I was a student at Bloor Collegiate in Toronto, Ontario during the beginning of World War II. When I passed Grade 12 (Junior Matriculation), I chose to attend Radio College of Canada instead of completing Grade 13 (Senior Matriculation). There was a war and my country needed trained young people. During my months at Radio College, I worked, as a file clerk, during the day at Manufacturers’ Life Insurance, 200 Bloor Street East.
Some of file staff at Manufacturers' Life
I passed all the Morse code instruction but had to try the radio repair exam twice in order to achieve 75%. Students were then given a choice to be further trained for merchant navy, air force, or air base. In the navy, I would be the only one on board to fix the radio if anything went wrong. I figured the navy didn’t want a second-rate fixer; besides I would have been the only woman on board.
As flying was new and the air force was the newest fighting force, I chose the Royal Air Force Transport Command (R.A.F.T.C.). The air base monitoring course was taught at Dorval (now known as Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport), near Montreal, and it provided the possibility of flying overseas. I wanted to go overseas as so many of us teenagers did.
Mum took me and my suitcase to a train at Union Station and I was met in Montreal by a lady friend who had arranged room and board at a girls’ residence on Drummond Street. I had a letter instructing me to stand on a certain corner of the Sun Life square where an RAF bus would pick up me, and other students, to drive us to Dorval where we would train in methods and Morse code signals used by the RAF.
Upon graduation from this course, we were shipped off to Gander in a Dakota cargo plane. No steward, just the pilot, co-pilot, stacks of cargo tied down the centre of the plane’s body, and us two girls. No pressurized cabin or oxygen masks, no windows, no toilets, no cushioned seats – in, fact no seats. We were told we could sit along the side of the aircraft on part of the rib, an 8-inch (20.5 cms) wide strip of metal which stuck into the cargo bay. With our backs to the curved side of the aircraft, by the time we reached Gander, I ached and my thighs were sore from the jutting metal. My only companion, Anne, was too sick to notice.
One of the airplane officers gave us each a brown paper bag in case we were sick – and Anne was. Fortunately I wasn’t, so I gave her my bag as well as helping her hold hers to her mouth. We had nothing to look at except stacks of cartons strapped down to prevent movement as the plane rumbled on its journey; but we were flying – a new mode of travel. How exciting to feel free as a bird; to be above ground. My parents hadn’t done it; I venture to say that none of my teachers or neighbours had either.
When we landed, there were several girls to welcome us as we clambered down the step-stool-size exit stairs. One of the girls came to whisper in my ear, “You’re hollering. Speak quietly.” I hadn’t realized that the descent alters one’s hearing channel so if one speaks so he/she can hear him/herself, others hear it as a shout. I was overseas! Newfoundland wasn’t part of Canada then.
Upper - canteen and
Upper - canteen and
The welcoming committee led us off the tarmac where they were unloading the cargo. The hangers were across the road from the housing units. This area was off-limits to everyone except those of us who worked the circuits in one of the hangers.
The difficulties of reception and
understanding were compounded by loss of connection;
we couldn't hear what was being sent. They, too,
couldn't hear our QRT – stop! - and continued
sending their coded message. We handed
in our typed message with a series of ? ? ? for the
Top left RAF transmitter stationBottom left Ken charts the planes and their routes on the control board
Top right Mose Blunden stands beside the Dorval/Gander transmitter
Bottom right Roy Moss locked Frank Anderson in the Prestwick-Gander transmitter
The other parts of the hangers were used for aircraft needing repair or just to keep them out of sight. There had been a warning that German submarines had been in the Gulf of St Lawrence and Newfoundland is between the Gulf and the Atlanic Ocean.
We were led past the hangers to an H-shaped wooden building – called ‘A’ building – entered from the rear to climb to the 2nd floor where the female RAF Signal operators were housed. I had a room to myself with a window which overlooked the road to the pond and the setting sun. Thus began 2 years at Gander.
On the airbase, there was an RAF sector (British), an RCAF sector (Canadian), and, in time, a USAF sector (U.S.A.). There was a bus travelled between bases so we could visit the little chapel or the local radio station at the RCAF base, or the Tuck Shop at the USAF base. The RAF base was the bare minimum – airfield, hangers, a cafeteria which doubled as a reception/dance hall; and 3 H-shaped housing buildings.
Building ‘A’ housed R.A.F. officers in one wing of the H. In the other wing, the Sergeants, Corporals, non-coms were on the first floor, below us girls. Their entry door was at the front of the building. Ours was at the rear, followed by a staircase up. In the centre of the H with a defining wall between left and right wings, were the community showers and toilets.
Building ‘B’ housed Newfoundlanders working for the base. Their families stayed there too. One of the men, Vince Myrick, was so good at reading Morse code that he could translate it at taped speed. Another family, Lush, from that building became my friends and their daughter, Eloise, was a bridesmaid when I married. Eloise (left in photo of 3) assisted our House Mother with her daily chores. Her dad worked in the cafeteria.
