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I Knew Very Little About the Navy

Heroes Remember

I Knew Very Little About the Navy

I was seventeen at the time and I knew nothing about the navy except I think that’s what drew me to it at the time because I knew less about it. There were army barracks around Ottawa, air force barracks but no navy barracks. So, anyway, I knew very little about it. I got to tell you that my first day in the navy a petty officer said to me can you go up on the upper deck and bring down this particular object so I didn’t know what the upper deck was. I wasn’t sure whether he was talking about a deck of cards but I learned. He made me run up and down with a shackle around my neck. It weighed about fifty pounds. I now know what the upper deck is. So anyway, from there I went to Toronto for initial training, just marching and there I went to Halifax and took some more training and was drafted to Newfoundland in the summer of 1942. There was a new barrack on Lemarchant Road in Prince of Wales was going up then called HMCS Avalon. It was the beginning of; we were cleaning up the grounds and one thing and another. Well, I did this for a couple of months and I got to tell you my first time leaving the barracks, you know, HMCS Avalon, to me it wasn’t a ship it was a barracks but you had to be in by 2300 hours because I was under age twenty, that was the rule. Anyway and I got caught. They gave me fourteen days number 11. That meant running with a rifle over your head for two hours, not steady. The two hours, I don’t think that exists anymore, number 11 they called it. And the roads were very, very uneven and very rocky in that barracks so you’d jog and then you’d stop and hold the rifle behind your neck for a while and when you recuperated from the jog and stood there for a while then your neck got sore. And then you continued on with the jogging for two hours. I’m here which shows it wasn’t as destructive as it sounds. And then I got on my first ship, it was HMCS Pictou, a corvette. Well, I never saw a corvette before even though I was in St. John’s, Newfoundland I didn’t go down to the harbor and look at the ships and I was amazed at how small they were from the outside. I thought we were really going to row across. But when I got inside it was larger and at the time I was the youngest one on that ship and I was sort of hiding my age. I didn’t want them to think a silly young kid so I tried to act older. At any rate we were ready to go to sea and I began to feel a little woozy immediately, aromas that didn’t exist before. The moment the ship starts to roll you start to feel it. Every odor you feel. The paint locker, the bacon that they made for breakfast stays in the ship. But anyway, I spoke to an old hand and I said, “What do I do, I feel I’m getting seasick?” He says, “You go on the upper deck and stay there until we’re out of port.” I did that, I stayed for about four hours. I never got seasick after that. I beat it mentally. I knew that I wasn’t going to get seasick and I didn't. Well, I made a couple of trips and they didn’t have the supplies or equipment then. For example, you’d go on watch and you’d get the duffle coat that the seaman before you was on look out. It was totally wet. And that’s the way it was and everything seemed a little strange to me.

Mr. Polowin recounts his decision to join the Navy, his initial training and the adventures on his first voyage.

Alexander Polowin

Mr. Alexander Polowin was born in Lithuania in 1925. Growing up, his family endured many hardships and because of this Mr. Polowin’s father left for Canada in hopes of bringing new opportunities to their family. Life as a child for Mr. Polowin was focused and at age 8 he found himself selling product door to door in hopes of helping his family financially. At age 17 he joined the Navy, a service he knew nothing about but fondly looks back on as a very positive part of his life. Mr. Polowin fought during D-Day and the Battle of Normandy onboard the HMCS Huron. Never stepping foot on French soil, Mr. Polowin returned to France in June 2014 to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. He resides in Ottawa and shares his wartime experiences with youth accepting many invitations to speak at schools.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
June 2, 2014
Person Interviewed:
Alexander Polowin
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
HMCS Avalon
Able Seaman

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