"Our whole sole purpose there was to listen in on the wireless and listen in if we hear any ping, ping, ping coming from the submarines."
My name is Sidney Jakin. When I reached the age of 21, I said to my mother, “I’m afraid I’ll be conscripted into the army. I’m afraid I’d have to leave you in the store” because the government says that at 21, either you join up to the service or you get conscripted into whatever they decide to put you into. So I tell my mother, I don’t want to be in the navy because the fact is, I don’t like going to sea because I’m afraid I might get drowned by somebody shooting my ship. I didn’t want to go into the army because I keep thinking of the First World War and the First World War all they seemed to do, in my mind, at that time, was walk through a bunch of mud and get down in the shelters and protect themselves. That didn’t sound very convincing to me. So the officer that I joined up with, the RCAF in Halifax said, well, what would I like to do. And I told him plainly, I’d like to fly a plane. So he says, why would you like to fly a plane? I says because then I’m the good guy and the Germans are the bad guys, so naturally I’m a good guy, I shoot down the bad guys. I mean, that’s the way we played the games when we were kids. But the bad guys, I never even thought that bad guys could shoot back and maybe I wouldn’t be here today.
Anyways, I had to go to a school in Saint John, New Brunswick, because the officer’s telling me that the school for pilots was closed right now, it won’t be open until the fall. And he says, in the meantime, I suggest with your aptitude, that you would be very good at wireless, why don’t you go to Saint John, New Brunswick and take a wireless course there so you’ll have that at all times. And as soon as there’s an opening in for pilots or aircrew, I’ll switch you over. Well, young and stupid, I felt that he knew what he was talking about more than I knew what I was talking about and I said, “well, that sounds like a good idea.”
So I ended up going to Saint John, New Brunswick and there was a school at the YMCA for wireless school. We had an officer that was teaching us. And I was there. And from there, I want to Lachine, Quebec for my basic training. And from there, I was sent back to Debert, Nova Scotia. From there I was sent to Halifax, from Halifax, I went to Newfoundland, where I spent most of my time during the war.
My duties in Newfoundland were basically, we were on top of a mountain, 1,700 feet above sea level. We had to truck in all our equipment by truck and we had a jeep and we had a truck and we had, oh, what do you call those big crates that take the truck up with all the equipment in it. Anyways, up to the top of the mountain, 1,700 feet above sea level, just 17 miles from Port aux Basques, they built a station, a wireless station. And it was there that I spent the whole winter and part of the spring and we had our job as wireless mechanics to operate the equipment that we established there and we had to keep our ears and eyes open for any submarines off the coast of Newfoundland because the fact was that there was a lot of submarines waiting for those ships to come out of the Halifax harbour and Bedford basin and they were escorted out by corvettes. And when they came out of the Halifax harbour, the Germans were waiting for them.
And our whole sole purpose there was to listen in on the wireless and listen in if we hear any ping, ping, ping coming from the submarines or also any spouting of the, where they got their air hose on the submarine we saw and, immediately, we would have to notify St. John's, St. John’s, Newfoundland who in turn notified Halifax, who in turn notified Ottawa. And Ottawa gave them the okay to let the ships out and make sure the corvettes go out with them. And that’s what happened.
We were there for, what, 13 months I think it was and we went in the fall and we came out in the late spring. We were only supposed to go and set this whole station up and then we were brought out, another crew was supposed to go in. But apparently, this didn’t work out that way and we had to stay there over the winter. And that itself was an experience.
I was in Halifax when the war was over. And if you heard about what happened in Halifax? They decided that they would let all the service people out of the barracks into the streets, into the city of Halifax to celebrate. What happened is a Molson brewery decided they were closed and they were going to give all the employees a holiday. There was no place that you could get a beer. All the taverns were closed, everybody was celebrating the holiday and all of a sudden, all these servicemen came out in the streets, let’s go get a beer. They couldn’t find a beer anywheres.
Okay, that’s the you want to play the game, there was an argument between the mayor of Halifax and the head of the service department and the navy and the boys, apparently he says, we’re going to celebrate so they broke into the warehouse where all the beer was kept and they went on a rampage. And they went around smashing windows in the stores and they had the followers, girls would follow us and they, they stole stuff out of the stores and then they realized, this one guy said to the other fellow, he says, we can’t take this stuff back to the barracks, they’ll confiscate it from us and they’ll put us in jail. So they had all these girls following and they say to the girls, what do you want. “Oh, can you get me that table, can you get me that chair.” “Yeah, sure, I’ll get it for you.” And that was it and the people were walking, they went and got baby carriages and loaded up the baby carriages and then I happened to be there and I heard one woman say to the other one, the way people look at us, you’d think we stole it ourselves. (laughs) Yeah, it was an experience, boy.