Building ‘C’ housed the boys who passed the same course which I took. Prime Minister Mackenzie King declared that there was subscription for all males over 18 to join the armed forces, except those French-speaking who objected. There were many French in New Brunswick and Quebec who volunteered for the army. A famous French-Canadian unit is the Vingt-Douze. There were metal nissen huts on the Gander base which housed some French who wanted service overseas.
Many of our signal operators were French-speaking, but they communicated in English for us. One Michel (Mike to us), from France, started teaching French to those of us who were interested. It progressed well until he was sent to Dorval.
We were not permitted to take pictures around the base but we could take them inside the buildings, on the pond, or on the snow slopes.
Girls were few in Gander so we were often in demand; yet our virginity was safe – unless we chose otherwise as some did. It was proof that there’s safety in numbers. The boys respected our friendship. We would walk to the pond with them talking about their families; or sit in their lounge joking about life ‘over ‘ome’ and their work before the war. One of the RAF airmen told me that, as fate would have it, one of the airforce officers was an employee of his in civilian life...reverse rank! I went sailing with a Welshman; hiking with a Scot; and listened to the Lancashireman tell about his little children. They were so homesick
I attended church services at the R.C.A.F. base. It was, I was told, the only religious tent on Gander base. It was set up for any religion & times of church services were posted. I had to catch a bus from the RAF-side of the base to the RCAF-side. One winter morning, I stood by the post we used as a bus stop. The wind was so strong, it nearly toppled me to the nearby snowdrifts. I had to hang onto the post to remain on my feet till the bus arrived. Wind gave the aircraft ‘lift’ but it practically drove us to crawl.
When I took part in a radio drama, I was taken to a small room at the station on the RCAF base. We sat at a table; one of the men read the story into the microphone which sat on the table. Another man sat ready to add sound effects, such as wood hitting the table to sound like a door slamming. I was told to scream ‘on cue’ which I did. Later I learned that it was so loud it stopped conversation in the bar while all eyes turned to the radio.
I was twice in the U.S. reception hall. Once with an English dance instructor who was an officer in the RAF and wanted a partner for New Years’ Eve. It was a delightful evening; we danced the whole night – latin dances, waltzes, foxtrots, jive - and he was pleased that I could follow his lead. The 2nd visit was with an RCAF airman. He had worked as a cartoon artist in Hollywood but joined the RCAF to help with the war effort in 1939. He knew of a visit by Frank Sinatra, Phil Silvers and Saul Chaplin, who were on tour. He introduced me to them and they gave me an autograph.
Shifts were 8:00 to 12:00, 18:00 to 23:59 (we were not allowed to use 00:00) – next day 12:00 to 18:00, 00:01 to 8:00, after which we had 2 days free till we went on 8-12 shift. On our day off, we’d plan some activity together with whomever was off shift. After a midnight shift, some of us would stay up if a group had plans to go skiing.
Skiing in the 1940s was different from the 2000s. In Gander there were no sky-high mountains so we hiked, trudging through the snow not knowing where the path led or where potholes lay under the pristine landscape. Some of our group knew how to ski. They decided on the hill we would climb to ski down. Yes, I said ‘climb’. Today, you have ‘lifts’ which carry you uphill.
Then we put on the skiis (which were 6 feet long), were told to turn sideways and dig into the hill as we climbed, which I later learned is a cross-country skiing technique. We were warned not to climb near the area where we would be skiing down because, of course, the snow had to be smooth. I was exhausted just getting to the top. Once there, the prospect of careening down intimidated me.
We, who had never seen a ski before let alone stood on one – or two, were mystified by the prospect of descending that ‘hill’ they called it. How do we start? How, then, do we stop? Turn, you say? Which way? How do we turn? If I ever get down, I’m not gong back up. Perhaps I should go back down sideways, on the path we came up! No, I shall survive! I must try! I stopped - by sliding on the seat of my pants – sorry to the other skiers for flattening their smooth landing. Oh well, there was lots of snow on the hill left for them.
On the way home from one of these ski excursions, the group of 7 of us stopped dead in our tracks. We were faced by a moose. One of the Newfoundlanders with us whispered, “Don’t move and don’t stare into its eyes.”
It stood staring at us; wiggled an ear as snowflakes tickled the hairs; shook its huge head to dislodge some of the fallen snow; but when it bent its head to the ground, we all drew in a collective breath thinking it was preparing to charge. We again breathed collectively, as he/she merely licked the new snow then turned and walked into the forest. No problem for those long legs to manoeuvre through the deep drifts. We still didn’t move until we saw the tail disappear behind a tree.
The boys, especially the Newfoundlanders, sometimes left the base on days off. They returned with some fantastic stories. On a train trip to Cornerbrook, they said that all the passengers were ordered off the train in the middle of nowhere. The male passengers were instructed to push the train up the hill – known as Topsail Hill. We listened – but we were in doubts as to belief. I have since heard some pretty tall stories about the Newfie Bullet – the cross-country train.
