The Distinguished Service Medal was instituted in 1914 for acts of gallantry by Petty Officers and men of the Navy, junior to the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal and the Victoria Cross. There were only 114 as well as two bars awarded to the RCN during the Second World War.
ERA 4/c Donald Portree, DSM
Not a Hamiltonian originally, Donald Portree was born in Winnipeg in 1911 but, according to his daughter, made his way east, riding the rails, during the depression. By 1940 he and his wife were living in Hamilton and he was working as a moulder at Dominion Foundries (DOFASCO). He joined the RCN, probably at HMCS STAR, and by 1942 was serving as an Engine Room Artificer in HMCS ASSINIBOINE, a River Class destroyer. In August, “Bones”, as she was known, was with Escort Group C-1, herself and six corvettes, in fog on the Grand Banks with Convoy SC-94, a slow convoy of thirty-three merchantmen from Sydney, Cape Breton east across the Atlantic. The convoy was attacked by a wolf pack of eighteen U-boats and Assiniboine became closely engaged with U-210, a Type VIIC. The two vessels manoeuvred in and out of the fog, so close to each other that Assiniboine could only use her 0.5″ machine guns because her 4.7″ guns couldn’t depress far enough to hit the target while the U-boat replied with 20mm and 37mm guns. Assiniboine was taking casualties and was on fire. Portree took charge of the fire party on the upper deck and was at one point flipped over the ship’s side by the high pressure hose. Assiniboine eventually managed to haul off enough to hit U-210 with the 4.7″ guns and finally sank her after ramming her twice.
Assiniboine’s Captain, LCdr Stubbs, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, the 1st Lieutenant, Lt Ralph Hennessy, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Cox’n, CPO Max Bernays, was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, and Portree and three others received the DSM “For courage and devotion to duty before the enemy”.
After the war, Donald Portree stayed in the local area, serving as a member of HMCS STAR for some years and died in 1994.
Fraser McKee & Robert Darlington, The Canadian Naval Chronicle 1939-1945, (St. Catharines: Vanwell Publishing, 1996), 56-58