Mr. Belanger, at 16 years of age, when he joined the Merchant Navy, Gulf of St Lawrence, 1945.Georges Bélanger
Deck hand duties on a merchant marine ship, St-Lawrence Gulf, 1945. Mr. Bélanger is on the right.Georges Bélanger
Georges Bélanger, in the crow's nest of a Merchant Ship, 1945.Georges Bélanger
Mr. Bélanger wearing an ordinary seaman uniform aboard a Merchant Marine ship, 1946.Georges Bélanger
"One night, 15 corvettes left the site and not one of them were able to complete the crossing. My friends were on board."
My name is Georges Bélanger. I was born in L’Islet in 1930 and I joined the Navy when I was 16. Before that, I worked for the MPs [Military Police], gathering aluminum. We had coupons for everything. That’s why we had a hard time finding food to eat. My father was a farmer. We couldn’t buy a loaf of bread. We had to make everything ourselves; bread, butter, everything. That’s why I collected aluminum; for the war and for my friends who were gone.
In one night, seven of my friends died. When they left Newfoundland, the German U-boats sank them. They didn’t even get the chance to fire their guns once. I lost seven of my friends. It motivated us to do something. I felt a lot of sorrow at the time. The roads were closed during the winter. In L’Islet, it was worse. We got the news by listening to the BBC from London, in England. Shortly afterwards, I let two guys stay with me who were supposed to go the front lines. I was young and I didn’t know what I was doing. I asked my father and he didn’t have a problem with it. It didn’t bother me either, we would eat together. They were supposed to go to Normandy or something. When the Military Police caught me, they thought that I was pretty smart. I worked for them, collecting aluminum. I played a trick on them by hiding those guys in my house.
Following that incident, they had an officer come to our house. We talked about it with my father. They told me it was either the Navy, the Army or the Air Force. I didn’t have enough of an education for any of it; as farmers we didn’t go to school much. They told me to get my suitcase and that they would take care of me. I joined the Merchant Navy. The Merchant Navy was as much a target as any corvette in the regular Navy. We could hit a mine north of Newfoundland. The mines were left there or set up there by the Germans. They were very interested in that area.
One night, 15 corvettes left the site and not one of them were able to complete the crossing. My friends were on board. The Germans were towards the outskirts of Ile d’Orleans. Their hiding place is still there. When they saw the boats go by, they would send a message to Newfoundland. The submarines would receive the message and then would line up and lie in wait. They couldn’t have planned it better.
I spent six months aboard the corvettes, taking the shells out to transfer them to other ships. I wasn’t even paid for that. Then I joined the Merchant Navy, patrolling the Côte-Nord region. We were paid $150 a month. It wasn’t a lot. I wasted a bit of time there in terms of money, but not at all in terms of technique or discipline. I gained solid navy discipline. I’m very happy about that. I got involved with the Royal Canadian Legion to try and educate youth to be careful. Just because we are comfortable today doesn’t mean that will be the case tomorrow. All you need is one hothead in charge of a country. Look at Hitler and his propaganda. Everything was fine and dandy…but I saw it on a film, he told the children that everything was fine. Meanwhile he was killing millions of people. We know what happened.