CANADIAN EPICS IN RADIOCOMMUNICATION
ALUMNI WHO LIVED THE ADVENTURE OF RADIO
WIRELESS TELEGRAPHISTS - SPARKS - RADIO PIONEERS
RADIO OPERATORS - RADIO TECHNICIANS
RADIO TECHNOLOGISTS - RADIO ENGINEERS
RADIO INSPECTORS - SPECTRUM MANAGERS
ÉPOPÉES CANADIENNES EN RADIOCOMMUNICATION
LES ANCIENS QUI ONT VÉCU L'AVENTURE DE LA RADIO
TÉLÉGRAPHISTES SANS FIL - PIONNIERS DE LA RADIO
OPÉRATEURS RADIO - TECHNICIENS RADIO
TECHNOLOGUES RADIO - INGÉNIEURS RADIO
INSPECTEURS RADIO - GESTIONNAIRES DU SPECTRE
Point Grey ' Y ' and
From her book , and from private correspondence, adapted for the web by Laval , Dec. 2009
While still a high school student in Vancouver during the war years, and learning how to Morse by lamp, I found I quite enjoyed code.
I studied wireless at the Sprott Shaw School of Radio in Vancouver, started with evening classes but I was disappointed to learn that it would take two years of work to obtain my 2nd Class certificate. Making good progress, the principal recommended me for a government subsidy plan , I accepted and finally got my certificate 8th June 1944. Under contract to the government I was immediately posted to the Pt. Grey Wireless Station call sign VAI as an intercept operator with a good friend Elizabeth King, better known as ‘ Red ‘.
VAI was situated on Westbrook Crescent and the station was a smallish two storey house set on a huge piece of land with an imposing antenna array. The OIC, Andy Gray, lived in a separate house nearby. On the first floor of the station was Mr. Gray’s office, a small frequency monitoring room (if memory serves me correctly) and the larger marine room, with I believe, two operating positions. Upstairs, at the top of the landing, was the intercept shift supervisor’s desk. To one side of the landing, facing north, was the recording room with at least four or five monitoring positions. Across the landing, in a smaller room, were three transcribing positions.
We few new recruits polished our Kana in the Marine Room. In fact classes weren't held at all on Kana out West - certainly not to my knowledge. We were given the code and told to learn it...on our own. Which we had to do pretty quickly. If memory serves me correctly (?) we were given a small bonus if we could get our copying speed up to 20 characters per min.
When judged efficient we were posted to shifts upstairs.
I don’t recall the surname of my initial shift supervisor, but I think his first name was Vern. Then there was a change and Sammy Gold became supervisor. I also do not recall the names of all the fellows monitoring and recording (there were never more than four or five at any time on my shift). Some I do remember were Ron Thomas ( he later went to VAE and eventually became a Radio Inspector ), George Scroxton, Tommy Mayne (formerly with the Merchant Navy) and a fellow who had flown with Ferry Command.. Regrettably I have forgotten the few others.
Only high speed stations were monitored - Japanese and a couple of Vichy French. I am not sure of the numbers but I believe they were FFZ2 and FFZ3 - I do recall that we always referred to them as Fuzzy 2 and Fuzzy 3 ! Once a station stopped idling and began transmitting the OM ops would record the transmissions on wax cylinders and as each cylinder was filled up a slip of paper with time, date and station call sign was tucked in the tube and placed on the supervisor’s desk.
As for any photos taken at Point Grey - I don't recall anyone taking pictures while I was there. Whether it was forbidden I'm not sure. At one time I did have an exterior shot of the station building but it seems to have been lost over the years.
Thank you for the photos of VAI...so much better than the one I had...(and yes I did know of Mr. Bowerman).
Thanks again for this picture where we can see the (UBC) University stadium and some of the buildings.... separated from the station by that wide strip of forest land.
Believe me, that brought back memories - of one particular graveyard shift night when absolutely no signals at all were coming in. Those who weren't snoozing were looking for some mischief to get into. Along with another op (Ron Thomas) we climbed the fence that surrounded the station property, made our way along a path through the woods...and into the stadium where we jogged around the track in the dark. Then back and over the fence again...only this time I caught my skirt and ripped a seam open! Thank goodness for safety pins.
But I digress..
All transcribing of the wax cylinders was done by YL operators. (The other two on my shift were Janet Bird and Florence Quilty) Typed transcripts were placed on the supervisor’s desk where they were collated, ready to be picked up by the Army motorcycle dispatch rider who came every afternoon. I believe these dispatches were then taken to the RCAF station at Sea Island and flown to Washington, D.C. We never knew of course, the contents of the intercepts and had no knowledge of what we were copying - only that our work was important. So it was very satisfying once when Mr. Gray notified us all that a commendation had been received from Washington congratulating the station on the quantity and quality of the intercepts!
