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ÉPOPÉES CANADIENNES EN RADIOCOMMUNICATION

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Charles J Mackie
 

 
 

 

( From  personal correspondence, nov. 2009 )

I was first Licensed as a Commercial radio operator in 1938, in Winnipeg which is my home town.

 

From Favourable Lake, in North west Ontario, with Canadian Airways, where you were a jack of all trade and not just a radio operator, I got an offer to join the DOT and arrived in Ottawa very early one Fall morning 1939. and was greeted by an ice storm so bad that the streets were all covered in ice making it very difficult to walk.

 

The train arrived about 0430 in the morning and I took one look outside and returned inside the railway terminal building to wait until approximately 9 o'clock to proceed to the address given to me by the Dept of Transport. It was my first experience with a Self serve Cafeteria,.and didn't quite know what to do, but eventually I did manage to get some breakfast and sat and waited until later in the morning. I had my luggage with me and I slipped and slid all the way down Banks street until I reached the DoT office.

 

They then took me out to the Booth Farm where the Monitoring station was located. Charlie Rose was the OIC at that time. I met the staff and one chap Pete Hill took me home with him to his boarding house, where I stayed during my sojourn in Ottawa. The Monitoring station was located in an old abandoned farm house that was on the old Booth estate. Inside on the ground floor was the Main Monitoring station for Canada, and also the site of the Time Signal for Canada. One the same floor they had a room full of receiving equipment for monitoring foreign broadcast stations , such as Tokyo with its Tokyo Rose and Germany with its Lord Haw Haw, these where all recorded on huge vinyl disks and sent to somewhere down town Ottawa. Upstairs there where banks of receivers mostly National HRO’s where most of the operators where located constantly scanning the air waves for clandestine radio transmissions from Canada.

 

We also copied the Germany transmissions from station DAN . That station sent reams of five letter code groups which we copied down on typewriters and these where forwarded to downtown Ottawa as well. Every now and then the station would stop transmitting and that is when the German Submarines would send their traffic and immediately we heard them we would push the Panic button and advise the Direction Finding stations up down the East coast of Canada to get a Radio bearing on them.

 

It was monotonous work but had to be done !

 

One Incident that happened while I was there , was when I was on a night shift with a chap called MacDonald. It was winter and cold outside and we didn't have much heat upstairs in the radio room. The only heat was from a grate in floor over the stove downstairs and from the smoke pipes that went thru the radio room to the chimney., The fire had gone out in the stove downstairs and it was getting pretty chilly upstairs, so MacDonald volunteered to start up a fire in the stove downstairs.

 

He was gone quite awhile and all of a sudden there was a terrific explosion, and stove pipes upstairs blew apart and fill the room full of smoke and soot, so I couldn't see anything, I made my way downstairs to find out what had happened and there was MacDonald sitting on the floor completely black, only the whites around his eyes showing where his glasses had been.

 

What had happened he tried to start the fire by using some of vinyl shavings from the disks that were used to copy foreign broadcasts.. That stuff is high flammable and when he put a match to it of course it exploded. Fortunately MacDonald was not hurt just covered in soot. We spent the rest of the night cleaning up the mess before the day shift came on. No monitoring was done that night, but no one was the wiser for what had happened.

 

On my time off I used to go skiing in a Park close by and met up with a brother and sister, Bud and Naomi Cunningham. They made life much more pleasant for me inviting to their home for meals . and visiting with their parents.

 

Coming home to the boarding house on one occasion after an evening shift,, the old land lady usually left a cup of cocoa and a bite to eat on the dining room table. This time I was startled to find a body laid out on the table. The old guy had died and they had just placed him on the dining table until morning. I got quite a scare as I wasn't used to finding dead bodies , never mind on the table.

 

My Room mate Pete Hill had a letter from Trans Canada Airlines offering him a job as Radio Operator. He refused it preferring to go with the Ferry Command in Montreal.. I took his letter and went to the Ottawa airport to see if could get the job. George Briggs, the station manager, gave me a code test and hired me on the spot. That was February 14, 1941.

 

There was very little social life in Ottawa at that time as it was during the War and everything was Military and Government. I did manage get to a theatre one in a while and had to wait in long line up to get in. Leaving DOT, I was hired by TCA Feb 1941 and went to Winnipeg for some training, bumped off the flight in Toronto for some reasons ... that flight crashed on its continuing flight and all perished.

 

After 6 months, with good code, I was transferred right back to St Hubert , living in Longueuil , hitch-hiking for every shift for there was no public transportation. Then to Halifax/Dartmouth and back to Montreal.

 

While I was with the Lancaster modified, I still was with TCA. under control of the Cndn Govt transatlantic air service (CGTAS) for the Royal Mail and VIP's  -  1944-1947 Flight radio officer, about 100 crossings & 5 near crashes.

 

Coming off the Lancaster, I was sent to Goose Bay Labrador as OIC, 12 radio operators, to take over the communication facilities  from the Military and convert everything to Civilian Frequencies to serve the Atlantic communication frequencies for civil aviation after the war. I  was  there over a year.

 

Then I went to  Moncton for  very short stay then back to Montreal. Wanted to  move out West and ended up in Calgary as a radio operator for TCA.  In Calgary for five years and then moved to Victoria where I worked for TCA and by then called Air Canada and was there for 26 years and took early retirement.   

 

I then went to Irian Jaya for some months and then returned to Victoria.  After that I worked with Viking Aircraft of Victoria and my job was mainly rewiring aircraft ( mostly Grumman Goose ) that had sunk in the ocean and the wiring had to be replaced because of corrosion.

 

I was with Viking for better than 3 years and then took full retirement and been a professional Bum every since.

 

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