Veteran Stories:
Alastair Stewart

Navy

  • The Memory Project, Historica Canada
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"My war wasn't what you'd call heroic or noble. It was just an adventure. When you are dropping depth charges on submarines, it's a very impersonal sort of thing.You don't see the enemy...It's not like the soldier, the infantryman, who is pulling the trigger on somebody.. more impersonal in the navy."

Transcript

I grew up in small-town Saskatchewan. Small town called Melfort. One of four boys. I had two older brothers and one younger brother. Strangely enough, we all joined the navy during the Second World War and not one of us had ever seen the sea when we joined. My oldest brother was in [HMCS] Weyburn.* Weyburn was sunk in the Med [Mediterranean]. He was pulled off the ship just before she left Halifax to come home and run my father's business, who had been disabled. My other brother was a signalman.  He was in two mid-ocean frigates. And when I came in, in the fall of 1943. Actually, I got expelled from high school, went into Saskatoon to join the navy. They said I was under-age and underweight. So I waited about three months, and they called me in regardless that I was still under weight, but I was then just turned 18, and I went into the local base there in Saskatoon, then into [HMCS] Chippawa** in Winnipeg and then to [HMCS] Cornwalls.*** I did my basic boot camp in Cornwallis.

I wore glasses so I knew that if I was ever going to be in the sharp end of everything it would have to be in the navy because you could get in, go to sea in ships and still wear glasses. I could never be in aircrew or would have trouble getting into active army operations. It was strictly navy, and probably my two older brothers had a big influence on that.

Well, my war wasn't what you'd call heroic or noble. It was just an adventure. When you are dropping depth charges**** on submarines, it's a very impersonal sort of thing. You don't see the enemy.  You know he's there, but you don't see him. It's not like the soldier, the infantryman, who is pulling the trigger on somebody. It seems to be more impersonal in the navy. I suppose if we had to board a submarine, or something like that, it would be a different situation.

 

*The HMCS Weyburn was an escort ship serving during the Battle of the Atlantic. The Weyburn was sunk by a German magnetic mine on 22 February 1943.

** HMCS Chippawa was a Royal Canadian Naval establishment in Winnipeg. It is now a naval reserve division.

***HMCS Cornwallis was a naval training base established during the Second World War. It was the largest naval training base in the British Commonwealth.

****Depth charges were anti-submarine weapons, which could be detonated in the water next to, or near, submerged submarines.

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