Veteran Stories:
Roland Lemieux

Merchant Navy

  • Roland Lemieux, 1942.

    Roland Lemieux
  • Roland Lemieux (kneeling, in centre) with other fellow sailors, 1942.

    Roland Lemieux
  • Roland Lemieux, with a monkey ("un petit ami") on board, 1942.

    Roland Lemieux
  • Roland Lemieux in the crow's nest, 1944.

    Roland Lemieux
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"We were in the jungle. Since it wasn’t very deep, the ocean-going vessels only took a half load. Otherwise, they would hit the bottom."

Transcript

In 1941, I worked for the Arsenal at Côte du Palais [in Quebec City, Quebec] for $0.12 an hour. It cost me $0.05 to get there and $0.05 to come back. So after my first hour, I only had $0.02 left. He [M. Brochu, a friend of his father's] was in Halifax and he called my father to ask if his son would be available to work on his ship. I answered yes right away. When we passed close to Bermuda, we received the order to turn off all the lights – there could be no light showing - and to paint the ship grey at the next harbour, because they had begun to torpedo the ships. We arrived in Trinidad. It should be noted that those little lakers were requisitioned by the government to haul bauxite. So many ships had been sunk, there weren’t enough ships. They were the only ships that could pass through the Lachine Canal; the big ones wouldn’t fit. The ships were used to take bauxite to Guyana: Dutch Guyana and British Guiana. We would load up and travel 125 miles on the river to reach the Dutch region and approximately 60-70 miles for the British region. They were rivers similar to the Amazon… We were in the jungle. Since it wasn’t very deep, the ocean-going vessels only took a half load. Otherwise, they would hit the bottom. We would take our load and go to Trinidad where it would be off-loaded. The larger vessels would fill their holds to the maximum and sail to America. They called it "shuttling". We had to be careful with our drinking water; the reservoir was located up on the bridge. The bridge was located above our sleeping quarters and the sun would beat down on it all day long. You could crack an egg on the bridge, and it would cook in no time. It if was a sunny day, your quarters would be an oven at night. There weren’t any mosquito nets in the portholes. In the jungle, there were huge mosquitoes. Ours are tiny in comparison. When I would turn on the light at night, my bed would be covered with little red dots; bedbugs. It was impossible to sleep there. I took my little camp bed and set it up at the rear of the boat deck. I made a little hut by attaching a cloth to two poles. I slept there. I was comfortable there. We left Halifax with a load headed for England. We would take a detour to benefit from the protection of the Air Force. The planes weren’t equipped to go out too far over the ocean. There was an American base in Iceland. There was a black hole where the planes couldn’t go and that’s exactly where the submarines would wait for us. The formed a 200-300 mile-long barricade. The submarines were all in a line. They kept 10 to 20 miles apart. They formed a barrier. We got caught in a storm during the month of January, it was terrible. A storm that lasted three days. There were no cooks in the kitchen. We took a jar of peanut butter and some bread and we went to sit down in the mess room. We crossed our legs around a table leg that was screwed to the floor so that we wouldn’t be thrown against the walls. In bed, we would secure ourselves with rope so we wouldn’t fall in our sleep. It lasted three days. We got back on our little routine. The war ended; it didn’t happen any differently.
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