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Obituary: Peter Goodwin Chance survived Battle of Atlantic sinking, D-Day landings

Peter Godwin Chance, 103, was one of the oldest surviving Canadian servicemen from the Second World War

Peter Godwin Chance, who has died at the age of 103, was a career navy man who survived a sinking in the Battle of the Atlantic, took part in the Dunkirk evacuation and D-Day landings and went on to serve in the Korean War.

The longtime Sidney resident, who died at Royal Jubilee Hospital on April 9, was one of the oldest surviving Canadian servicemen from the Second World War and never seemed to lose his zest for living.

“In Peter we have lost yet another of the ever fewer veterans of the Battle of the Atlantic and the D-Day landings,” said Lt.‑Cmdr. RCN (Ret’d) Paul Seguna, a longtime friend. “He was a gregarious and outgoing character and, right to the end, he wore his rank lightly … a good human being to everyone. His ethos was always do good to others. Peter was articulate and a real navy gentleman in the old style.”

Just over a year ago, the retired naval commander, who had learned to fly in his early navy years, returned to the sky with a pilot from the Victoria Flying Club, taking the controls after takeoff to become the oldest Second World War veteran to pilot an aircraft for more than an hour.

“It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever experienced … in these late stages of my life,” Chance said after the February 2023 flight. “I felt quite at home even though it had been a very long time. My heart was pumping so hard, I thought it was going to jump out of my chest, but it was a wonderful, wonderful experience.”

Seguna said Chance was looking forward to meeting Princess Anne, who is laying a wreath during today’s Battle of the Atlantic ceremony at the legislature. Chance was also invited to meet the princess during a reception with Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin.

Friends and colleagues knew him as a “walking history book,” said Gerald Pash, who has known Chance since the mid-1980s. “He gets called up as a speaker for many military historical events like the Battle of the Atlantic.”

In 2021, Chance cut the ribbon on the CFB Esquimalt Museum’s Battle of the Atlantic gallery, which now bears his name.

Chance spent his 30-year naval career on 13 Royal Canadian Navy ships, including HMCS Skeena, which in 1944 was lost along with 15 of its crew after running aground during a storm off Iceland.

Seguna said Chance forged lasting friendships not only with navy shipmates, but also with his Icelandic rescuers from the Skeena, and even German U-boat crews they fished out of the Atlantic.

He began his naval career with the Ottawa Naval Reserve Division, HMCS Carleton, in 1938. He joined his first ship, HMCS St. Laurent, in September 1939, days after the Second World War began.

That launched a long naval career on ships ranging from frigates and destroyers to cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers in various theatres of conflict, including the harrowing evacuation of Dunkirk amid heavy enemy fire, the D-Day landing, as well as the evacuation of Singapore in 1941. He later saw service in the Yellow Sea during the Korean War.

He went from midshipman to commander of a frigate and destroyer in Canada’s post-war navy. He also held senior staff positions ashore in Canada, the U.K. and U.S.

Chance published his autobiography, A Sailor’s Life, in 2001. Among his many decorations and awards is the French Legion of Honour presented to him in recognition of his service during the D-Day landings.

Seguna said Chance’s last days were happy and busy, spent socializing with and entertaining his fellow residents and staff at a Peninsula retirement home that he referred to with his characteristic humour as “barracks – where the grub was good, the staff delightful and the inmates friendly.”

Chance, who was predeceased by both his wives, said in 2022 the secret to longevity has “everything to do with luck, and the occasional belt of whiskey.”

A memorial service will be held at Christ Church Cathedral on June 5, 1:30 p.m., followed by a reception at the Pro Patria Legion between 3 and 5 p.m.

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