Number #1 Wireless Training School, Montreal, Quebec, 1944. Laurence Bennett is pictured 4th from the left bottom row.Laurence Bennett
Cover of the Ballet Russe Programme, 1941.Laurence Bennett
A page of the Ballet Russe Programme.Laurence Bennett
Photo of dancer Tamara Grigorieva, from the Ballet Russe Programme, October 18, 1941.Laurence Bennett
"Some of us picked up a U-boat; a German U-boat in the Bay of Fundy, we could hear him from a distance."
When I enlisted, you chose what you would like to be. You could go into administration; that is stenography and that sort of thing. You could go into signals, RT was radio traffic control, which is what I wanted, different departments and I wanted traffic control but unfortunately, the section was closed when I applied so you had to go through a test and they helped you determine where you should go. And they decided signals would be for me because I guess I had rhythm and I could recognize things of that nature, so that’s why I went into signals, wireless training.
And fortunately for me, the school was in Montreal, the No. 1 Wireless Training School was in Montreal and the course was six months long. It was the longest course that was offered of all the services. So I did that course for six months and you had to have 20 words a minute but you could try for 25 and I got the 25. And so they took my picture.
Well, you had to learn how to put together a receiver, how to put together a transmitter, the mechanics of it, as well as learning how to send signals. And receive them of course. And it was in code. So that’s what it was. It was very intensive but I enjoyed it; I didn’t find it too difficult and I think they were right in that there was something within me, my nature that responded to the rhythms because that’s what is involved in signals, sending a lot of rhythm.
So as I say, we were, our group was sent to Pennfield Ridge [New Brunswick] which had been an R[C]AF [Royal Canadian Air Force] base and they were converting it to a transport training base. There were at this point in time - it was getting towards the end of the war - a lot of the boys who had finished a tour of operations in Europe were coming back and they were being retrained. So as my husband was saying, they were training pilots who had been in combat, that were converting them to peacetime transport training. And that’s what this base was all about, converting them to transport training and that’s where I was.
I did at one point, some of us picked up a U-boat; a German U-boat in the Bay of Fundy, we could hear him from a distance. They did this, they would come in but you’d hear about it occasionally but once we did hear them, we heard this one U-boat. That was exciting, picking up, you know, the message in here.
It’s not quite the size because it was quite a machine you sat in front of, with your earphones of course. And it was set up bigger than that. But the key was basically exactly the same thing as that. And you, you operated on different bands, radio bands and you would know where you could get it and you listened for your signal on radio band and then you monitored it for signals coming in or sending out messages and replying to the ones that you received.
After a while, you could - and I could type because of my course in high school - you could receive your message and type it as well. Those are things that you could do. Then the telegraphic, then the buzz, there’s a buzz, this is a key, that’s a key, then there was one called a buzz, which some of us, you didn’t have to learn it but towards the end, we got some of them and they were side movements rather than straight up and down. And they’re the ones that you would see in a telegraphic office years ago at the railway station. They were sending messages out. And those were the keys that they would use, the side by side. Whereas these would be used on boats, ships and things.
Quite a few of women, wireless operators after the war, found jobs on ships, freighters, European ones particularly, because they were still using the Morse Code onboard their ships for, they were used I think mostly for emergency. When there were pilots that lost, they all had basic training for this, they had to know enough so that if they were in a situation, they could set up their radio and send a wireless message. That was the wireless.
The word Bennett, you would say, B, and E and N and N and E, T, T. Well, then you could do it, (making noises), you know, you’d bring it all together and so you hear that rhythm and you know exactly what the word is and that’s what happens with the brain. It’s amazing. You’d hear the sound and you’d know it was the word rather than each letter. Yeah.