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Richard Henry Stevenson fonds (P681)

1943-1993. - 5 cm of textual records. - 4 photographs.

Administrative History - Biographical Sketch:

Richard Henry Stevenson was born in Montreal in 1920. His father was Reginald Crawford Stevenson and his mother Ethel Mary Plant. He had one sister named Audrey Spencer. Richard Henry Stevenson was educated at Lower Canada College (graduating in 1939) and at the McGill School of Commerce. He joined the Canadian navy in December 1941 and served on various ships, including Fairmiles and minesweepers, before being assigned to HMCS Athabascan, a Canadian Tribal-class destroyer. On April 29, 1944, while patrolling the English Channel along with minelayers and the destroyer HMCS Haida, the Athabascan was sunk in a clash with two German destroyers. The few survivors, including Stevenson, were picked up by a German destroyer and taken prisoner. Stevenson suffered burns to his legs and spent a few days in a hospital in Brest along with some 25 other Canadians wounded in the sinking. After being held in a special interrogation camp, Stevenson spent the rest of the war in Marlag "O" (MARine LAGer = navy camp), a prisoner-of-war camp near Bremen set up to accommodate captured Allied sailors.

After he was liberated, he returned to Montreal and pursued a career as a broker with the firm A. E. Ames. The company changed hands many times and was finally acquired by the Royal Bank of Canada. Mr. Stevenson worked for the bank and retired as partner in 2000. He had a keen interest in boating and took part in international competitions for the Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club. In 1958, he married Sarah Aitken, with whom he had three children: Matthew, Diana (Draper) and Willa (Stevenson-Séguin). Still alive today (2005), he now has many grandchildren but is suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

(Source: Sarah Aitken-Stevenson)

Scope and Content:

The material in this fonds relates to events in the life of Richard Henry Stevenson during the Second World War. More specifically, it provides information about his career in the Royal Canadian Navy and the time he spent in captivity in German prisoner-of-war camp Marlag "O" in 1944 and 1945.

The fonds contains correspondence sent and received by Stevenson while he was in Marlag "O" and after he was liberated in May 1945, an article on prisoners' time in captivity, a report written by Stevenson on the sinking of his ship, and two personal journals he kept during his captivity. The first was written on loose-leaf of various sizes. It begins with the sinking of his ship and ends with the liberation of the prisoners in May 1945. The second journal was written in a small bound notebook. The YMCA sent these blank notebooks to Allied prisoners so they could keep personal journals. Unlike the first diary, the second one does not contain a chronological description of events, but rather Stevenson's notes on memorable things that occurred while he was held prisoner. It also contains poems, quotations, plans of the camp, notes on the food, on the parcels received from the Red Cross, signatures of fellow prisoners, a list of German-English vocabulary, postcards and letters that have been glued in, and various information on camp life and entertainment, such as plays put on by the prisoners. The journal contains a number of small drawings, including several of warships, the camp, and nighttime bombing over the camp.

There are also four photographs in the fonds: a group picture of Division "J.J." at HMCS Kings naval officers training establishment in Halifax, in which R. H. Stevenson can be seen; a picture of his sister Audrey Stevenson on board a sailboat with two other women at the Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club; a picture of a painting showing HMCS Athabaskan in action on the night it sank; and a photograph of Captain Rogge, the German officer in charge of the Marlag prison camp who surrendered to the Allies in May 1945.

The fonds is divided into the following series:

  • P681/A: Personal journals
  • P681/B: Correspondence
  • P681/C: Reports, articles and other documents
  • P681/D: Photographs