beginning of WWII.  When the war was over, he rejoined the RCMP in 1945 and was commissioned as an Inspector. He retired in 1955 as a Superintendent.


Thanks to the HMCS Sackville Canada’s Naval Memorial magazine in Halifax “Action Stations!” Vol 37 Issue 1 Winter 2018 for the information below:  In the Canadian Navy’s centennial year 2010 the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia mounted an exhibition The Navy and Halifax: 100 Years Together. The exhibition brought together fifty-one paintings by thirty-one artists, five of Lwhom were official Canadian War Artists, and more than a dozen were Nova Scotians. Canadian naval ships, aircraft, and personnel were illustrated in a broad range of artistic styles, both at sea and in their historical home, the port city of Halifax.

The Battle of the Atlantic paintings are dedicated to the memory of RCN Lieutenant-Commander Robert Auburn Stewart MacNeil (1906-1959) and his wife Margaret Virginia Oxner MacNeil (1907- 1989). Robert MacNeil joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Marine Division as a Master Mariner in 1939. At the start of the Second World War his RCMP ship Laurier was transferred to the RCN. In the six years of the Battle of the Atlantic, he commanded the RCN ships HMCS Dauphin, Sorel, Columbia, Acadia, and Wallaceburg. He was awarded the Royal Norwegian War Medal for gallantry and the named as Officer of the Military Division for the Order of the British Empire by King George VI (2 June 1943).

Robert MacNeil returned to the RCMP after the war. In 1958 he joined the Department of External Affairs which he served in Europe until his death in 1959. Margaret Virginia Oxner was raised in Halifax. She married Robert MacNeil in 1929, and through the depression and war years in Halifax she raised three sons: Robert (b. 1931), Hugh (b. 1934), and Michael (b. 1941).”  

 HMCS Dauphin was Flower-class corvette that served in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. She served primarily as a convoy escort in the Battle of the Atlantic. She is named for Dauphin, Manitoba.


Looking at this photo HMCS Dauphin, K157, one can almost hear the “whoop, whoop” of her air horn sounding for “Action Stations.


Trying to find more information on Lieutenant Commander (RCMP Superintendent) MacNeil, OBE, was a hard task.  But I did find a copy of a decision of a Naval Board of Enquiry involving MacNeil.  It would appear after commanding five ships involved in convoy duties his last command was HMCS Wallaceburg.  It did not end well.

In June of 1944 Lt. Commander MacNeil was in command of HMCS Wallaceburg.  It appears that he was given short notice, in a message considered “Most Secret”, that he was to command ships that were to escort merchant marine ships out of Halifax harbour during the early morning hours of June 20th. He led his ships out of the harbour.  There was a dense fog and MacNeil was relying on radar to ensure he avoided other ships in the area.  One can only imagine the # of ships in Halifax harbour during the war…. accidents are bound to happen!  As well he, and other ship commanders in the area, were sounding their air horns to alert ships that there were ships on the move. It was later determined that the fog had also created confusion for ship commanders with over lapping soundings.  At 04:53 hours Wallaceburg came out of the fog and collided with HMCS Trois Rivières which was escorting her own convoy.  Trois Rivièreshad spotted Wallaceburg and had reversed engines.  However, they collided bow to bow.

Damages to HCMS Wallaceburg were estimated at $8,000.00 and to
HMCS Trois Rivièresat $3,000.  In 1944 war time dollars those were probably considered pretty hefty amounts.  Thinking in today’s terms it would be like two police cars responding to a call and meeting and colliding at an intersection and the applicable forms had to be filled out.

A reviewing authority had recommended that Lt. Commander MacNeil
, OBE, be court martialled for excessive speed in fog thus causing the collision.  Rear Admiral L.W. Murray, RCN, Commander-in-Chief, Canadian Northwest Atlantic over ruled the decision for a court martial and recommended a Board of Enquiry.  He sited that the ships were engaged in an urgent operation of war and had been delayed in departing due to the heavy fog.  Also, that the use of radar had failed and the sounding of air horns of ships on the move over lapped one another and caused confusion.  


