The same eyes that watched local veteran Glenn Martin through a German U-boat periscope are believed to have also looked over his medical records a decade later.
The seed for Martin’s storied career in the Royal Canadian Navy was planted in Grade 10, when he left high school to apprentice as a machinist in Prince Albert.
As the Second World War waged on, Martin saw more and more young men joining up, inspiring him to follow suit.
He wanted to be a pilot with the air force, but was turned away because he didn’t have his Grade 12.
“I went over to see what the navy had to offer and they were looking for guys with mechanical experience, so I got in there,” he said.
He took a steam-engineering course at the University of Alberta, moving on to the CFB Esquimalt naval base in B.C., and then to the east coast in June of 1944, where he joined the crew of the HMCS Arrowhead, part of Canada’s corvette fleet.
“They could turn sharper than a U-boat German submarine, so they’re quite maneuverable, but they were really under-equipped,” Martin said of the small warships.
“They were pumping out these corvettes pretty fast –- about one per month, and they had to put 75 men on each one of them, so they were hard up, especially for the mechanical ones.”
He ended up spending about a year on the HMCS Arrowhead, serving as engine room artificer, taking care of the warship’s mechanical needs.
“When I first went on, we went to Bermuda for what they called a work-up program, because it was nearly all new crew on there and they had to train them what to do, and seamen had to learn,” he said.
The crew returned to Canada for the summer to serve in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
“It was never published, but there was a lot of activity in the Gulf of St. Lawrence,” Martin said. “The Germans liked being there for a number of reasons.”
The Canadians’ sonar didn’t work very well in fresh water, and there were many bays available for the U-boats to hide in, he explained.
“They sunk quite a few freighters there, and a few of our ships. One new frigate that had just come down the river and was ready to go to sea, they torpedoed it in the river before it even got to the ocean,” Martin said.
It was around this time that the HMCS Arrowhead found its way to Goose Bay, in Newfoundland, where the ship’s captain, Lester Alton Hickey, decided to go fishing.
“He decided he was going to make us a treat, and his specialty was cod fish head stew, so we dropped over a demolition charge into a school of cod fish, and they came up belly-up and we stopped the ship and scooped them out of the water,” Martin said.
“It tasted pretty good, really, especially after he thought we should have a second serving of rum.”
It wasn’t until about 10 years later that Martin realized the significance of that moment.
In 1955, Martin was back home in Prince Albert getting a chest x-ray done at the Prince Albert Sanitorium.
It was never published, but there was a lot of activity in the Gulf of St. Lawrence ...The Germans liked being there for a number of reasons. - Glenn Martin, veteran
The doctor in charge of the procedure told Martin that he had been in the war, sparking a conversation between the two.
As it turned out, the doctor was a Czechoslovakian conscript to the Second World War, and served on a German U-boat in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which inspired his move to Canada.
“We’d chased each other in the Gulf of St. Lawrence!” Martin exclaimed.
The doctor also relayed a story about a group of Canadian soldiers who went fishing by means of explosives.
“I couldn’t figure out how he would know, because we were all sworn to secrecy (because) this stopping to fish wasn’t allowed,” Martin said.
“He said, ‘well, I was on a submarine and we were watching you in the periscope catching these fish,’” Martin relayed. “So, you never know!”
The doctor also relayed a story about having walked into Quebec with some of his buddies to have a drink at a tennis club.
“It was pretty nervy of them, but there was no way to protect our shorelines at all, and I guess they would park their sub in a bay that we’d never go into and then catch a ride,” Martin said.
This is one of the many stories Martin, 89, has to share about his Second World War experience, which local historian Morley Harrison is working on compiling into a biography.
Another noteworthy story dates back to Martin’s time serving at the navy base Esquimalt, in B.C., when he proposed to Emily Hryciuk.
“The Japanese had put a coupe of torpedoes up on the beach somewhere - - never did find out where, but they thought it was a Japanese invasion coming, so they cancelled all leaves,” Martin said.
Martin was granted leave anyway, to take a train from Vancouver to get married.
“Just before I left, (the officer in charge) said, ‘If you’re not married by the time you get back, you’re going to jail,’” Martin said, noting that this put quite a bit of pressure on the situation.
“So, we got married at a young age and we’re still living together.”
Although these stories shed a positive light on the situation, Martin notes that times weren’t always so light.
“Lots of hardships on those little ships,” he said. “Lots of times we’d be out for two weeks or more, and the bread would all get mouldy, and water was scarce – we couldn’t bathe at sea.”
During his first three months at sea, Martin said he was consistently seasick.
“I always said I ate 20 meals a day, 10 down and 10 up,” he said.
Martin shared these and other stories during a question and answer period at the Prince Albert Historical Museum on Remembrance Day.