November 13 1961

I would not normally include the children’s work in these letters but this speech addresses Cec’s war experience, one of the few times we, as children, ever heard him talk about it. There was a picture of the H.M.S. Indomitable on the wall, some musty smelling epaulettes and a hat with a tropical white cover in the basement, and that was all we knew. In fact, until my husband and I visited 30 years later, I had never known him to tell anyone details about his service- and he didn’t talk to me, but to Pat. There certainly was a lot of parental input into our speeches- Linda’s was based on one of Carol’s childhood experiences, as told by Cyn- but given that this was all happening while Cyn was in hospital and then home recovering, Charlie’s success was a commendable effort!


My father had a Faithful Friend on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This friend was a little monkey called Stoopid, who was so small he could sit on a man’s hand. He had greyish fur and a beautiful long tail. But his eyes were sad and he had a little worryed face.
Every morning my father would take him into the shower and give him a good scrub. Stoopid didn’t like this and scolded when he was getting dried. He was friends with everyone except the ships cats. He would sneak along and pull their tails then run away as fast as he could, climb over the edge of the ship into a port hole, and sometimes come up with a pen in his mouth. He used to like to visit the officers’ wardroom where there was a notice board. Stoopid thought the notices made lovely parachutes. He jumped at them and rode down as they tore. He liked to look at the letters and sorted them out as he thought, with some in the wrong places and the rest on the floor. The officers had a terrible time finding their mail.
Every morning when the smell of breakfast was around Stoopid would go to the table and sit on my father’s shoulder and wait for his food. One day there was a bowl of fruit in the middle of the table. After everyone had left the room Stoopid jumped up on the table, grabbed a banana, and ran away behind a coil of rope to eat it. When he was finished he through the peel on the deck. Soon the captain came along deep in thought. Suddenly there was a crash and all 250 pounds of the captain was sitting on the deck. The captain was furious and wanted to keep Stoopid locked up in a cage but my father said he would keep an eye on him.
One day the captain saw him running along the deck and said to a sailor “You know how to knit?” And the sailor said “Y- yes sir” “Well, said the captain you had better get busy and knit that little monkey a sweater.” He looked so sweet in his little red sweater and cap when they sailed south into wintery weather.
Stoopid was a very sad little monkey when my father had to leave. He was well looked after by the other men, but to no one else was he such a faithful friend.

June 1945

The battle in the Pacific continued after VE Day in May, but Cec was due leave after two years on board ship.  These telegrams shown how concerned his superiors were at the prospect of losing him.

However it was arranged with the Admiralty, Cec returned to Saskatoon in 1945 and continued his education as planned in the fall.  

Not only did he complete his M.A. in Physics successfully, he was awarded the 1851 Commonwealth Scholarship which sent him to Cambridge University in England for his PhD.  There he met Cynthia, and the story continues…

But before this happens, it is necessary to go back to Cynthia’s war time, 1944, and catch up with her life.

May 1945

There are no more letters home, but there is a speech giving Cec’s take on his wartime experience.

In 1971 Dr Gerhard Herzberg, the Director of the Pure Physics Division of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), Cec’s boss, won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.  It was an honour, and thrill for all in the NRC, and also somewhat of a joke, since Dr. Herzberg was, to everyone, a physicist! To honour Dr. Herzberg, the Governor General gave a dinner and reception, the NRC scientists were invited, the invitation stating that medals were to be worn.  So Cec had miniatures of his medals ‘suitable for wearing with evening dress’ made, and that is how I own a picture of the young Lieutenant Commander C.C.Costain, with his medals.   

Miniature Medals, Atlantic star missing.

At a tribute to Dr. Herzberg years later, Cec gave a speech about the time before Herzberg joined the NRC, the time in the 1930s when Professor Herzberg, seeing the writing on the wall in an increasingly Nazified Germany, accepted a guest Professorship at the University of Saskatchewan, moved with his wife Luise to Canada, started a family, and educated Cec Costain and many other future Canadian physicists.  Here he is, addressing his former professor: 

And later in the speech, he explains Herzberg’s influence on his wartime experience: 

The end of Cec’s war service involved a Distinguished Service Cross and a promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.  The explanation for the medal that I remember hearing was that Cec just happened to notice- up late? working his usual 18 hour day and night? tweaking his radar system to reach further than ever?- a kamikaze attack in time to warn the fleet.  

