"Anyway, I grabbed this spring, which is like an eye of a needle and you should grab it up near the top to lift it off. I grabbed it up here and under the spring. Ah, my hand’s caught in between it!"
Yeah, I was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and I joined up in Regina at HMCS Queen. And after basic training, I went to Toronto and Ottawa and Edmonton and Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec. I took a radio officer’s course and eventually I transferred to leading telegrapher, shore branch and ended up in Newfoundland -St. John’s, Newfoundland. And so I was a land-locked sailor. I joined the Navy hoping to see the world but didn’t have much sea time. Just enough time to get from Port aux Basques [Newfoundland] to North Sydney [Nova Scotia], North Sydney to Port aux Basques, St. John’s, Newfoundland, up the St. Lawrence [River] to Quebec City. And that was the total of my sea time.
Well, I was on this course, radio course in these various cities, Toronto and Ottawa. I worked at National Research Council in Ottawa in a place called White’s Field; that’s where General [Andrew] McNaughton [president of NRC] had his private laboratories that we did work on constructing pieces of equipment for radar and didn’t know what we were doing of course. But we would turn that over to a project manager who would hook it up to various pieces of equipment to research radar.
We didn’t know what we were developing; they would send us down to the metal shop to make a little box and put resistors and condensers in there. And they would then put it onto a piece of equipment and tune it up and it would light up lights up in the corner of the room or whatever. But that was radar, similar to ASDIC [sonar].
In Newfoundland, you know, when you’re land-locked, all you’re doing is repairing ships when they come into port. They would, over in Newfoundland, my work over there was with WT [wireless telegraphy] maintenance because they had a large bucket and they would lift you up in a crane and you would strap an antenna on the end of the yardarm and you’d bring the coaxial cable to the center, to the mast, take the cable down and you had to get onto the mast and put an electrician’s belt around you and drill holes and bolt this cable down the mast. The welders in the meantime would weld a hole, cut a hole into the WT cabin and they’d take that cable in and hook it up to what they called transmit between ships, which was an ultra-high frequency set. And the officers and that could conduct ship-to-ship and ship-to-plane conversation.
A fairly large ship like a Castle-class, destroyer, or whatever came into port and had to have one of these antennas put on its yardarm. So the Canadian dockyard didn’t have a bucket, as they called them, to lift me up with tools to install. So an officer and myself went down to a harbour craft and went down to the American dockyard who had a larger crane that could lift this bucket up to the yardarm, swung me out over the, to do the installation. As they came alongside the jetty, the midshipman onboard hollered to grab this ball which is a woven ball on a rope. And they would swing it around their head; throw the ball out onto the jetty. The junior radio on the jetty would grab this ball if it landed on the jetty and start pulling it ashore. And onboard the ship, they would tie it to a steel spring or a rope spring. I pulled it up and they said, put the spring on the bollard, which is on the jetty, the bollard is on the jetty.
I didn’t have that much seamanship training and then the midshipman yelled, ease off and take it off that bollard and move it back to the next bollard because these springs were crisscrossed; there was another ship alongside, the springs were crisscrossed. So take it off that bollard, move it back. And they crank the onboard ship there, cranking up on the winch because they’re taking up the slack as the ship eases into the berth. And on the other end, they’ve got another pair there cranking up, taking up the slack to hold the ship from plowing into another ship.
Anyway, I grabbed this spring, which is like an eye of a needle and you should grab it up near the top to lift it off. I grabbed it up here and under the spring. Ah, my hand’s caught in between it! And I had my gloves on but I, ah, you know, and they’d back off right away, took my hand out and blood spurting out these fingers. And went onboard the ship and I guess I was white as a ghost but I hadn’t passed out. And the Medical Officer, wiggled my hand and said, oh, you’ve got quite a few broken bones there but you’d better go up to the American dockyard and have it x-rayed. When I went up to the dockyard and had it X-rayed, no bones broken. How lucky. One more crank on that winch and I’d have probably, it would have chopped off my fingers right. That was my close call.