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Legion Magazine - Company at Cole Harbour
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  Company at Cole Harbour
by Mickey Stevens
Legion Magazine – September/October 1997

In September 1942, the Royal Canadian Air Force opened No. 5 radar unit near Cole Harbour, N.S. There was a full complement of 36 men at the unit and most of us were either radar operators or radar mechanics. I joined the services at Winnipeg in 1940 and worked at Cole Harbour as a radar operator between the fall of 1942 and 1945; starting out as a leading aircraftman and ending up as a sergeant. Situated on Tor Bay, approximately 125 miles east of Halifax, the unit had been known as No. 5 Queensport after the small community that's located six miles to the north on Chedabucto Bay.

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 participated 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 crews 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 there was 

  

Radar operators and mechanics relax with some of the WDs at the Cole Harbour radar unit - photo by Wally Dunbar
WDs and their hosts pose for a picture at Monastery railway station - photo by Wally Dunbar
Somebody on duty at Eastern Air Command 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 aerodrome. The filter centre was also where members of the RCAF Women's Division worked as operators.

Our radar station's 24-hour-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 or 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 in 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 a 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 of 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  honoring. 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 and 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 the Halifax filter room wanted to visit us at Cole Harbour.
We were pretty well resigned to the simple pleasure our radio conversations could bring until one summer day in 1944 - almost two years afler 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 WDs to visit Cole Harbour. And so it came to pass that not one, but 11 WDs 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 65 miles from Cole Harbour. It was late in the day and naturally all of the women expected transportation in 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 Flight-Lieutenant Louis Monasch, a well-respected man who allowed us to perform our regular duties without issuing a lot of orders. When he was blind-sided by the news of our unexpected visitors, Monasch 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 Barkhouse a number of questions "Do they understand that there are no facilities for WDs at Cole Harbour? Do they understand that they will have to ride on the back of an open transport truck? Do they realize that it is 65 miles to the radar unit, only 25 of which are paved?"
When all of this was understood by the WDs, the CO told Barkhouse to bring them in.


All trips in 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 a temporary quarters for our unexpected guests.

When the transport truck pulled in around 11 p.m., the room – complete with bunks and bedding - was ready. As the night progressed, it became more and more obvious that the CO was not pleased with the situation. There was very little doubt in anyone's mind that some radar operalor - or perhaps several operators - were responsible for the invasion from Halifax. The CO acted as though I knew who was behind it all, and he insisted that it was up to me to determine who had been the instigator and then report my findings to him.


Meanwhile, the women from Halifax were enjoying themselves immensely. They were being treated like royalty,  waited on hand and foot. And much to the radio operators' pleasure and the CO's chagrin, a closer look at the rail service schedule revealed it was not practical to return the WDs to the railway station the next day. This meant the WDs 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 WDs 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.


Aller 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 Chisholme of Toronto and Bill King of Victoria. 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 WDs arrived. The two of them sure knew something, but it had not been their idea. My next suspect was radar operator AI 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 a bit better, I realized that his reason for wanting to know had changed. This switch came about when he realized the visit had actually been handled rather well and that 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 him who it had been. Mere suspicions do not count.


Editor's note: By 1945 there were 22 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 W A.B. 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 the aircraft were in distress.