During the tumultuous Victory in Europe Day (VE-Day) celebrations in Halifax, amidst the chaos and confusion of the post-war festivities, Stoker 1st Class Verne LeRoy Turner’s reputation was tarnished with false news reports suggesting he died by drinking himself to death.

However, recent research has revealed that Turner’s death was due to heart failure caused by an infection rather than alcohol poisoning, restoring not only his reputation, but also honor to his service in the Royal Canadian Navy.

Turner’s journey in the navy began in January 1944 when he joined the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve at His Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Discovery in Vancouver, B.C.

After just three months at HMCS Discovery, the Vancouver Naval Reserve Division, Turner shipped out to the Atlantic Coast to undertake naval recruit training at HMCS Cornwallis at Deep Brook, Nova Scotia.

Turner’s service included postings to HMC Ships Asbestos and Rosthern, both based at HMC Dockyard Halifax. While in his second ship, Turner was promoted to Stoker 1st Class.

The spring of 1945 was a time of intense activity in Halifax, with people, ships, trains, and materiel bustling to support the Allies’ push into Germany. VE-Day brought both anticipation and chaos to the city.

While the official announcement on May 7, 1945, was met with initial celebrations, it was followed by riots and looting in Halifax and Dartmouth on May 7 and 8. The chaos made it difficult to accurately record facts surrounding the events of that day. Many incidents were reported inaccurately.

There were two coincidences involved in the last day of Verne’s life. The first was that Verne collapsed and died on a street in Halifax on the same day the V-E Day Halifax Riots began. The second was he had alcohol and blood in his stomach when he died.

These coincidences became items of misinformation that were documented by naval and provincial authorities and news media, causing damage to Turner, his family and his service in the Navy.

Turner’s family knew that he had collapsed and died of a heart attack on May 7, 1945. They also knew on receipt of a letter from the Secretary of the Naval Board that he was not connected to the V-E Day riots, as his death happened before the riots began.

However, the false association between the riots and his death lasted for decades. The Board of Inquiry attributed his death to youth, inexperience, and alcohol intolerance. “Effects of alcohol” was also documented as the Cause of Death on the Nova Scotia Certificate of Registration of Death.

Recent investigations by volunteer researchers Commander (Ret’d) Arthur Hastings and Sub-Lieutenant (Ret’d) Jody Doll uncovered the truth buried in historical archives.

The findings revealed that Turner’s death was not due to alcohol poisoning. The autopsy report indicated a case of acute toxemia caused by bacterial toxins in his bloodstream, leading to heart failure. This finding, along with the letter from the Secretary of the Naval Board, clears his name of any involvement in the VE-Day riots and restores his untarnished service record in the RCN.

Turner’s Commanding Officer wrote to Turner’s mother: “His loss is greatly felt by all members of the ship’s company who held him in high regard for his cheerfulness and devotion to duty.”

Stoker 1st Class Verne LeRoy Turner was laid to rest with full naval honors in the Vancouver (Mountain View) Cemetery.

He is commemorated in the Second World War Book of Remembrance, at the Centre Block Houses of Parliament in Ottawa on the Memorial Plaque at HMCS Discovery and in the book “HMCS Discovery Roll of Honor 1939-1945”.

He was awarded posthumously four campaign medals that stand as a testament to his service and sacrifice for his country.

As we reflect on Turner’s story, it is a reminder of the importance of historical accuracy and honoring the legacy of those who served with integrity.

By Editor