He played tennis with the King of Sweden, survived an escapade on a Q-boat, and even lived in Oak Bay.
The tales of John “Dutchy” Crispo Inglis Edwards are many, and they live on today thanks to his detailed daily journals.
“When he died [at 82 years of age in 1978], we put everything of his into trunks,” said Helen Edwards, retired Victoria resident and author of The History of Professional Hockey in Victoria. “Eventually, I went through it and his journals are incredible.”
Edwards was already a history fanatic when she uncovered the journals. It took most of the last year to put the book together – Dutchy’s Diaries: Life as a Canadian naval officer, in his own words – and it has earned her many exciting reviews from military historians across the country.
“It’s the detail that’s unlike other journals kept from that time,” Edwards said. “Most of the book is first-person, and the stories are not just about his naval experience but on everything, even a toothache. It makes him this human being that we can relate to [and] not just a photo of a naval officer on the wall.”
Reading the journals changed a lot of how Edwards saw her father-in-law.
“I used to see him as an old man, I thought of him as an old man,” Edwards said. “I see him now as this dashing young naval officer and I understand what he talked about, I understand his stories.”
Edwards’ husband, John [Dutchy’s son], died on Feb. 29 this year. It made John happy that he was able to see the book about his father make it to print. The couple presented it two weeks before he died during a book launch at a CFB Naden event.
“It meant a lot to him, and for our children, that he got to see it,” said Edwards, of the couple’s three daughters and one son.
Dutchy was born in Londonderry, Nova Scotia, in 1895, when it was a booming smelting industry. He graduated from the Royal Naval College in Nova Scotia (which was eventually destroyed in the Halifax Explosion of 1917) into the navy during the First World War.
Dutchy was a gifted athlete, and the book talks a lot about tennis and other sports he engaged in.
“In today’s world he probably would have earned a lot of money, but you didn’t then, when things were amateur,” Edwards said.
Most of Dutchy’s war assignments were in the Mediterranean including patrol around the Dardanelles where the British had suffered major losses in Turkey due to poor planning.
“He was in what you would call skirmishes more than he was in sea battles,” Edwards said.
At the time, the British navy was employing Q-ships, or decoys, and Dutchy was set up on one for nearly a month.
“Q-ships were set up to look like innocent little boats, like a fishing boat,” Edwards said. “Men would even dress up, sometimes in women’s clothing. If a submarine or enemy ship came close they had barriers they could quickly remove that expose guns.”
Dutchy escaped the inherit harm of the Q-ships and returned to other ships where he continued his progression through the ranks.
But it was his many exploits away from the war that stand out in his diaries.
In the 1920s he was stationed as an athletics instructor at HMCS Esquimalt and became the “dashing young navy man” who, by the many accounts of his journal, was a “who’s who” to have at the many high society parties in town.
In the 1930s Dutchy was promoted Lieutenant Commander and Commander at Esquimalt.
Dutchy married his wife Dorothy, or Dot, a fine tennis player and the two of them traveled and beat most couples in tennis. During one stop Dutchy was in Malta where he played tennis with the King of Sweden.
Come World War Two, Dutchy was stationed as the athletics instructor at HMCS Cornwallis.
“He was in his 40s, but he would compete with the young soldiers and the reports of the time match that he would often win,” he said.
While Dutchy was at HMCS Naden in 1946 his family lived in Oak Bay until they built their house in North Saanich.
Dutchy retired in 1951 as Commodore from the Canadian Navy. Fast forward a few years and Edwards, dressed as Santa Claus, was assigned the duty of giving out gifts to the four single men at the Department of National Revenue Christmas Party in Victoria. One of the single men was John, her future husband. Shortly after, she met his dad, Dutchy, and mother, Dot.
“He would tell stories that I wasn’t always sure were true, but a lot of them are in these journals and a lot of them have photos,” Edwards said.
The book is available in softcover from Munro’s Books and Bolen Books and on Amazon.