Able Seaman (Ret’d) Alex Polowin

Alex Polowin celebrated his birthday on April 15. At the age of 95, he will be traveling back to Juno Beach as a member of the Government of Canada’s delegation to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.

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Able Seaman (Ret’d) Alex Polowin

Commemoration is something very close to Alex’s heart. He has spoken over 200 times in classrooms in Ottawa over the past 20 years. He believes everyone should know the history of the Second World War and he is always happy to share his story, “if we aren’t around to tell them, how are they going to know?”.

We are honored that Alex has shared his story with us. His legacy continues to live on.

Alex was born on April 15, 1924 in Lithuania. His family moved to Canada when he was three years old. They left many relatives behind in Lithuania, a country that was occupied by Germany during the Second World War. He recounted that, “I used to watch my mother cry when she’d get the news that her brothers and sisters had been murdered.” That was when Alex began thinking of ways to help the war effort. He asked himself “what could I do? I was too young to join the military at that point. Then another year or two went by and I decided that I would try and get into the navy.”

He volunteered for the Royal Canadian Navy in Ottawa just before his 17th birthday. He was able to enlist by getting his father, an immigrant from Lithuania who couldn’t read English, to sign a form saying Alex was old enough to serve.

Alex held the rank of Able Seaman. He served aboard the HMCS Huron, HMCS Pictou and the HMCS Poundmaker. He started out doing Russian convoy missions, where they would travel between Scotland and northern Russia during the winter with supplies to support the Soviet war effort.

“what a day that was… we outnumbered them, and luckily, we put all of them out of commission.”

In 1944, Alex and the rest of the crew aboard HMCS Huron played a critical role in D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. HMCS Huron’s mission was to patrol the English Channel. They were charged with preventing enemy ships from attacking the landing crafts as the troops made their way to the beaches in Normandy. Three days after D-Day, the HMCS Huron, along with the other ships that made up the 10th Destroyer Flotilla, ran into a flotilla of German destroyers. It was an experience that Alex will never forget: “what a day that was […] we outnumbered them, and luckily, we put all of them out of commission.”

Alex was just under 20 years old when the war ended. Following the war, he retired from the Royal Canadian Navy and found his calling working in sales and insurance. He has happily worked in the industry ever since and still holds his designation as a licensed insurance broker.

“I sincerely feel that I was very fortunate to be me. I’ve tried my best to bring about peace and make Canada a better place for all of us and a better place in the world, in the eyes of the world.”

There have been days where Alex has doubts about whether he did the right thing, notably in his younger years. Today, he is confident about the role he played in the war effort: “I sincerely feel that I was very fortunate to be me. I’ve tried my best to bring about peace and make Canada a better place for all of us and a better place in the world, in the eyes of the world.”

For his service in the Second World War, Alex has earned the Atlantic Star; 1939-45 Star; Diamond Jubilee; Arctic Star; Russian Peace Medal; and the Order of Ushakov. He was also the first non-French serviceman to receive the French Legion of Honour Medal.

Along with his war medals, Alex has a street named after him in Ottawa. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in Ottawa’s Barrhaven area on November 30, 2018 to mark the official naming of Alex Polowin Avenue. Alex attended the event with great pride.

In honour of the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, Alex Polowin is one of our Faces of Freedom. He will be participating in commemorative ceremonies overseas as a member of our delegation.


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