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
When you wrote telling me that during the war you had spent several months in the guardhouse at #5 Radar Unit I knew you were thinking about your duties as a Security Guard and later with the Service Police and not as a prisoner in the cells. You are wondering how often the cells had been used for their intended purpose.
As you will recall #5 Radar Unit, RCAF Station Cole Harbour, was located out on the barrens above the village of Cole Harbour on Nova Scotia's Canso Peninsula. This radar station was bounded on three sides by rocks, water, moss, some trees and stunted brush and a small lake, making it quite inaccessible from any but the access road on the front side where the Guardhouse was located. The station had been built to be operated by a staff of only thirty-six men. On a station that small everyone made determined efforts to get along, which all but eliminated the possibility of anyone doing anything that warranted incarceration in the cells.
The Guardhouse was the headquarters for both the Security Guard and the Service Police. From there were dispatched the regular patrols of our perimeters and facilities. From there were monitored the comings and goings of all personnel and vehicles. Not one of the busiest Guardhouses in the world. The building was used. However, I know what you meant; was it used to incarcerate prisoners? Well, the answer to that is not very often.
The Guardhouse on our station ws under-utilized. That is the cells were. In fact they were used as storerooms most of the time. Rather than place our extra mattresses and bedding in the damp and unheated storage shed, they were stored in the cells where it was warm and dry.
I do, however, recall a couple of occasions when the cells were used for their intended purpose and one when they were used in a strange fashion. The first was when Harry Brewes, (now living near Powassan, Ontario), arrived several days AWOL. He had graduated from the Radar School in Clinton and was awaiting a posting at Scarborough and at Unionville training facilities. This was convenient for visiting with his lady friend. Upon being notified that he was to report to Cole Harbour, Harry had decided that this east coast location could mean but one thing; it had to be a "jumping off" point for overseas duty. He and Helen decided that they should get engaged. That decision resulted in Harry's arrival at Cole Harbour being delayed by five days. I don't know why it took five days to get engaged. It just did. For this infraction of the rules, CO, Fl Lt Clarence Jones, made a decision too, one that he thought should cost Harry some time in the cells. Seven days loss of pay and five days in the cells, to be exact.
This incident involving Harry Brewes happened in the fall when the nights were cooling off. The Airmen's Barracks was still several weeks away from having the heating and hot water systems completed. The Guardhouse, however, which had served as the project headquarters during construction of the station, had its own heating system, a coal and wood stove that really put out the heat!. The stove was in the large entrance room, but the heat circulated to the rooms and cells beyond. Harry reports now that his stay in there "was not entirely unpleasant" and that the Service Police and Security Guards, unused to having guests had treated him well. They had even brought him "magazines and chocolate bars" ! Harry was more comfortable there than he would have been in the Barracks. Not only was he warm, but rather than try to find another place to store mattresses, at least seven had been left on the cot in his cell! Harry had been there two days before the CO stoppped by. That would be Fl Lt Clare Jones. When he saw how Harry was suffering he ordered him out of there and into the cold barracks with the rest of us.
Another time a cell was used was when Sam Engels, of Montreal, had a letter to his brother intercepted by the Censor. Some of Sam's fictionalized account of life at #5 RU offended a censor. Since it was not a security issue, perhaps they should not have bothered with it, but they did. Several officers descended upon our quiet station and disrupted life for several days making a mountain out of a molehill. I forget what the actual charge was, but it was something of a witch hunt of conditions on the station. When they finally made up their minds Sam was placed in detention in one of the cells. They apparently felt that they had to make an example of poor Sam. Later on, that evening, after the imported investigating officers and their aides had done their duty and had decided Sam Engels was indeed a villian, they wanted to relax on their final evening on our station. They were not looking forward to their long ride in the Ration Truck to Monastery Junction in the morning. They already knew that some of them would have to ride in the box on the back of the truck and were dreading it. They needed to relax a bit. However, they were short a good bridge player. When it was determined that because of everyone's work schedules Sam was the only competent player available, they had the Service Police release him from the cell for the evening to take a hand in the game. The Service Police did everything by the book including have the officers sign for Sam. I kid you not! I should also tell you that Sam and his partner cleaned their clocks! If they were going to lock him up he certainly was not going to let them win at this game if he could help it.
