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Guardian angel on his shoulder: Langford Navy veteran turns 100

Goldstream News Gazette - 1/11/2024

If you ask Robert Haden about his life, he will tell you there is a guardian angel on his shoulder.

He has survived serious car accidents, illnesses, plus hunting submarines during the Second World War Two.

This guardian angel is the only explanation the Langford resident can give as to why he has had such a long life and will celebrate turning 100 years old on Jan. 18. He's already received a letter from King Charles.

"I've had three serious car accidents. One when I was five years old, where I was hit by a car. I was bowled over 1973 and another accident two years ago when I was on my scooter."

Haden served in the Canadian Navy off the coast of Newfoundland, and was involved in the surfacing of U-889, which had surrendered in May 1945.

The German U-boat fleet, often referred to as the Wolfpack, caused chaos for the flow of goods between Halifax and Europe.

Haden said that he had served on a wooden Fairmile (Q-117), which played a pivotal role during this period and would often carry out anti-submarine patrols, port defence and rescue duties.

"They were a motor boat made out of wood. It was specially made to detect enemy submarines. Because the Germans couldn't make contact with wooden boats, they could only find and detect metal boats. I was on a Fairmile for three years out of four."

It was the role of these Fairmiles to keep German submarines out of Canadian waters and the coast of Newfoundland safe, he said.

"I wanted to learn a trade and didn't want to be a 'McCatty' for the rest of my life. It was a dirty job. I used to have sore fingers. The diesel fuel gets everywhere through the fingernails and skin."

Haden served in the Canadian Navy for four years, two during the war and two in peacetime, where he was a motor mechanic and a stoker. He would then become a tailor for the Navy after the war.

He was a tailor for 27 years, and everything had started well – he became a supervisor and ensured that his deliveries and service were prompt and hassle-free.

But that all changed.

"My problems started with stress, stress, telephone calls, complaints, customers, Navy men coming to complain about their uniforms not being ready and all that. I was going downhill pretty fast, health-wise. So the doctor said, 'The only way to cure this is to quit your job because you're suffering from stress and it could be very dangerous for your life."'

After leaving the tailoring business, he would find work preserving metal for the Navy, where he would work from home. Haden also visited 13 different countries and said that seeing the Statue of Liberty was what he remembered fondly from all his trips.

"I have visited three of the highest buildings in the world at the time. The Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty."