Veteran Stories:
Charles Starratt Redden

Air Force

  • Charles Redden and RAF servicewomen peeling potatoes at radar station, RAF Stenigot, 1944.

    Charles Redden
  • Charles Redden with his wife Jean, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1940.

    Charles Redden
  • Charles Redden, standing in front of his miltary truck.
    "My vehicle, Jeannie", named after his wife Jean.

    Charles Redden
  • Schaffen Communal Cemetary, Belgium, where Charles Redden's brother John is buried.

    Charles Redden
  • Soldiers mobilizing a radar tower, March, 1945.

    Canadian Army Photo
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"I was surrounded by Americans with drawn guns; and they arrested me and they put me in jail, along with my co-driver, and we spent six days in jail."

Transcript

The war changed me because I lost my brother. That changed me. The family was never the same after that. Home life with my mother and father was never the same. When the war was declared, I wanted to join because my brother, John, had joined the air force and was shot down over Diest in Belgium. He, of course, was killed there, so when that happened, I decided I wanted to do my part too. And for that reason, I went to Halifax and joined the air force; and they sent me to the Royal Military College in Kingston where I graduated in electronics. I was turned down for air crew because of poor eyesight. They suggested I go into radar, which I did. I went to a radar school and then went overseas. And once over there, I was told to report to the Secretary of Air at the British government office in London; and there, I was told, because of my knowledge, that they would transfer me to the RAF [Royal Air Force] and I would come under their command. So my nearly four years over there, I worked entirely under the Secretary of State for Air [British parliamentary cabinet post] and never served with another Canadian during that whole time. The government would go and investigate a company that was making radar equipment and had come up with something new. I would evaluate it and report back to the government whether it was a good system; and they would order more, or if I said it wasn’t a good system, they would cancel and not order any. So it was those kind of things that I did which are very interesting. I had one very interesting experience involving Americans. I was in a remote part of Germany; and I was sent there by the Secretary of State to investigate and see if it was a good place to erect a radar tower. So I went there and on the way back, I drove into a village. The first thing I knew, I was surrounded by Americans with drawn guns; and they arrested me and they put me in jail, along with my co-driver, and we spent six days in jail. Finally, the War Office in London got my release and the American CO [commanding officer] apologized. He said his men thought I was German and I was somebody who had gone over in Germany with an RAF land vehicle and the Germans had captured it; and they had taken the uniforms off of the people who were in the vehicle and put them on themselves, and pretended they were Canadians and RAF. [laughs] So that was the story. And I said, well, he said, he apologized and said they made a big mistake. So I left quickly and went back to Holland. How did I find out the war was over? It was just an announcement came to the officers of the unit, saying it’s over, you can go home. So everybody left to go home. It’s about as simple as that. No celebrations or anything, everybody just wanted to go home. How did I feel about it? Relieved, glad, I wanted to get home. I hadn’t seen my wife for four years and, as a matter of fact, I was not even allowed to write her in Halifax. They said that you might give away some war secrets, so you’re not allowed to write. So what I would have to do was go to the War Office in London once a month. They had a book and the book had all kinds of messages in it: I love you, I miss you, I wish I were home or so on and so forth. Each one had a code number. So you were to write down all the code numbers of what you wanted to say on a piece of paper, give it to a clerk, she would make sure that I hadn’t put some extra messages in and then they would radio the numbers to an office in Halifax; and they would print up the message and deliver it to Jean. That’s the only way I could communicate with her.
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