RCAF RADAR 1941 - 1945

No. 5 Radar Detachment,
Queensport/Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia

The following article is from RCAF Radar 1941-1945 (Royal Canadian Air Force Personnel on Radar in Canada During World War II) and is used with permission of the author, WW McLachlan

No.5 Radar Detachment,
Queensport/Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia

Initially called Queensport but later known as Cole Harbour, the station was situated on Tor Bay, approximately 125 miles East of Halifax. The small community of Queensport was located 6 miles to the North of Chedabucto Bay.

A feature in the Sept/Oct 1997 edition of the Legion Magazine written by Mickey Stevens of Victoria, British Columbia, was as follows:

In September 1942, the Royal Canadian Air Force opened No. 5 radar unit near Cole Harbour, NovaScotia. There was a full compliment of 36 men at the unit and most of us were either radar operators or mechanics. I worked as an operator between the Fall of 1942 and 1945, starting as an LAC and ending as a sergeant. The unit's location, on high ground North of Cole Harbour, wasn't exactly a hub of social activity. That is why several of us particpated in some extra-curricular pursuits that mixed a little pleasure in with our daily routines.

During our six hour work shifts, each member of our four-man crew manned a communications headset for two 45 minute periods. Our main purpose was to monitor our patrol aircraft, but radar could also be used, in a limited way, to detect surfaced U-boats. The first order of business when your shift began, was to confirm that there ws somebody on duty at Eastern Air Command in Halifax, to accept any coded aircraft tracking information we wished to transmit to the filter centre. The filter centre plotted information from the radar units and then fed the intelligence to sector control rooms at the fighter airdrome. The filter centre was also where members of the RCAF Women's Division worked as operators.

Our radar station's 24 hours a day contact with Eastern Air Command was never intended to be a licence for our radar operators to operate a wartime dating service, but in the late and lonesome hours of the night, when air traffic was light and sometimes non-existent, it could get awfully boring to just sit there with a headset on and not try to engage the young filter-centre operator on the other end of the conversation, this of course depended on whether or not the WD at the other end was plotting air traffic in another area, or under the watchful eye of the no-nonsense Duty Officer. It also depended on whether or not the filter-room operator was interested in you or not yet bored enough to desire companionship or casual conversation.

Of course, not all our conversations with the filter room operators were conquest-motivated, indeed, many of my fellow radar operators were just passing the time because some had commitments back home that they were honouring. For others, though, the name of the game was to arrange a date and to that end some great lines were perfected by my fellow operators at Cole Harbour. I did not always hear the results of these meetings in Halifax, but I know some of the dates resulted in great friendships, several of which blossomed into love an marriage. Once in a while someone tried to convince a filter-room operator to visit Cole Harbour, but this proved very difficult because some of our operators, in order to gain the sympathy of a filter-room operator had exaggerated the isolation of our unit. and so it seemed none of the women in Halifax filter-room wanted to visit us at Cole Harbour.

We were pretty well resigned to the simple pleasure our radio conversations would bring, until one summer day in 1944, almost two years after the first invitation to a filter room operator went out. Remarkably, someone or some group of men at our unit succeeded in convincing a member of the WD's to visit Cole Harbour. And so it came to pass, that not one but eleven WD's from Eastern Air Command accepted an unofficial invitation. Indeed, most of us were surprised when the women arrived unannounced, at the Monastery railway station some sixty miles from Cole Harbour. It was late in the day, and the women naturally expected transportation from the railway station.

It just so happened that our military transport driver, Doug Barkhouse, was on a duty run into Mulgrave for our weekly rations and supplies. He was told to swing by the railway station on his way back. When he got there and saw the women, Barkhouse did the only thing he could, he immediately telephoned us for further instructions.

The Commanding Officer at Cole Harbour was F/L Nomasch, a well respected man who allowed us to reform our regular duties without issuing a lot of orders. When he was blindsided by the news of our unexpected visitors, he was anything but pleased. However, when he was reminded that there was no return train to Halifax that day, he knew he had a problem that would not go away immediately. He began by asking Barkouse a number of questions: "Do they understand that there are no facilities for the WD's at Cole Harbour? Do they understand that they will have to ride in the back of an open transport truck? Do they realize it is sixty five miles to the radar unit, only twenty five of which is paved"? When all this was understood by the WD's, the CO told Barkhouse to bring them in.

All trips from the Monastery railway station took a long time, but on that occasion none of the passengers resorted to pounding on the roof of the driver's cab to denote it was time for a pit stop.

At the radar unit, the CO assigned men to remove the office equipment and files from the administration room and establish temporary quarters for our unexpected guests. When the transport truck pulled in, around 11 pm, the room, complete with bunks and bedding was ready.

