Story "The Seafarer"Boris, who was called “Boriska” then, was 12 years old when the war began. He lived alone with his mother. His father had been arrested in September 1937 as an “enemy of the people”. Boris missed him greatly. Though a native of the countryside, his father had hankered after the sea since his own childhood. He moved from his rural district to the city. At first he was a riverboat worker and sailor. Then he changed over to seagoing ships, and at that time also entered nautical school. He worked in the Far East, and afterwards the family returned to Arkhangelsk. They found out later that he had been accused of aiding and abetting the Japanese militarists, but had confessed nothing, because he had nothing to confess. He was executed in 1938. The second year of the war was the worst, the hungriest year. His mother would work for days on end, but there was not enough to eat. It was the same for many families. The youngster began to waste away. He might not even have survived, were it not for Lady Luck. One day Boriska read a newspaper advert saying that the seamen’s school of the Northern Shipping Company was recruiting candidates for the merchant marine. Truth be told, it was not the romance of the sea or the example of his sailor father that drew the boy to enter seamen’s school. It was three meals a day! That was the starting place from which Boris set sail towards his destiny. It was only later on, when he saw the boys in uniform, those who had entered the school in the first round of recruitment in 1942, that he and his pal Vitka became very excited that they, too, would soon be wearing uniforms like those. Many boys applied to the school at that time. Boris was all confidence, as he answered questions during the selection process, especially the ones about his studies. He was a straight-A student, first in his class! When they asked about his parents, he was embarrassed for an instant, but then replied honestly and proudly that his father had been a navigator. He and his friend were assigned to the engine department. They had on-site training on how to repair and operate the engine and boilers. Boris gained physical strength. Good food three times a day, a regular schedule, and daily exercise starting at 7:00am did their work. Boris had gained a purpose: since he had been accepted to seamen’s school, he had to study hard. And though they were civilian sailors, they felt like military men because of the strict discipline and uniforms, and their instructors were officers wounded in the war. Long afterwards, in the late 1980s, he was to learn from newspaper articles that the waters of the White Sea and the Barents Sea, as well as the Arkhangelsk Region, had been considered frontline areas. After six months of training, more than 200 youths boarded their ships and went to sea. At barely 13, Boris was already a stoker second-class! On their first voyage 80 of the new trainees sailed on the SS Mudyug and as many on the SS Karelia. These ships had been adapted for carrying freight and passengers in the White Sea area. The ship Boris was assigned to serviced the Tersk coast on the Kola Peninsula. Sometimes it would make a stop at the former Solovki prison camp, where there was now a military base. The Karelia serviced the southern part of the Onega Peninsula and occasionally sailed as far as the Kanin Peninsula. Boriska would have paid dearly to know what it was they were carrying. He and Vitka often guessed, debated, and fantasised about the cargo. After all, they were only little boys! But the young seafarers did not manage to uncover that military secret, no matter how hard they tried. They were forbidden to come up on deck when the ship was loading. But from documents he found in the archives later, when he had retired on pension, Boris Alexandrovich discovered that they had been taking armaments on board: shells, powder, and something else, in large boxes. It took three hours to load this cargo. After that, ordinary products would be loaded: they carried food, various other goods, hay and even horses. Working as a stoker at such a young age is not easy, of course. The job requires stamina, physical strength, and a toughness that comes with experience. But this was when Boris decided that he would become an engine operator and a mechanic. During the war there were constant radio reports about what was happening at the front, and everybody was impatient for the war to end. The young sailors also had high hopes for victory. Finally, the joyous event arrived! Boris learned of the Victory on the evening of 8 May. Everyone was dismissed and allowed to go home right away. The roads were under water that day. Even the railway sleepers and tram tracks had been torn up. Boris made his way home on foot, with his trusty friend, encountering a huge number of people as they went! It was a day that mixed laughter, tears, smiles, embraces and songs. Not till the morning of the tenth did they reach the city. There was a big crowd, but nothing like the jubilation of 9 May. The seamen’s school was dissolved in 1946. The sailors were sent to Riga and assigned to ships. Boris joined a crew, becoming a stoker first-class on the SS Ilga. Then he served for over four years in the Soviet Army. After discharge he returned to his native city and went to work for the shipping line as a stoker, engine operator, and motor mechanic. Upon graduation from nautical school, Boris Alexandrovich Krotov became a mechanical engineer, the profession he had dreamed of as a boy.
Years after the war, seamen of the Northern Shipping Company began to search for each other. Our hero was one of the first activists in this movement. Around 100 were found in Arkhangelsk, and letters began to arrive from other cities, as well. They organised get-togethers, and eventually the Northern Convoy Brotherhood, with American, British, Canadian and other sailors as members. By government decree, the convoy participants received state awards, such as the medal “For the Defence of the Soviet Arctic”, the Ushakov Medal, and various anniversary medals. “It was an interesting time”, says Boris Alexandrovich with genuine optimism and a fire in his eyes, remembering the long-ago war.