It was a trip Herbert Dow will never forget.
As a soldier in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) during the Second World War, Dow and his fellow seamen worked to save as many men as they could from the frigid waters of the Atlantic.
The 100-year-old veteran from Saskatoon was one of many allied servicemen who helped bring an end to the Second World War.
"The first trip that we made we were in a major engagement," said Dow. "I have forgotten how many ships we lost. I think it was 10 or 12."
Like other reservists in the RCN, Dow was helping to convoy ships from Canada to Europe. Defending the North Atlantic trade against U-boats was an important naval role for Canada in partnership with its allies.
The submarines "just figured out where the convoy was going," said Dow. The U-boats sat down, waited "for the convoy to go over them, and then [they would] come up and then shoot."
Besides the threat of the enemy, nature was also a challenge for the seamen, who at that point were within sight of Greenland. The water was so cold that 15 to 20 men died even after being pulled onto the ship, Dow said.
"It was pretty shocking for most of us to find yourself dragging dead bodies over or trying to rescue people," said Dow. "If they weren't able to grab a rope, they were gone."
The 100-year-old also remembers moments of hope. One example involved rescuing a group of Norwegians from the Atlantic ocean.
"Nobody else happened to see them and I saw them … rowing for Greenland," said Dow.
Greenland was about 10 miles away when Dow and his fellow seamen picked the Norwegians and brought them to Europe, he said.
"We ended up with pretty close to 100 survivors that trip."
Beginning of the Second World War
Dow grew up far away from the sea, on a farm in the middle of the Canadian prairies.
Born in 1920, he and his family lived through the depression of the 1930s. Like others, they depended on relief from the government to survive.
"There was nothing," said Dow. "In the rural area they just put everybody on relief."
As a teenager he and his family moved from the rural municipality of Mayfield, about 45 km southeast of North Battleford, to Saskatoon. Dow finished high school in the city before enrolling at the University of Saskatchewan.
The Second World War started on Sept. 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. King George announced Canada's declaration of war nine days later.
"I went to university and struggled [with] what I was going to do," said Dow.
In 1940 he joined the reserve navy in Saskatoon as an ordinary seaman.
Time at the East Coast
Once training in Saskatchewan was completed, Dow went to Halifax. Vessels like corvettes were being built at the East Coast as part of the Canadian wartime shipbuilding program.
Canada's navy wasn't large in 1939, but it expanded as the war went on.
In 1941, Dow and his fellow reserve soldiers went on their ships, which were originally built for around 46 people.
"They had pretty close to 90 men on them," said Dow. "There wasn't much organization. You kind of lived by your wits."
When the crew went to shore, some of his comrades spent their time fighting and getting drunk, said Dow.
According to the Saskatoon veteran, every time they sailed the crew would leave "anywhere from three to 10" men behind, either in jail or in hospital with venereal disease.
"It was quite a turnover."
Submarines come to Canada's coast
As a torpedo man, Dow was in charge of firing the depth charges — an anti-submarine weapon — and also handled the electrical part of the ship.
He climbed up the ranks, first taking additional training for leading seaman and eventually becaming a naval officer.
"My choice was to stay in small ships because I hoped that I wouldn't be as seasick on them," said Dow.
He worked at different locations in Eastern Canada, while hostile U-boats brought the war all the way to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
One Christmas Eve, a German submarine came close to the gate vessel and blew up a ship. Theoretically the gates were supposed to keep submarines out of the ports, said Dow, "But this guy was just a few feet from the gate vessel."
End of the war
Dow missed the allied invasion of Europe and the D-Day attack because he had been sent to Orillia, Ont., to pick up a ship.
"It was hard," said Dow. "It was not a pleasant thing to be cut out of."
When the war in Europe came to an end in May of 1945, Dow was in Gaspé, Que., at the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
When the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Dow was back in Saskatchewan.
"It was a hot, hot day just exactly the same as it was this year," said Dow.
The Second World War officially ended on Sept. 2, 1945, when Japan signed the surrender documents aboard the USS Missouri.