Norm Deen spent more than three decades serving the Royal Canadian Navy. The 81-year-old Bowser resident and member of the Bowser Legion Branch #211 said it was time well-spent.
“I just loved working for the Navy,” said Deen. “I know there was some bitter and bad times but I don’t remember them. I only remember the good times.”
One of Deen’s fondest moments was sitting in the mess having a tot, which was a daily rum ration that was given to sailors of age on the ship. It was abolished in 1970.
“It was part of our entitlement,” Deen quipped. “It was a sad day when they got rid of it. To some people it was absolutely essential that they get their tot. I t probably wasn’t the greatest thing but most people handled it well. You sit in the mess and enjoy talking BS to each other.”
Deen joined the Navy when he was 19 years old, on April 24, 1956. He credits his older brother for influencing him to enlist.
“I look up to him,” said Deen. “He joined the Navy in 1954. And I said ‘I can do that too.’”
As well, one of the reasons Deen chose the military is because he didn’t want to till the land. He comes from a small farming community in Alix, Alta., which he said, at the time had approximately 200 people.
“I drove our tractor in circles, plowing or whatever. Farming was not for me,” Deen recalled. “I told myself I was not going to do this because it didn’t matter which direction I was driving there was always dirt and dust all over, always blowing in your face. And I thought, ‘there’s got to be something better than this’. So I followed my brother.”
When Deen joined the navy, he got to experience what life was like outside the small community where he grew up.
“I didn’t realize how isolated my thinking was,” said Deen. “I was just a farm kid.”
On the train heading to Cornwallis in Nova Scotia where he would get his basic training, Deen encountered people from the bigger cities.
“These are big-city guys and they know everything,” said Deen. “But back in those days, it was very common for judges to say to young men that had done something wrong, that you are either go to jail for what you’ve done or join the forces. And that happened a lot. People are probably not aware about it now. But that was very common back then. They chose to join the forces than go to jail. I was in awe from all of this. I was a small town boy.”
Deen experienced the tough military training. It was hard, he said, but he also found satisfaction from it.
“They really worked you,” said Deen. “Training back then involved a lot of marching and a day wasn’t 8 to 4. They just wake you up in the middle of the night and get you out on the roadway doubling for no reason at all. It didn’t matter what the weather was. It was difficult but after 20-something-odd weeks, it weeded out the ones that should have been weeded out, people that wasn’t able to function in the military, there were gone. It was good in that respect because we ended up with some good people.”
Also included in the training, Deen said, was a Group 1 Trade Course in communication, that took 13 months to complete.
“You’re at it from 8 o’clock in the morning until 4 o’clock plus any homework that you have to do,” said Deen. “It was a lot more intense than any university or college. That was every day except Saturday and Sunday.”
At the end of his training Deen was sent off to sea and served on different destroyers that included Second World War destroyer HMCS Crescent, HMCS Assiniboine, HMCS Grilse, HMCS Kootenay, HMCS Nonsuch and HMCS Yukon. He also went through submarine training at New London, Conn. He also served as chief petty officer at Fleet School in Esquimalt and also in Halifax.
Deen said the only time they were sent to an area of conflict was at the end of the Vietnam War in 1972 aboard HMCS Kootenay. “We served as peacekeepers there,” said Deen.
Deen met the love of his life in Victoria in 1957 and got married to Joan in 1959. They will be celebrating their 60th anniversary this coming March.
When he retired in 1991 they eventually settled in Victoria but a year later on bought a property at Ship’s Point in Bowser where they built their home and reside to this day.
When he left the Navy after 35 years, Deen, who was Chief Petty Officer First Class, was presented a ship steering wheel that has highlights of the years he spent in every destroyer, training centre and school.
“They gave me this career wheel so that I would not forget,” said Deen.
Now most of Deen’s military badges and crests he collected from all the ships he was on, he has donated to the Bowser Legion Branch #211, where he is a very active member.
“I don’t know what to do with them,” said Deen. “My children have no use for them so I gave it to the Legion. That’s where they belong.”
Another special commemorative gift that is now on display at the Legion was a bell that has the words “Only the Fit Survive” etched on it that was presented to him by his commanding officers from the HMCS Yukon when he left.
“That was pretty special to me,” said Deen. “What better place to put it than in the legion. They will bring this out to the cenotaph on Nov. 11 and a cadet will ring it 100 times to commemorate Canada’s One Hundred Days.”
Deen has helped the Bowser Legion build a wall called “For Those Who Served,” honouring all the veterans from World War I and II and also former military members like himself.
“It was an honour to serve in the Royal Canadian Navy,” said Deen.