A clipping from the local newspaper saved by his proud parents, and The London Gazette, a link with Nelson, provide documentary proof. 

Costain top right p 2299

Indomitable Service

 April 19451st Damaged in KAMIKAZE attack during operations off Sakashima Gunto group. 14 men were killed and 16 wounded. Extensive damage to Island structure and some fires were started. Flight deck was cleared and fires extinguished with an hour.
  9th Flying operations transferred to targets in Formosa (Operation ICEBERG OOLONG).
 11th With HMS INDEFATIGABLE carried attacks on Schinchiku and Matsugama.
 16th Transferred with TF57 to renew attacks on airfields in Ishigaki and Miyako in Sakishimas.
 20th Returned to Leyte.
 May1st Sailed from Leyte to resume attacks on Sakishima Gunto group.
 4th After replenishing with ships of TG57 launched first of a series of air attacks with HMS VICTORIOUS and HMS FORMIDABLE on airfields at Hiara, Nobara, Miyako and Ishigaki.
   Hit by KAMIKAZE aircraft but remained operational.
 9th Damaged in another KAMIKAZE attack but continued flying operations with gaps for replenishment until 23rd May.
 20th In collision with HM Destroyer QUILLIAM which was seriously damaged.
 25th Sailed for Manus on completion of operation requirement for TF57.
June 1945  Relieved by HM Aircraft Carrier IMPLACABLE and refitted in Sydney.
 July   On completion remained at Sydney.

February 10 1945

Indomitable Service:

January 1945          Joined Task Force 63.

                4th          Deployed with HMS INDEFATIGABLE and HMS VICTORIOUS, H M Cruisers SUFFOLK, CEYLON, ARGONAUT and BLACK PRINCE screened by HM Destroyers KEMPENFELT, WHELP, GRENVILLE, WAGER, URANIA, UNDAUNTED, UNDINE and URSA for air attacks on oil refineries at Pangkalang Brandan, Sumatra (Operation LENTIL).

                16th        Sailed from Trincomalee with TF63 for offensive sweep in Indian Ocean prior to transfer of British Pacific Fleet for service in Pacific area.

                24th        With HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, HMS INDEFATIGABLE and HMS VICTORIOUS carried out air attacks on the oil refinery at Pladjoe, Sumatra. Cover was provided by HM Battleship KING GEORGE V, HMS ARGONAUT, HMS EURYALUS and HMS BLACK PRINCE screened by Fleet Destroyers. (Operation MERIDIAN ONE)

                29th        With same aircraft carriers launched raids on Soengi Gerong oil refineries and airfields at Lembak and Tanglangbetoetoe (Operation MERIDIAN TWO). (Note: These attacks were marred by various problems. All seven KAMIKAZE aircraft which attacked Fleet in retaliation were destroyed but 16 RN aircraft were lost in action and another 14 by deck landing accidents. 9 pilots captured after baling out were executed by the Japanese in August 1945. (Operation MERIDIAN TWO).


                4th          Arrived Fremantle with British Pacific Fleet.

                9th          Arrived at Sydney to prepare for operational service as TF113 with US Navy.*

*From , accessed April 21 2020

H.M.S. Indomitable

c/o British Fleet Mail Office

San Francisco, California, USA

Feb 10, 1945

Dear Folks, 

Before you get any false ideas, I’m in Australian waters and hence the change of address. I hope mails will be quicker, my last were one month to six weeks old. I’ve had three from home lately, a record. Thanks a million.

I received your Christmas parcel in fine style, thanks a lot. I’ve been eating steadily ever since. Those pliers are beautiful, Dad. 

I’m glad to hear Christmas went off well. Mine was OK but rather squeezed in between a lot of work. We have been at the Japs again as you probably heard, so I’ve been as bad as usual getting things organized such as letter writing, sleeping etc. But I’ve been making up for it the last couple of days. I have a week sick leave coming up as soon as the opportunity occurs. I’m not sick, but I think the Captain thinks I may be in the future so that’s what scares him. He is really grand. I don’t seem to have the interest or energy I used to have but perhaps that’s the tropical effect. At the moment, I’m trying to work myself out of the “indispensable” category so I will have some hope of relief and leave. At the moment, it is still distant. I’ve been here so long I’m almost part of the fittings. 

