By Kevan Pipe
Keith Wright was born March 8, 1920, the son of Captain Athol Wright, a veteran of the First World War, and Olive Wright. The family lived at 160 Third Avenue. Keith had three older brothers and attended both Mutchmor Public School and Glebe Collegiate. The family attended St. Matthew’s Anglican Church where Keith sang in the choir.
In 1933, the Wrights moved to Jasper, Alberta where Athol worked as superintendent of Jasper National Park. Keith completed high school in Jasper, graduating in 1938, when the family returned to Ottawa, residing at 85 Grove Avenue in Old Ottawa South.
He entered McGill University in Montreal that fall and joined the Canadian Officers Training Corps on Dec. 17, 1940. He also joined Kappa Rho Tau fraternity on campus. He was enrolled in the Faculty of Engineering (mechanical) Class of ’42 and after writing his third-year exams, he enlisted with the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve as a naval engineer on March 5, 1941, just two months after his father passed away. Keith passed his training courses at Kings College, Halifax and was designated as a probationary Sub. Lt., RCNVR in December 1941. He sailed on HMS Mauritius to Singapore and South Africa before being assigned to HMCS Ottawa in 1942.
On September 13 that year, HMCS Ottawa was escorting a westbound convoy across the North Atlantic when it was hit by two torpedoes fired two minutes apart by German submarine U-19. The Ottawa sank. One hundred and fourteen men died, almost two thirds of the crew. Keith Wright was among the victims. He was last seen by the ship’s captain in the wardroom when the destroyer was first attacked. The family was advised four days later that Keith was lost at sea; a month later, it was confirmed he was killed in action. His body was never recovered. He was just 22.
(Interestingly, the U-91 captain Heinz Walkerling survived three separate tours of U-boat duty in 1942-43, sinking five ships in total, and was then assigned to torpedo school as an instructor for the balance of the war. He lived until September 16, 2001.)
In June 1943, in a service presided over by the Bishop of Ottawa, a brass, processional cross was dedicated in memory of chorister Keith Francis Wright and donated to the church by his mother. She told the Ottawa Journal, “My feeling of pride in his service and sacrifice overshadows my sorrow. I am so proud of my boy because he has not lost his life but has given it, and in giving it, he has saved others.”
Wright is remembered at Halifax’s Naval War Memorial – his name is engraved alongside those of the other 2,851 Canadian Navy sailors and merchant mariners who lost their lives at sea during the Battle of the Atlantic. He is also remembered at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, Glebe Collegiate and McGill University.
Kevan Pipe is a Glebe resident and member of St Matthew’s Anglican Church communications committee.