Origène Poulin was a conscripted French-Canadian soldier who was sent to the Aleutian Islands with an American-Canadian expedition during the Second World War. After landing on the island of Kiska, he spent seven months facing extreme wind, snow, fog and rain. Listen as Poulin explains the conditions on Kiska and his training.
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(Courtesy of The Memory Project/Origène Poulin)
"I was at Kiska but the neighbouring island was Atta, they called it. There was a major battle before we went there. We went as reinforcement with the Americans."
My father was receiving a bit of “direct assistance” (financial aid provided by the State to help those in need). They called it “direct assistance” during those days (during the economic depression of the 1930s). He couldn't go work and in those days, people needed to work. So I went to work in his place. In 19(39), I drove a truck. We drove a truck, transporting cream to Quebec City. Shipments for shops here in Saint-Martin (Saint-Martin-de-Beauce). There were also the Breakey construction sites (the Breakey company) and stores that depended on that as well. We also transported wood. Truck loads of pulp. It wasn't very pleasant in those days. We did everything by hand. We cut timber by hand.
We were called, they were calling people. They made people enlist (for mandatory military service). As for myself, they made me enlist like other young people who were sixteen and seventeen years old. When I turned twenty-one or twenty, I was called. I had to report to Mégantic (Lac-Mégantic, Québec), to the military camp. That's where I did my basic training. I spent two months there and then I was transferred to Valcartier (Québec). They sent me to Valcartier to do my training. From there, after about a year and a half, they sent me to British Columbia, to Vancouver Island. I spent a couple of years there, I believe, before they sent me to the Aleutian Islands (in the Pacific Ocean). In Mégantic, it was a general camp. I wasn't part of a unit. But in Valcartier, we were trained by soldiers and officers from the Fusiliers Mont-Royal or the Maisonneuve (Régiment de Maisonneuve) or the 22 (Royal 22e Régiment). As one might expect, the training was harder there than in Mégantic. It was a lot of marching. They called it “skeems”, drills, different drills. Then they sent me to Vancouver Island. There, it was more of the same, we continued with our training, and then more training. In 1943, they sent us to Kiska in the Aleutian Islands along with the Americans (during the taking back of the Island of Kiska by joint Canadian and American forces on August 15, 1943). The Americans fought a major battle at Attu (Attu Island). I was at Kiska but the neighbouring island was Atta, they called it. There was a major battle before we went there. We went as reinforcement with the Americans. I was there for about seven months, I believe. But it was hard, it was very hard there, due to the weather.
I received a letter from my regiment. I have it somewhere here, I don't know where. Never has a Canadian regiment faced such weather. It was always foggy, rainy or snowing. There was wind, a lot of wind. We were in tents, the tents were put up last. They had built a large shelter. The tents were all blowing over in the wind, even if they were secured four-five feet deep in the ground. All we could see was a small black tip sticking out. In the beginning, we slept outdoors. We had little “pop tents.” It took two people to erect the tent. There were two parts to the tent. To sleep, we stretched out on a sheet. They called it a ground sheet. As one might expect, the water got inside. The first month we were there, I would say that it rained 24 hours a day. We were wet. No part of our bodies was untouched by water. There was training there as well and it was pretty difficult. From the Maisonneuve officers, there was Ménard (lieutenant-colonel Dollar Ménard), who had participated in the landing at Dieppe (in Normandy, August 19, 1942). There were two or three officers from the Fusiliers Mont-Royal. There were many of us on the ship I was on. There was a meeting when we left. He (Ménard) said to us, “Prepare yourselves. It's going to be difficult here.” To me, he said: “I know that I am going to die. I want all of you to make it back alive.” He didn't want anyone to die, he said: “I am certain that I am going to die.” We were impressed. We were going to a nasty place.
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