Is Marybelle training at home – she always swore she wouldn’t. 

Russell and Carman seem to be doing OK. Tell Russell he will have to pull up his socks in physics – remember I used to be a “physician”. I’ve certainly forgotten it all. 

How does my bank balance look. I transferred £300, about $1,325 from UK in May and I forget whether you told me it arrived. I’ve been dealing with so many kinds of money I forget what a dollar looks like or is. 

Send my love to Lena Merle Dix & the nephews. I may write them again someday but I don’t know when.

Bye for now



P.S. Re your argument, I go where the ship goes, regardless of the theatre. This “region of service” does not apply to any naval personnel. Service with RN or RCN is optional for me.

November 25 1944

Indomitable service:

October 1944

                15th        Deployed with Task Group 63.3 for diversionary operations in Indian Ocean during US landings on Leyte (Operation MILLET). Six aircrew were lost.

                17th        Launched air attacks with HMS VICTORIOUS on Nicobar Islands.  HM Cruiser PHOEBE provided fighter direction facilities and AA defence.  Group was screened by HM Destroyers WHELP, WAKEFUL, WAGER and WESSEX.

                19th        Repeated air attacks on Nicobars.  During retaliatory attacks by Japanese torpedo bombers, ten of the twelve enemy aircraft were destroyed.


                20th        Deployed with HMS ILLUSTRIOUS to launch air attacks on Belawan Deli. Cover was provided by HM Cruisers NEWCASTLE, ARGONAUT and BLACK PRINCE screened by HM Destroyers KEMPENFELT (ii), WHIRLWIND, WRANGLER, WESSEX and WAKEFUL. (Operation OUTFLANK).

                                (Note: Original target on Pangkalan Brandon could not be attacked due to weather conditions in the area).

22th        Became part of British Pacific Fleet with HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and HMS VICTORIOUS.*

*From , accessed April 21 2020

H.M.S. Indomitable

c/o British Fleet Mail

Nov 25, 1944

Dear Folks, 

I just realized the date, so I’m going to try and get some Christmas letters written. I hope I haven’t left too late. 

I received your letter of Oct 29 and the parcel including pen and razor blades. The pen is working fine. I’m sure I’ll manage a lot more letters. There was a box of powdered crumbs with them. It was well packed, but I’m afraid it’s a waste of energy to send cookies etc. mom. Parcels take a terrific beating coming out here.

I’m sure I won’t know the old place when I return. I’m not as optimistic tonight as when I wrote my last letter. I’m afraid Wynne will be disappointed if she expects me to return by New Year’s. Incidentally, you might be right about her letters.

At last I received the first news of the kid’s exams. If you have told me three times already I’ve lost a lot of mail. I’m glad they are doing well – Keep it up kids. I hope I’ll be back in time to go to University with Carmen! 

I don’t think Percy has enough practical aptitude to make a go of his previous job. It was always like pulling teeth when he tried to fix his old bike. 

I’ve got another officer now so when he is trained I’ll be able to relax. 

I’m having a bad time with this letter because I keep killing cockroaches – a couple of dozen so far. 

I’ll close wishing you all a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I hope I get home sometime during the year to make it happier.

Love to all


November 11 1944

Indomitable service:

October 1944

                15th        Deployed with Task Group 63.3 for diversionary operations in Indian Ocean during US landings on Leyte (Operation MILLET). Six aircrew were lost.

                17th        Launched air attacks with HMS VICTORIOUS on Nicobar Islands. HM Cruiser PHOEBE provided fighter direction facilities and AA defence. Group was screened by HM Destroyers WHELP, WAKEFUL, WAGER and WESSEX.

                19th        Repeated air attacks on Nicobars. During retaliatory attacks by Japanese torpedo bombers, ten of the twelve enemy aircraft were destroyed.


                20th        Deployed with HMS ILLUSTRIOUS to launch air attacks on Belawan Deli. Cover was provided by HM Cruisers NEWCASTLE, ARGONAUT and BLACK PRINCE screened by HM Destroyers KEMPENFELT (ii), WHIRLWIND, WRANGLER, WESSEX and WAKEFUL. (Operation OUTFLANK).

(Note: Original target on Pangkalan Brandon could not be attacked due to weather conditions in the area).

