MINDEMOYA – Second World War veteran Allan Tustian was a familiar presence at Remembrance Day services over the past 75 years, but his face will be missing from the ranks in the future as the popular old sailor has sailed on to join the many comrades and friends who have left us before him.
Mr. Tustian served in the Royal Canadian Navy and took part in the storied Battle of the Atlantic, helping to protect the vital maritime link that provided the lifeline that shored up Britain as the bulwark of democracy during its darkest years, 1940 to 1943. Aptly described as a “long and bloody battle in the harshest conditions on the gray seas of the Atlantic” in the memoir ‘Allan Tustian and the Battle of the Atlantic’ (edited by Jeanne (Tustian) Lefebrve and Wayne Neal), that epic struggle saw our nation lose 33 ships and 1,308 Canadian sailors—and Mr. Tustian was there in the very thick of it.
Mr. Tustian fell in love with the water at the young age of eight, travelling the waters of Manitoulin with his sister Jean Hodgson and her husband Joe in 1927. “The waves fascinated me,” he recalled in his memoir. He worked maintaining boats and motors on the docks of Treasure Island until the winter of 1940, when he moved to the big city of Toronto in search of work. By 1941, he decided to enlist.
Surprisingly, the navy was not his first choice, but with only a Grade 9 education he did not have the academic qualifications at the time (you needed Grade 12 to enter the air force ranks). So he found himself in front of the navy recruiters, but they were only taking cooks. Mr. Tustian fudged the truth, claiming to have one year’s experience, but the bar was set at four. Mr. Tustian settled down to await his call up for military service. Another disappointment awaited, however, thanks to the intervention of his well-meaning sister with Doctor Lockwood (of the famed Lockwood Clinic in Toronto) his medical failed due to a “cloudy lung.” He was listed as a class B. “He (the doctor) had been a guest at Treasure Island,” recalled Mr. Tustian in his memoir. “I think she must have told him not to pass me.” A later examination in Newmarket by army doctors upped his rating to a Class A. (Mr. Tustian’s late sister and her husband Jean and Joe Hodgson operated the famous Treasure Island Resort on Lake Mindemoya for many years.)
So it was that a young Mr. Tustian found himself in basic military training in the summer of 1941. Although he found military life in general not too challenging, the food was another matter. “The meals we were fed were so awful that one day one of the boys said ‘I am not eating this’ and turned his plate upside down on the table and everyone else did the same thing,” recalled Mr. Tustian. The resulting investigation determined that the cook was selling the meat on the black market. “After that we had good meals.”
Mr. Tustian went on for more training, but still had his heart set on the navy and he put in an application. On August 5, 1941 he became Ordinary Seaman Allan Tustian V-32105. One of the oddest things about his new sailor’s kit were the issued bell bottom trousers, whose fly ran horizontally instead of vertically like those of the army—or citizens for that matter.
The HMCS York training barracks in Toronto became his new home, and everything accelerated in more ways than one. “We weren’t allowed to walk,” he recalled, “everything was on the double.”
Falling ill, Mr. Tustian missed his first call up and found himself after recovery guarding the Automotive Building (a training centre) at the CNE grounds. In January 1942 he was drafted to Halifax where he took up boxing. Following a week on the training vessel HMCS Kamloops and training in gunnery and torpedoes he signed up for RADAR (RDF-radio directional finding) training. He got his first tattoo and his first ship, the HMCS St. Francis, a four funnel destroyer and one of the destroyers lent to Great Britain by the US (Britain got 44 and Canada six). There he discovered the traditional rum tot. He served in convoy duty aboard the St. Francis until January 12, 1943. “It was like being on the front line all the time,” he recalled.
The enemy submarines were not the only enemy, the seas of the North Atlantic could get very rough. The tail end of a hurricane brought waves as high as 70 feet. “We were under water more than we were on top,” he later laughed.
On January 16, 1943 Mr. Tustian took ship on the corvette HMCS Timmins K 223. The corvettes were small nimble ships especially designed for convoy duties and tackling the dreaded U-boats.
In September 1943 he was assigned to the HMCS Waskesiu K 330, the first frigate built in Canada and among the most effective naval vessels built in this country. During an attack on his convoy, a sister ship HMS Tweed was hit and sunk. Mr. Tustian and his shipmates were forever haunted by the fact they could not stop for survivors as they were ordered to stay on the hunt for the U-305.
Revenge came later in February 1944 when his frigate became the first Canadian frigate to sink a submarine by itself.
By April of 1944, Mr. Tustian was on the fabled Murmansk run, guarding the ships bringing lend lease materials to the Soviet allies. This was the most dangerous route of the entire war and Allied casualties were the highest there.
Then came June 1944 and D-Day, where his ship made repeated attacks on enemy submarines attempting to interrupt the invasion.
Mr. Tustian was discharged on October 1, 1945.
“One of my fondest memories after four years in the North Atlantic was crossing the bridge at Little Current, taking the stage to Billings and then popping over the Bowser Hill (just past M’Chigeeng First Nation) and seeing home again,” said Mr. Tustian. Mr. Tustian had been raised on a farm in Billings, close to the Bowser Hill corner.
Mr. Tustian returned to his beloved Lake Mindemoya and Treasure Island Lodge and met his future wife Alma Smeltzer. The couple married on February 17, 1950. They went on to raise six children: Marilyn (Stephen) Hill, Michael (Lynda), Mark (Donna), Doug (Crystal), Jeanne (Marc) Lefebvre and John (Vanetta). He was the proud grandfather to 15 and the great grandfather to 10. They purchased Pirate’s Cove Cottages in the early 1960s, which the couple operated until they retired in 1991.
Mr. Tustian remained very active up until very near his death at the age of 100 on October 4, wetting a fishing line annually each Christmas Day and noted for taking a nearly daily swim in his beloved Lake Mindemoya. He became president of the Central Manitoulin Lions Club (for which he was a charter member), was an active member of the Little Current Royal Canadian Legion Branch 177, a past master of the Doric Masonic Lodge, a member of the Haweater Unit of the Shriners, served as president of the Manitoulin Tourism Association and Rainbow Country Association as well as reeve of Carnarvon Township. He was a founding member of the Manitoulin North Shore Naval Veterans Association (which honoured him recently on the occasion of his 100th birthday) and played a key role in the establishment and construction the Manitoulin District Cenotaph. He was also a part of the construction of the naval monument in Memorial Park in Sudbury.
He was also instrumental in the formation of the Manitoulin Sea Cadet Corps.
In June of this year, Mr. Tustian was honoured by the Sudbury Shrine Club with a message that said, “The Shrine Club is very privileged to have one of its longest-serving members, veteran Allan Tustian. Thank you Noble Allan Tustian for your service to our country.”
A member of The Expositor staff had visited Mr. Tustian in the hospital shortly before his death where he shared the opinion that he had a good life and would not have done anything differently. Mr. Tustian was noted for his ability to put people at their ease and to make each one of them feel special and interesting. His laugh was infectious, his curiosity boundless and held a deep joy in life that he celebrated with delight in hunting, fishing, hockey, golfing, curling, swimming and coaching hockey.
Mr. Tustian was responsible for the formation of the Island’s first all-female hockey team.
He was a counted as a friend by many here at The Expositor, including this author, and Mr. Tustian was most certainly happiest when surrounded by his friends and family.
Friends will be received at Trinity United Church in Mindemoya on Friday, October 11 from 2 pm to 4 pm and 7 pm to 9 pm. A celebration of life will take place on Saturday at 11 am with internment at the Mindemoya Cemetery to follow.
We will Remember them.