For Posterity's Sake
A Royal Canadian Navy Historical Project
In memory of those who have Crossed the Bar
DIGOU, Raymond Frederick - It is with great sadness that we, the family announce the passing of our dear father, grandfather, brother and uncle, Ray Digou, 91, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010, surrounded by a loving and devoted family. Born in Sydney, April 20, 1919, he was the son of the late John ‘Jack’ and Mabel (MacIntyre) Digou. He was raised in South Bar, where he spent most of his life. In his early years, he demonstrated a wanderlust which lead him to a variety of notable experiences. Raymond was a member of St. Alphonsus parish. In 1937, following a sudden windfall which lifted his ‘spirits’, Ray joined a few friends and embarked on an epic adventure. In a Ford Model A, they made a cross-Canada journey to British Columbia, went down to California, dipped into Mexico, crossed to the U.S. east coast, then returned home to Nova Scotia. While recounting the story of this trip, Ray never failed to include his belief that they drove the first Nova Scotian car across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. In November 1939, during the early days of the Second World War, Ray joined the merchant marines, crossing the Atlantic on the Greek-flagged SS Nicholas, working as a stoker, shovelling coal in the engine room. During that voyage, he earned extra pay by slaughtering sheep kept on board for food. At one point, the ship was boarded by sailors from a German Navy submarine, and he, with a few British nationals, had to hide below to avoid capture. This incident may have caused him to rethink his employment choice, because for a brief time he returned home before deciding to choose a vehicle which offered a bit more protection. He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy, Sept. 17, 1940, and later that year, as a ‘man of means’ celebrated Christmas by marrying the love of his life, Mary MacMillan on Dec. 30. Together they would raise seven children. Ray served in the Navy throughout the Second World War, working below deck in various capacities. He served on various ships including HMCS Nootka, HMCS Fundy, HMCS Medicine Hat and HMCS Regina. He participated in the Murmansk Run, one of the most dangerous supply routes of the war. In his later years, Ray proudly recounted his memories of serving on HMCS Thorlock when, at war’s end, the German U-boat U-190 surrendered to this ship May 12, 1945, off the coast of Newfoundland. Shortly afterward, Ray was discharged on Aug. 17, 1945. For his wartime service, Ray was awarded the following: The 1939-45 Star, the Atlantic Star, the Africa Star with Bar, the Canadian Voluntary Service Medal, the War Medal 1939-45, North Sea and Murmansk Russia Ribbon 1939-40. Following the war, Ray returned home to his family in South Bar, and became employed at the Sydney Steel Plant. In the late 1940s, he built the home which would later become a focal point for his growing and extended family. At times, Ray experienced layoffs from ‘the plant’, which hindered his efforts to support a growing family. As a result, he spent some time working elsewhere. In 1954, Ray decided to re-enlist, this time in the Royal Canadian Air Force. During this term of service, he worked as a stationary engineer and was posted to various locations such as Goose Bay and Calgary (where one of his sons was born). From Calgary, Ray made frequent service trips to the many of the newly-constructed northern RCAF radar stations. He was discharged in 1957. Later, the call of the sea once again attracted his attention, and in 1962, Ray signed up for service in the newly-created Canadian Coast Guard, and spent time in the Arctic, sailing through the North West Passage on the recently-built icebreaker CCGS Joan A. MacDonald. After leaving the Coast Guard in 1963, Ray re-settled in South Bar, returned to the Steel Plant, working in the electrical department and stayed there until his retirement in 1981, after 18 years of service. Ray retired early at the age of 62 so he could, along with Mary, provide several years of daily care for his injured daughter Susan, who later passed away in 1987. On Oct. 3, 1991, Ray was devastated by the passing of his wife, Mary, his beloved wife of 50 years. Finding himself alone, he decided to become active in his community, revive some of his early interests, and develop new ones. He became active in Branch 128 Royal Canadian Legion, Whitney Pier. He experienced great pleasure while performing with the Legion Singers. His services to the legion were recognized by his comrades with the award of a life membership in Branch 128, as well as the Legion 50th Anniversary Medal. As Ray was so proud of his nautical experience, he joined the Cape Breton Naval Veterans Association in 1993. Spending time with this group of fellow sailors, recounting past exploits and adventures, allowed these stories to remain fresh in his mind. Ray also rekindled his early interest in musical instruments. He greatly enjoyed travelling around the area providing entertainment as a member of the Ukulele Players. Ray always became excited when the opportunity arose for him to ‘entertain’ visitors to his home using instruments ranging from his harmonica to his high-tech organ. Ray’s early naval/nautical interests re-emerged in his golden years in the form of a nautical-themed museum he created in his own home. Here, in one room, visitors could find more models, certificates and pictures than thought possible. Ray and his museum were even the subjects of two extensive articles in the Cape Breton Post. Ray was active and in relatively good health through most of his retirement. He continued to drive his own vehicle until his 90th birthday. Shortly afterward he acquired an electric scooter which he used with great glee to travel down to the nearby wharf. Ray continued to live his his own home until his passing. This accomplishment was a result of the support he received from his family and homecare. He remained an engaging and entertaining storyteller who welcomed the opportunity to regale friends and relatives with tales of his early years, some of which may even have been true. He was quite proud to have contributed to Canada as a member of four services — merchant marine, Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force and Canadian Coast Guard. It is believed that the time of his death, Ray was the oldest man living in South Bar. Raymond is survived by his loving children, Jerry (Earl) Sherwood, Gabarus, Mabel (Kevin) Pinhorn, South Bar, Raymond Digou, Vernon, B.C., Robert (Kay) Digou, South Bar, Lawrence (Linda) Digou, South Bar, John (Cathy) Digou, Waverley; grandchildren, Earlene (Doug) MacPherson, Rosemary (Stephen) MacLean, Ray (Susan) Sherwood, Kevin Pinhorn, Stephen (Corinne) Pinhorn, Jaime (David) Walker, Jennifer (Ryan) MacArthur, Raylene (Jimmy) Murphy, Suzanne (Bill) Rosentreter, Jean Paul Digou, Michael Digou, Robbie (Rosie) Digou, Elizabeth (Mike) Hall, Lori (Nigel) Westbury, Heather Digou, Danielle Digou and Maria Digou; as well as 24 great-grandchildren, Donna and Douglas MacPherson, Kelsie, Janelle and Cameron MacLean, Keith and Jesse Sherwood, Christine, Erika, Jessica, Jeffrey and Matthew Pinhorn, Jack and Anna Walker, Angelena and Ryan MacArthur, Nicole and Keagan Murphy, Taeler and William Rosentreter, Celine and Dillon Hall, William Digou and Julia Westbury. He is also survived by his sister, Emily MacIsaac, South Bar; brother, Jackie Digou, South Bar; as well as many nieces and nephews. Besides his parents, he was predeceased by his wife Mary, daughter, Susan Nemeth, sister, Lucy Gillis, brother, Harry Digou, two grandsons in infancy. Visitation will be held Friday, Nov. 5 at the S.W. Chant & Son Funeral Home, 564 Alexandra St., Sydney, from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. Funeral service will take place 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 6 in the funeral home chapel with Fr. Ray Huntley officiating. Interment to follow in St. Alphonsus Church Cemetery. A reception will take place at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 128, Whitney Pier.
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