Some time ago I came across a very interesting item concerning the history of Gander. As we all well know, Gander during World War 2 was the hub of Western Atlantic operations, be it ferrying aircraft to Britain, patrolling the coast and protecting convoys or trying to listen in on Axis radio transmissions.
All this depended on civilian and military radio operators and technicians who were, as far as I could find out, pretty much all initially under the command of S/L H.A.L. Pattison.
In the first of days of radio, in what might be called the Guglielmo Marconi period, radio waves of dots and dashes were produced basically by an apparatus that created a powerful spark, in a manner somewhat the same that a flash of lightning may cause radio interference. The radio operators from those days, for example the ones who worked on the RMS Titanic, were therefore nicknamed “Sparkies”. Even RCN destroyers in World War II such as the Restigouche had an Admiralty Pattern transmitter with a spark gap transmitter as a back up. So this name stuck, especially for military radio operators, and they were proud of it.
What I have found is a patch entitled “ Sparklub RAFTC Signal section – Gander Nfld”.
I got this from a chap in the Philippines but have been unable to find out how come he had it, other than he apparently bought a collection. But that is the fun of it all : the detective work of finding the item is often less complicated than trying to find out after what it all means. For example, this patch is in surprisingly good condition – could it therefore be a reproduction? Was it made in the Philippines? But there can’t be a zillion people looking for this particular badge, so why would someone go through all the trouble of making up new ones if there was nobody to buy them?
The patch itself measures about 6.5 inches from wingtip to wingtip and about 4.5 inches high, so it would probably have been worn on a jacket or overcoat. It says RAFTC, which means it would have been used after May 1943, when the RAF Ferry Command (RAFFC) became a part of the RAF Transport Command (RAFTC)).
But what stumped me at first was this “Sparklub” business! Google and similar only gave references in German. And then it hit me – Sparklub must have been their way of referring to their “Spark Club”. So it looks as though these Sparkies decided to have a place of their own where they could get together to relax privately among themselves. This desire to have their own club is in fact quite logical, firstly because any group, be it from stamp collecting to fixing old cars, would normally like to have a place to discuss their common interests, in this case radio and communications. A second reason could very well be because what they heard was so secret that if they ever said anything to someone else, they’d probably have to commit a murder and a suicide!
And where are some of the places where these guys worked? Here are two well-known photos of old Gander:
- the receiver site:
- the transmitter sight
If anyone has any additional info or comments, please let us know!