22th        Became part of British Pacific Fleet with HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and HMS VICTORIOUS.

*From , accessed April 21 2020

[November 11, 1944? No date on letter – outside of envelope is marked 11/11 with Cec’s initials, post mark 1944}

P.S My complete address

Lieut C C Costain RCNVR

HMS Indominable

British Fleet Mail Office

Dear folks, 

I’ve recently been told off for not writing you, but that’s not the only reason I am writing. For the first time in over a year I have time on my hands. The Captain was beginning to think I was folding up – he wasn’t far wrong, and I’ve been sent on a weeks leave. It’s marvelous cool, tennis, billiards walking.  And marvelous food and service. It’s at an officers rest hostel, several of us are here and its grand.

I received several letters from you lately – two sea mail on the visit to Whitefox, and some more on the trip to B.C. & house painting. Things must be looking grand. I hope you don’t sell the place.

Wynne told me she had been over to see you and play with Carmens airplane. I think she enjoyed herself. I hear from her quite often and reply to each one – which means I owe you for letters.

The war seems to be dragging on and on, so I can’t see much point in sticking to the end of the war for a short leave. I expect to be home on leave this coming summer, but I don’t count on it too much. I’ll have three months due, so should get at least two. But I’m a long way away so it’s hard to certain. If I do, I’ll help get rid of some of your canning.

Bye for now 



September 22 1944

Indomitable service:

August 1944

                23rd        With Eastern Fleet to provide air-sea rescue facilities during US air attacks by XX

                                Bomber Command on Sumatra (Operation BOOMERANG).

                24th        Launched air attacks on Padang with HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and HMS VICTORIOUS covered by HM Battleship HOWE and units of Eastern Fleet. Targets included cement works at Indaroeng and harbour installations at Emmerhaven (Operation BANQUET).


                18th        Deployed with HMS VICTORIOUS escorted by HMS HOWE, two cruisers and seven Fleet Destroyers to launch air attacks on Sigli, Sumatra and photo-reconnaissance over Nicobar Islands (Operation LIGHT).

                                Two aircraft accidentally attacked HM Submarine SPIRIT which was acting as Plane Guard.*

*From , accessed April 21 2020

Sept 22, 1944

Dear Folks,

I received your letter today telling all about your trip to BC. My Gosh was I surprised. You always said you’d have time to gad about when the kids grew up. You lucky people. I suppose I’ve seen my share of the world and will see more, but I’ve always wanted to see the mountains and BC. Not to mention my numerous cousins. But it is high time you had a real holiday.

Pardon the interruption, one of our numerous cats just walked in and jumped up on my letter. We have quite a few but they aren’t very homey.

I’m doing quite well lately, I get fits of depression if I get too tired but they don’t last too long. My health is fine, I’m luckier than a great many in that respect. This is a foul climate for a white man. We have just had another crack at Sumatra, but it wasn’t very interesting.

I don’t know whether I’m stuck for good or not. I’ve been on here a long time now, but one of these days they will find they can run the ship without me. I suppose I’ve been on here too long now, but I don’t care much because I doubt if I could find a better ship.

I have had several letters from Wynne lately and one from Lena. By the way, do you know why she gets them in twos – because I get mine in threes.       

It is pretty difficult to write a letter these days without one to answer, but yours are coming in better now.

I’ve been doing the odd bit of swimming, but I’m afraid I don’t tan even out here. But I’ve stopped burning which is one consolation.

How did the kids do in their exams. You mentioned them writing but not the results. You wondered if Wynne knew definitely where I was. Don’t be silly, there’s a war on. There’s only one time you will know and that’s when I’m home and you won’t be sure then. But I’m afraid that’s a long way off. 

Bye for now 



August 11 1944

Cec on right.

Indomitable service:

July 5th          With Eastern Fleet 

H.M.S. Indomitable 

Aug 11, 1944

Dear Folks, 

Well I have had a surprise this past week. I received three letters from you, dated May 14, 28 sent to Norfolk, & one air letter (June 10 or 18,)??  So all in all I am fairly up-to-date. Glad to hear Lena passed her exams, you don’t know how glad.  You mention her writing a letter from her new job, but where is she working and what is her address? Also Percy‘s address if he is still around. It was good to get news of the Bomfards, I’m glad they are doing so well. Percy may be putting on weight but I’m afraid I’m sweating a lot off.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Les lately, talking over old times and new. It has given me a new lease on life so to speak to meet up with him. He seems pretty content but is thinking rather seriously of the Foreign Service which we are due. He’s going to apply, and may get it after awhile, but it’s doubtful. At least he has a much better chance than I have at the moment. He hasn’t changed a bit, but he says I have. I suppose he is right, certainly the responsibility hasn’t done me any harm, if it has bent my shoulders a little more. 

