An unidentified sailor standing below twin 4.7-inch guns of HMCS Iroquois at sea, 23 September 1943.Credit: Lt H.J. Nott / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-206226 Restrictions on use: Nil Copyright: Expired
"Yeah, some of them we had to bury in the sea. But we did. You put two shells in a canvas, wrap them up and the captain would--with the plank and say a prayer and just slide them in feet first. We did that quite often. And even if they were Germans, you still had to respect there, you know. But when you see your own Canadians, you can’t even take them home. You had to bury them at sea. It’s really something, you know."
I was raised on a farm in St. Cesaire, Quebec. We had one of the biggest farms, tobacco farm with my family, my father and mother and sisters and we stayed there for about ten years. And from there we left to go to Montreal. My dad never liked the farm too well. So, we moved to Montreal. And from there I went to school in Montreal on St. Jacques [street] and that school to me wasn’t too much. I passed through the grades, I mean in a hurry, but anyway, I ended up in Montreal working as a longshoreman. My dad was a longshoreman at one time. And that was hard work. I went to school to take a machinist course in Montreal. And from there, I worked in different places, like the ordnance in Longue-Pointe [Montreal] as a machinist. And they used to bring all the tanks back from Europe and all that and we had to redone them and all that as a machinist. From there I got tired of that. So, I joined the navy [Royal Canadian Navy].
We were talking about that [enlistment] all the time at the work and I didn’t have that much of the education. To tell you the truth, I was thrown out in 5th Grade. So, anyway I went to the barracks on Mountain Street and I talked to one of the counsellors, one of the officers. He was a very nice man, a happy man. I can’t remember the name. But anyway, well he said, “You know Andre,” he says, “You haven’t got too much of an education,” he says. “You only have 5th grade,” he says. “That’s not too good. We usually take the boys, seven, eight, nine, tenth grade.” I said, “Look, I want to be in the war,” I say. He says, “I know,” but he says, “Anyway, go back home,” he says. “I’ll let you know.” So, I went back home. And my dad says, “What did you do today?” “Oh,” I says, “I went to join the navy.” “What!!” “Yeah,” I says, “I don’t have the education. I don’t know if I’m going to be accepted or not.” “We’ll,” he says, “I’ll go up there and see them because I don’t want you to be in the navy.” And I said, “Look, this is mine, this is me,” I says, “not you.” “Oh,” he says, “You have to go through me.” Anyway I went back to the barracks and I saw the Lieutenant and he says, “Andre, well, we’ll try it. But you are going to work.” “Oh,” I says, “I’m willing.” “You have to go to school here.” Which I did in Montreal [for] two months of training and everything else. And I passed everything because I was very keen and very determined. And which I did, and that helped me quite a bit.
I went to Cornwallis [Nova Scotia] first. And there they were pretty strict with us. “You god dam Frenchman.” You know, “We’ll scare the shit out of you.” We were all Capital Division, all French, French-Canadian.
But I learned my English, fast. Then we had this little Herwitt, he was a Jewish guy. He was following us all the time. Oh, this was after, onboard the ship. We finally got into Halifax. They put the boots to us as Frenchman. But we made it good. We did all our drill, everything. Gunnery, I did my gunnery, 4.7 [inches, caliber], and that’s what they were training us, for the Tribal class [destroyers]. So the time came to ship us to England. No, not to England first. We went on Corvettes, [HMCS] Amherst. I went on HMCS Amherst.
There was Herwitt, myself, Meloche and Miller. The five of us, holy geez, did we ever spill our guts. And this was the first time we were out. It was rough. We came back to port and the Captain said, “Did you have enough boys?” But anyways, yeah. But then from there... From the [HMCS] Napanee, I went to the Amherst. Amherst, we went all over the tropics and came back and then when the Tribal class destroyers were ready, we were drafted on there.
So the Athabaskan was built, was being built. They were getting the crew like us, the gunners, ready. So they had these sheds, big sheds. And they had all these 4.7s [guns]. And these were all dummy shells. And they had the four-inch and whatever it was and they take you in this bloody place and you had your earmuffs. But they don’t tell you. So, you’re on your gun and I was a tray worker. Put the shell in and the cordite and all that, then you wait, then there was a POW. Jesus.
Because we were gunners. They were. Like I say, they have to train you. And we might get mad at them, or throw them overboard, but I mean you still have to respect their authority. Because I became a leading seaman at one time.
In the cramped quarters like that, you know. In the focs’l. Yeah, some of them we had to bury in the sea. But we did. You put two shells in a canvas, wrap them up and the captain would--with the plank and say a prayer and just slide them in feet first. We did that quite often. And even if they were Germans, you still had to respect there, you know. But when you see your own Canadians, you can’t even take them home. You had to bury them at sea. It’s really something, you know. Your friends and all that.
Interview with Leading Seaman Jean-Andre Audet FCWM Oral History Project
George Metcalf Archival Collection
© Canadian War Museum