As the night progressed, it became more obvious that the CO was not pleased with the situation. There was little doubt in anyone's mind that some radar operator or mechanic or perhaps several, were responsible for the invasion from Halifax. The CO acted as though I knew who was behind it all, and he insisted it was up to me to determine who had been the instigator and then report my findings to him.

Meanwhile, the women were enjoying themselves immensely. They were being treated like Royalty, waited on hand and foot. And much to the radar men's pleasure and the CO's chagrin, a closer look at the rail service schedule, revealed it was not practical to return the WD's to the railway station the next day. This meant the WD's would have to stay over a second night, before they could return to Halifax.

The following day, the usual boredom was replaced by face-to-face conversations, card games and volley ball matches with our guests. Our CO, meanwhile, was careful enough to establish some ground rules. These were hardly necessary, but we all followed them.

After two days of fun, the WD's were driven back over the long bumpy road to the railway station. From there, they returned safely and on time to Halifax, and their work at the filter centre. For some reason the women did not make a return trip to Cole Harbour. I have often wondered why, because the women were certainly well treated while they were with us. My only guess is that it was the thought of another journey on the back of our transport truck, that kept them away. Our CO did not issue any order prohibiting a repeat visit. However, he did not say we could do it again, either.

After the women left, I had hoped that the visit had been so successfully completed that Monasch would relax and forget about his instructions to me, to find the instigator. No such luck, I was still expected to produce the guilty party.

Quite high on my list of suspects were radar operators Gordon Chisholm, of Toronto and Bill King of Victoria, but all I will say is that they were logical suspects. Actually, they were on my list of suspects, even before I learned they were at Monastery railway station on day passes, when the train with the WD's arrived. The two of them sure knew something, but it had not been their idea. My next suspect was radar operator Al Snow of Montreal, who was most conspicuous by his absence at certain times.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we never did learn who the instigator was. When I got to know our CO better, I realized that his reason for wanting to know had changed. This switch came about when he realized that the visit had actually been handled rather well and he had not been left with any problems. Monasch no longer wished to reprimand the guilty party, all he wanted to do, was know the guy who had so much moxie. But even then I could not tell who it had been, mere suspicions do not count.

Editor's Note: By 1945 there were 22 Canadian operated radar stations on the East coast, for early warning and ground control. These units were immensely valuable in locating friendly aircraft that were lost or in distress, notes WAB Douglas in "The Creation of a National Air Force", The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force Volume 11. The range at which flights could be tracked was extended by "Identification Friend or Foe" equipment first used by Eastern Air Command aircraft in 1943. The IFF equipment responded to signals from equipment at radar stations and could also transmit a specially coded signal if aircraft was in distress.

Weather reporting: We sent weather reports from the radar station at Cole Harbour to Eastern Air Command in Halifax and I assume all the other coastal radar stations sent them as well. Ours were every hour for most of the time, but were reduced to once every second hour later on when there were enough stations reporting to allow them to alternate.

We sent most of ours in code over high frequency land line, but once in a while, mostly for practice I think, we sent them by wireless. We would code them in the radar hut and walk them up to the Administration building where the wireless operator was located and have him send the report.

This weather reporting was quite an undertaking. I remember the detailed reference-sheet of the reporting formula. We had a printed catalogue, a formula of dozens of possible weather conditions, each having some of these code letters beside them. We were supposed to print in the report those codes that most nearly represented the weather we were witnessing at the time. We started with a guide that listed a couple of dozen numbers and combinations of letters and some numerals. The first letters were for the station's identifcation, so that they would know who was sending the report, even that was coded. A two-digit number was inserted to indicate the direction of the wind, a single digit for the velocity, then one for the change from the last report. By the time we had considered everything that had related to the weather and transposed it into these codes, it had become quite a lengthy production.

They never did send us the anemometer they had constantly promised, with which, we could have obtained the correct velocity of the wind. We had to guess and everyone had a different idea about it. We had a battered old wind-sock that held together for about three years and never let us down. Although we often told EAC that the wind pushing up from the ocean to crowd over our hill, was always going to be stronger than the wind a couple of miles away, they chose to use our guesses.

We were never asked the temperature, and did not have a thermometer anyway. One would have thought they would be interested but perhaps they were going to send the planes up anyway.

I can recall the day we had to add these duties to the duties of the radar operators. No one ever wanted to go out into the cold to do them when they were a shared responsibility with the radar mechanics. Now that they were the sole responsibility of the radar operators the reporting times came around even more often. However, it soon became part of the routine and I think that most of the men even reached the point where they took some pride in doing it well. They will be among those citizens you meet, who can still tell a numbus from cumulo-nimbus.

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Updated: August 27, 2003