One Japanese station was copied direct by the girls on every afternoon shift- this was from the Domei News Agency in Tokyo. This was in English of course and taken down on our typewriters at a good speed. At any one time actually only one girl was responsible to copy but because conditions were not always favourable the three on my shift all copied to help with any fills. The broadcasts contained names of prisoners of war and any other news of battles, Allied planes and ships lost (propaganda?) that the Japanese felt it necessary to pass on.
As for copying Kana, it wasn’t until decades later that I learned there were special typewriters for this task but I’m just as well pleased we only had a typical mill. It was enough to master the Japanese code without having to find ones way around a different keyboard as well.
After the messages had been transcribed the wax cylinders were shaved in a special little machine to be used, and used, again.
After VE Day the women operators at the station were notified that they were no longer under contract to the DOT and they could leave if they wished (!). No one did to my knowledge. But once VJ Day was a fact all female operators were released and the men reassigned to various positions throughout the province…or elsewhere.
Fortunately for a few of the girls (myself included ) we were hired by DND to replace personnel being discharged at their special wireless station (SWS #3) outside of Victoria on Vancouver island. The station remained at this QTH until about the late ‘40s when it was moved to the former RCAF station at Boundary Bay near Ladner, B.C. It is more than 60 years since I worked for the Signal Corps, and no doubt the work done there has long since been declassified, but I do not know that officially so I will not elaborate on what we did. No doubt you know of it anyway.
I left the DND when I had an opportunity to go to sea and in early ‘47 I flew to San Francisco to sign aboard the Norwegian M/V Siranger as Radio Officer, ship’s Purser and Captain’s secretary. I served at sea four years.
Three other of the intercept YL operators who also followed a similar career path were Elizabeth (King) Anderson, Norma (Gomez) York and Lylie (Smith) Palmer. The first two were at Pt. Grey and Lylie at Lulu Island. She was the only one who didn’t serve with the DND. Lylie received her radio training in Winnipeg and was first employed for a year at Moose Factory by the Hudson’s Bay Fur Trade before going to Lulu Island.
In perusing Ernie Brown’s website I came across a name I recognized - Jim Taylor, who worked at the Lulu Island station in ‘44 and ‘45. There couldn’t have been two Jim Taylors there so it had to be one and the same person.. Jim, and some of his shift mates, were the only operators at the island station that I knew. They worked the same shift schedule as my shift at VAI, and I don’t really know how it started, but a couple of times in the winter of ‘44/’45, after coming off Graveyard, four from my shift got together with Jim and his mates (Vic Zariski, Malcolm Knox, Scotty Hyde and Bill B.?). We all traveled over to the North Shore and hiked for three hours up the mountain where we stayed at a primitive old lodge on Hollyburn (no highways up or gondola lifts in those days). We had to pack our own food as well (rationing remember) and we girls bunked in a dorm under the eaves (warmed by an old wood burning stove). The fellows were down on the main floor, no heat so they said, and they told us they were sleeping on pine boughs covered with blankets! At least the girls had mattresses of sorts. (I won’t mention the WC facilities! ). We all rented skis and had the mountain side to ourselves for two great days. Then came another hike down to ‘civilization’ in time for the afternoon shift. It was wonderful to be young wasn’t it!
But I digress… Jim Taylor was posted to Williams Lake up in central B.C. after war’s end and I believe he then returned to the east.
Regarding the list of names on the roll-call, four I definitely know and a couple seem vaguely familiar...but the remainder nothing.
Andy Gray of course...he was OIC at the station.
Agnes (Strachan) Lake is now a SK. She was at Radio School the same time as myself and we wrote our exams at the same time.
Ina Waller was the first YL ( young lady ) to earn her radio license in western Canada and she worked in the Marine Room at VAI. She was one of the girls who went with DND at Victoria. In late '46 Ina married Vic Zariski who had worked at Lulu Island. I believe at war's end Vic was posted to a station up the B.C. coast somewhere.
Elizabeth (King) Anderson - she followed the same path as myself. VAI, then DND then to sea in early '47.
I'm afraid my Point Grey memories are in no way exciting. Both Elizabeth Anderson and I are ( even collectively ) having trouble recalling names etc. at VAI. It was a little better when we went to #3SWS - at least we have a few exterior photo shots of the station and personnel. And it was at that time I first began writing lengthy and detailed letters home...which my parents saved. It was the massive file of such letters, a daily diary and rough radio logs which enabled me to write the book about my time at sea so many years later.
You had asked for me to include in my chronicle the 'before' and 'after' ... but when you read my book you will learn a little of the 'before' and a lot of the 'after' .
I think I must have strayed far from the information you asked for but thinking about those far away years awakened a lot of memories.
I applaud your plan to put together something about the monitoring service in Canada, but I also appreciate how difficult a task it might be. Our ranks have thinned considerably.