I got one letter from Bid today, giving me —  for not writing, but it’s not my fault entirely they take several months, and probably will be longer now. Your last air letter came in double quick time but I suppose soon winter weather will stop most of the mail flights. Since mine is just beginning to catch up that will probably make another three months gap, so don’t forget to get a few away before the bad weather. Parcels are pretty hopeless out here so to send letters instead.

You didn’t say anything about the kid’s exams how did they do and what grade are they in now anyway. 

I close now & answer some more of your letters later 

Love to all 


July 16 1944

Indomitable service:

May 1944               Completed refit and returned to UK to embark aircraft.

June                        Passage to Trincomalee.

July        5th          Joined Eastern Fleet with HM Aircraft Carrier VICTORIOUS.

                               Prepared for operational duties with Fleet.*

*From , accessed April 21 2020

HMS Indomitable

c/o GPO London

July 16, 1944 

Dear Mother 

I’m afraid I have neglected my letter writing for the past few weeks, but I felt I musn’t miss your birthday, and so, late as they are, Many Happy Returns.

I am in the in the Indian Ocean now, so mail is pretty poor. I have received one air letter from Wynne since I arrived, which took just under five weeks in transit, which isn’t too bad. I’ve got quite a stock of air letter forms, so I’ll use them and hope you will do the same. My mail hasn’t really caught up with me for three months but maybe it will settle down soon. Writing letters with nothing to talk about is a wee bit difficult.

But I have had a very interesting time lately. This is certainly the “other half of the world”. I’ve bought a few trinkets of various kinds including a nice leather briefcase for myself but I don’t know yet whether to risk sending them or not. I think shopping and bargaining is about our greatest relaxation. If I don’t do a fair amount I’ll always be sorry.

What are you doing for holidays this year. After working all spring you ought to take a good one. It doesn’t seem possible, but I suppose the kids are finished another year of school. Don’t I wish I was. As the war drags on & on my years of schooling ahead seem very formidable.

How did Lena’s exams go. I wrote to her some time ago but haven’t had any reply yet. She seemed to be having a good time down east but then she always did.

It can get pretty hot sometimes at home but nothing like this. I have stood the heat fairly well to date, and hope it hangs on the same. It may be a bad climate for heat rash etc. but ah the fruit. Fresh pineapple and oranges etc., really hit the spot. But I won’t make you jealous.

Well, that about exhausts me and my news so I’ll close now and hope to hear from you soon. 

Love to all 


Camping? It does look hot. Cec on left.

January 26 1944

HMS Indomitable Service:

January to April – Under repair and refit at Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia.

From , accessed April21 2020.

Jan 26, 1944

Dear Folks, 

It’s quite a while since I’ve written or heard from you. I forget who owes who but it’s probably my turn.

All is OK down here and busy as ever. I’ve got an assistant now or did I tell you. It will make things better after while but hasn’t had much effect yet.

I got the papers OK and figure I owe them about $120 income tax. I’m going to write and see if I can pay it in English or American. If not, they will have to wait a couple of years more. It’s only for the first six months of 42. Lucky I’m with the RN or I’d be paying about 600 a year. Living with the English has its compensations.

I hope uncle Harry is well on the way to recovery by now. I’d like to be home to hear the old organ going again. Have you been able to get it fixed up any?

Gyp and Sandy must be getting tired of being noncombatants. Sandy must be getting old. It’s time you got another kitten. He’s probably paying Gyp back for sitting on him when they were small.

Don’t think from my previous crack that things aren’t going smoothly. We’ve got some swell officers on board, one of them about the most remarkable man I’ve met. But I hope Helen knows what she was doing. Still I guess if they can stand it she can.

I expect to cover some of the country down here soon. Duty of course, but may see some of the bright lights I missed at Christmas. 

Well it’s getting late so I’ll close for now. 



 P.S. Have you lost your pens.