"The Life-Line Is Firm. Thanks To The Merchant Navy" Second World War poster. Concept art by Charles Wood, 1942. Mr. Plourde served in the Merchant Navy for the duration of the war.The National Archives/Heritage-Images (UK)
"Ships were being sunk. At one point, in 1942, the Canadian Admiralty ceased all maritime traffic in the Saint Lawrence until we had the means to defend ourselves."
When I finished college, I had completed four years of a commercial course. To be honest with you, it wasn’t going very well at home. I told myself I should leave. A ship came to the dockyard near our house. They said to me, "We’re missing someone on board; a ship’s apprentice. If you want to come along, get your clothing and let’s go." That was my first ship, it was 1942. The ship was called the Nord Gaspé. That was during the battle of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in 1942; that was the year that saw the most ships sunk in the Saint Lawrence. When I say the Saint Lawrence, I mean between Montreal and the Gaspé. Ships were being sunk. At one point, in 1942, the Canadian Admiralty ceased all maritime traffic in the Saint Lawrence until we had the means to defend ourselves. We didn’t have any corvettes or destroyers. We were going to build some and then we would resume the shipments that left Montreal for England.
I was on the [SS] Nord Gaspé. It was a small coastal boat that made the trip between Montreal and the Îles-de-la-Madeleine. It was pretty fast. It transported passengers and merchandise. So every week, it would leave Montreal for the Îles-de-la-Madeleine. That small ship was never stopped, since it was pretty fast and could foil the submarines. We continued on.
Once on a trip between Gaspé and the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, we were attacked. A torpedo hit the front of the ship. In the end, the torpedo had simply grazed the ship. Once the war was over, some submarine captains arrived in the Gaspé and were questioned about it; they admitted that they had been trying to hit the Nord Gaspé. They failed, at any rate.
I changed ships and I got on an oil tanker that did the run from Boston to Stephenville [Newfoundland]. We were transporting gasoline for the Air Force. It was going well; we had no escort. We could go pretty fast despite weighing 6 000 tons. We were following our sister ship, a boat identical to ours and it was sunk about a mile ahead of us. They were hit with a torpedo in the very middle of the ship and the front had sunk. They lost eight members of their crew. The rest of the ship floated since oil tankers are equipped with watertight compartments. The captain was ordered to head back to Boston. I was working in the engine room, about 20 feet below the water level.
When we arrived in Boston and the captain gave us orders to return with a full load of gasoline, the men didn’t respond. Those who worked below, and who knew that the ship had sunk, didn’t want to leave without an escort. The captain went to the Admiralty in Boston or New York and was told that it was not a problem, that we would be escorted by a corvette. We left and we continued on, but we never saw the corvette. It continued on like that.