I was constantly being teased; and I could return a fair repartee. At breakfast one morning coming off shift, one of the boys across the long table said to me, “Gloria, there are some legs floating in your milk. Where do you think the rest of the cockroach is?”
I knew I daren’t show fright. I learned from being chased around Dad’s garden by my brother holding wriggling worms that fear brings laughter. I answered, “Oh, I probably ate it!” That shut him up.
Since returning to Ontario, I have heard from some of my colleagues from Gander, but most have gone their separate ways. Before I left Newfoundland, I was invited by Dick Stamp’s parents to visit his home in St John’s and he and Bob Parsons took me to Signal Hill. I was amazed at the slope of the streets in St John’s and the agility of the elderly people climbing them. Dick was a teletype operator in Gander, Bob was one of the wireless ops.
I was invited by one of the girls, Hazel Bjornstad, in our dorm’ to visit her home in Evansburg, Alberta. I took the cross-country train with a berth that folded into a seat during the day. This was exciting for me to travel through the forests of northern Ontario, into new provinces – to cross the Red River, see the tall storage silos in the prairies, then arrive in Edmonton.
Mr Bjornstad met me with his daughter, Hazel. He drove a model T Ford, said it was the only car with high enough chassis to clear the rough roads still around the province. He drove around Edmonton before going to his farm. The ‘road’ to his home was full of ruts where his car and tractor wheels had sunk into the mud when it rained. He drove us to Jasper, a small town in 1945, for a day’s visit. What a spectacle to see the majesty of the mountains.
The late Hazel Bjornstad when she, her father,
Back to my home in Toronto, I returned
to work as a file clerk at Manufacturers’ Life Insurance
for $43. per month.
I studied a stenographer course (shorthand,
typing) at Gregg Institute and worked for Toronto
Executive Ass’n located in the King Edward Hotel;. I married
in 1951, moved from Toronto to Newmarket, Ontario in
am the mother of 5 (3 girls. 2 boys). This
year, 2015, I have 7 grandchildren and 4 great
More of Gloria's photo's with
additional explanations can be found here.
Gloria Lindsay (née Durham)
Names from my autograph book 1944-46
Winnie Crouch M.L.I. (we worked at Manufacturer’s Life Insurance) (April ’44)
Julia Drummond residence, Montreal, Nov.’44
Anne Burchill, from New Brunswick.
Morse code Operators
Beckstead, Dale, Williamsburg, Ont. Morse code Operator
Belhumeur, Marc “
Berthelet, Raymond “
Bjornstad, Hazel, “
Burchill, Anne, “
Clarkson, Ken, “
Courtney, Johnny, “
Cuisson, Pierre, “
Duckworth, Harold. “
Dufresne, Claude, “
Dupont, Guy, he & I had the same initials on messages received/sent
Dupuis, Florent, Morse code Operator
Galloway, Barbara “
Gardiner, Bert, “
Hall, Audrey, “
Langelier, Guy “
McKenzie, Isabel, Lethbridge, Alberta, Traffic clerk – decoded messages we received
McLean, Eric, Morse code Operator, classical pianist
Paquin, J.A. “
Pilon, Jean Guy, “
Pitson, Eric, Toronto “
Plastre, Gilles “
Reed Ron “
Riddell, Ed “
Ryall, Bruce “
Stroud, J.S. - liaison between our wireless room & G/A room
Trotter, Dorothea, Morse code Operator
Vacchino, Louis “
Warnes, Doug “
Young, Harry “
Young, Irene, “
Surname-less (No surname)
Andy, 23 Oct. 1945, Morse code Operator
Marcel, dancing teacher, 28 Oct.1945 “
Reg, 8 Feb. 1946, “
Brownrigg, Edwin, Morse code Operator
Locke, W.J., Radio Control, Gander
Lush, Eloise, Ass’t to house mother
Martin, G., House Mother to us girls.
Myrick, Vince, could read morse code produced by tape, unbelievably fast.
Parsons, Bob, Morse code Operator
Rogers, P.A., Security, Gander 24/5/45
Stamp, Dick, teletype operator
Bennie, Bob, Stirlingshire, Scotland
Blackie, C.B., R.A.F.T.C. Radio supervisor
Davis, Harry L., Manchester, England
Diamond, Leo (Jock), Greenoch, Scotland
Dobson, H. (Dobbie)
Fallace, Arthur F., London, England
Fox, Martyn G.
Jack, G., Aberdeen
?Lewison, Arthur (? Surname signature undeterminable)
Mayoh, John H.
Parker, H.R., Reigate, Surrey
Pearce, Ron, RAF
Rickett, C.A. (Arthur)
Smith, Austin O., Glasgow, Scotland
Smith, R.D. (Bob)., Manchester, England, cartoonist
Watkins, Owen, Wales
Watt, (O?? Signature undeterminable), Aberdeen, Scotland
Wilkinson, Ernie J., Norwich, England
Fleming, Bill, artist, coloured pencil
Clarke, Milton S. Sgt,
Entertainers at U.S.A.A.F.