A Board of Enquiry was held in Halifax, June 30, 1944.  The concluding report stated: “It is desired that Lieutenant-Commander Robert Auburn Stewart MacNeil, O.B.E., R.C.N.R. (Temp) be advised that he has incurred the severe displeasure of the Department (Department of National Defence – Naval Service) for his error in judgement on this occasion.”.

The Board of Enquiry’s report was forwarded to Rear-Admiral Murry who sent the “severe displeasure of the Department” along to MacNeil.  It would appear that Robert MacNeil was not going down without one last kick at the proverbial cat.  He acknowledged the Board of Enquiry’s report and added his hand written comments:

“I will accept the report of the Department in this matter. I still feel that a ship with modern instruments should be able to get out of the harbour in any fog, and the sweep was required for the safety of some 7000 good Canadian soldiers.”

Lieutenant-Commander Robert Auburn Stewart MacNeil, O.B.E., R.C.N.R. (Temp)survived “the displeasure of the “Department” and served with the RCN until the end of the war and returned to service with the RCMP ending his career September 1956 serving as the Commanding Officer of “N” Division.  One can only imagine the tales that were told in the Officers’ Mess at “N” Division.

There seems that there are always dots connecting dots to stories within the Force.  Little did Robert MacNeil know at the time of the collision with the HMCS Trois Rivières that HMCS Trois Rivières at wars end would be returned to the RCMP and re-named the MacBride MP14.

HMCS Trois Rivières J-269


RCMP ship MacBrien MP 14


HMCS Trois Rivières was paid off on July  31, 1945 and turned over to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on August 3, 1945.  Renamed MacBrien, MP 14, by the RCMP, the ship served on the East Coast of Canada until transferred on permanent loan for conversion to a naval research vessel. However, the conversion was not completed and MacBrien MP 14, was declared surplus on June 13,1959. The vessel was sold for scrap and broken up in 1960.



Another set of connecting dots that involved Rear-Admiral L.W. Murray.   The man who saved Robert MacNeil from a court martial. The Halifax VE-Day riots, May 7-8, 1945, in Halifax and DartmouthNova Scotia, began as a celebration of the World War II victory in Europe. This rapidly evolved into a rampage by several thousand servicemen, merchant seamen, and civilians, who looted the City of Halifax. Although a subsequent Royal Commission chaired by Justice Roy Kellock blamed lax naval authority and specifically Rear-Admiral Leonard W. Murray, it is generally accepted that the underlying causes were a combination of bureaucratic confusion, insufficient policing, and antipathy between the military and civilians, fueled by the presence of 25,000 servicemen who had strained Halifax wartime resources to the limit.

Admiral Murray was controversially blamed for allowing sailors shore leave in Halifax on VE Day, a decision that is generally considered to have contributed to the Halifax Riot of May 7-8, 1945.

Murray himself felt that responsibility lay mainly with the civil authorities of Halifax, and he was frustrated that the Kellock Commission effectively placed the Navy on trial without providing him or his officers with an opportunity to defend themselves. He asked for a court martial to clear his name, but this was not agreed. The Government made an attempt to leave the Admiral with his honour intact.

“It would be a regrettable thing if, resultant upon the Halifax disturbances, the truly great services of this officer and those under his command were to be forgotten by the people of Canada.”Canadian Government press release

However, Murray was never assigned another command. He received a letter on September6, 1945 informing him that “the recent developments which have taken place in relation to the state of the war have materially changed the situation of the Armed Forces. As a result, there is no suitable appointment in which, having regard to your rank, you can be employed.”

Murray later said that, rather than fight the decision, “I thought it best to withdraw quietly. For the good of the service, I went into voluntary exile.” Murray left Canada for the United Kingdom in September 1945, and officially retired from the Navy on 14 March 1946.

The fog of war!

Ric Hall 24394-O.1330

Photograph of retired RCMP Superintendent Ric Hall (Source of the photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).