"It took 21 days to leave Quebec and arrive in Alexandria, Egypt. It was long but when you like that… For me, it was my job."
Normally, they waited for each other in the Sept-Îles Bay or in the Bic to the west of Rimouski (Québec). There were some ships in the Bic waiting for each other, maybe 7-8 ships, 10-12 ships all together. They spent two-three days waiting for the departure date (on the Atlantic Ocean). Aside from that, there were some in the Chaleur Bay and in (…). Inside the bay, there were ships waiting for the order to leave together. I’ll tell you, one of the crossings that I had verified, that I was on board for was the ship American Liberty (a type of cargo built in the United States during the Second World War) that only went 9 knots per hour. That wasn’t very fast. At that time, we didn’t have radar.
We were in the fog as of maybe a hundred or so miles out from Cape Breton and then Halifax (Nova Scotia). We were headed in a diagonal towards Bermuda (Archipelago of North America) to clear the icebergs a bit, because there are icebergs that descend the length of the Straits of Greenland. To clear the icebergs, they went south and then south west to keep away from danger. Then from there, they set course again towards the Straits of Gibraltar at the opening of the Mediterranean. It took 21 days to leave Quebec and arrive in Alexandria, Egypt. It was long but when you like that… For me, it was my job.
The danger, like I was telling you yesterday, yesterday or the day before yesterday. I was telling you that it didn’t cross my mind. I had a couple of warnings from submarines. Some submarines surfaced close to one and half miles-two miles distance away from us in the open sea. In the open sea on the ocean, but they were American submarines. But when the officers on the gangway saw the periscope come out and then the submarine emerging from the water, they sounded the alarm on the ship I was on. They alarm started ringing, and the siren, too. So we all started running madly towards the life boats. But me, seeing as I was French Canadian, I didn’t speak a word of English.
Three thirds of them were American despite that there were other nations among us. We don’t know each other. So I was a bit scared. I moved from one side of the ship to the other. There were life boats on both sides of the ship. My name was on the list, but I didn’t understand anything. I didn’t know which boat number I was supposed to take. Everyone was yelling: “Frenchy! Frenchy! Frenchy!” Where’s Frenchy? I was the “Frenchy,” but Frenchy was all that I understood. The men were pushing me from one side to the other. Things like that happened two-three times.
It was worrisome, and that surprised me. When you see an almost four-hundred foot submarine emerge from the water, normally it was an enemy but this time it was an ally, an American. It came up and right away it raised its flag above the gangway so the officers would stop sounding the siren. And then the alarm.
It was working, we continued our routine work. First off, as a simple sailor, you aren’t aware of the company’s business. All of the companies, the ships that go from one port to another, they all have agencies that take care of their business; that take care of the doctor, immigration and different things like that. They come to meet the ship captain, and the captain gives the names of his crew and if there are 25 people aboard or if there are 30. He gives each person’s details and if the ship needs something like gas, diesel or other things, like food. Somebody takes care of that, too. An agency takes care of the company.
Uh no, we were paid monthly. We were paid monthly, for seven days a week. During those days, there was no question of a union. There were no unions. If you worked Saturday or Sunday, it was routine. Then, a few years later, they stopped working at 12:30 p.m. At noon, work stopped and we didn’t work on Sundays. But in the beginning when I started, we worked seven days per week.
We didn’t work like slaves. On a ship, you paint, clean, maintain it but you don’t have a foreman following you around like a (…)