The strange use of this facility that I mentioned involved chicks. There will be many thousands of ex-Air Force men and millions of civilians, who will not believe that ever happened. Chicks on an Air Force Station! No, not WD's. I mean real chicks, as in chickens. There could not have been chicks in an Air Force Guardhouse? Ah, but they had never been to RCAF Station Cole Harbour.
In addition to the aforementioned thousands who will have difficulty believing that anyone raised chicks in an Air Force Guardhouse, it soon became apparent that there were a good number of men who had actually been on that station who did not believe it either. When I inquired of these men while searching for additional information on these chicks I received letters suggesting that I might be recalling an event at some other location. Some expressed regret that they had either left the station by the time that happened or had not yet arrived. In any event, they knew of no such happening. Some simply dismissed it as rumour. Most, including the fellow I had a year earlier awarded our Mark Twain Award (for the Best Recollection About Something that Never Happened), were certain tht I had dreamed it. One was sure that I was a victim of false memory syndrome and more than one suggestd a fantasy. No one, it seemed, knew anything about any chickens and obviously thought my memory wa playing tricks or worse.
However, about that time, while on another research project, I had located John Evans, who was orginally from Fredericton, NB. Information from him led me to Al Snow's widow in Sussex, New Brunswick. In our ensuing correspondence Helen sent me several pictures that she thought might have been taken at Cole Harbour. How right she was! Some of them clearly showed Radar Operator Al Snow's chicks being allowed some sunshine on the front steps of the Guardhouse! In fact one of them shows me sitting beside the pen watching them. Now, why couldn't I have remembered who owned them? So, dreaming about those chicks, was I?
One of the pictures shows the Commanding Officer, F/L Louis Monasch at that time, looking on with a bemused expression. I recall him ask me why he had been the last person on the station to know about those chicks. Not my job, Man! Besides, what did I know?
A few years ago, after I had located Alec "Scottie" Moir, our former Hospital Assistant, living in Toronto and had visited him, I learned that he, although he had not admitted it to Mr. Monasch at the time, had known about the chicks early, since he had been called in by the owner as a consultant on the care and feeding of chickens. Scottie also told me that Al Snow had practised on him his legal argument for being allowed to have pets on the station. "Just in case", Al had said. Part of his reasoning had been one of precedence, tht others had cats, which by the way multiplied and threatened to outnumber us, and two more had dogs.
I recall that, not too long ago, when you and your grandson visited us in Victoria you were looking at my albums. When you saw the pictures of those chicks, you exclaimed that you remembered them well, especially the smell!
Since then you have sent me one of your own pictures, one showing several pullets, perhaps five or six months old. It is apparent that some of those chicks made it through the summer and into the fall! By this time they had been relocated from the Guardhouse to the derelict two-holer that had been left behind by the construction crew who built the station. A makeshift fence kept them from wandering off.
Anyway, now I know. Those chicks did exist and it was Al Snow who was responsible. I have to tell you that I have quite enjoyed including copies of those chick pictures with my recent letters to those doubters and accusers.
A few years ago a long time Cole Harbour resident, Bessie Monroe, wrote to tell me that shortly after the war after the station had been abandoned, the War Assets Corporation sold the buildings and materials. Technical equipment had been removed and returned to Air Force storage. While most of the buildings were completely dismantled, a merchant from the Truro area bought the Guardhouse intact. After removing the front porch, he moved it all the way to Truro, where it became an addition to his store. Bessie had seen it while visiting in that area some years later and reported that it now sported a sign that read, "Emporium". Our Guardhouse always was a people place.
In my next letters to these friends I will be asking if anyone remembers any other person having been held in those cells. Perhaps they will have stories of their own to tell. If I get lucky and find Service Police Sgt Danis perhaps he will have something to add. I'll let you know.
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Updated: August 27, 2003