And these pilots would take these planes out and go out over and spend hours and hours over the Atlantic Ocean and it was just like they were at war whether it was on this side of the ocean or not. Because there was an awful lot of shipping that was destroyed by German submarines [...]
Mr. Alex Rolls enlisted in January 1943 in the Royal Canadian Air Force and served most of his wartime service in Gander [Newfoundland]. He was trained as a radar mechanic and posted to No. 10 (Bomber Reconnaissance) Squadron where he served until the beginning of 1945.
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After our basic training at Toronto where we became airmen instead of civilians, we were posted to radar school or radio school as it was known, number 5 at Clinton, Ontario [No. 5 Radio School]. It’s approximately 10 miles this side of Goderich which is on Lake Huron. And we were there six, eight months and learned how to repair radar equipment. They had several different kinds that we learned how to play. There was AASV which is Air Sea Navigation, there was DOG and GEORGE. They had all strange names and letters to them, the different kinds of radar. There was CHL which was Chain Home Low and I remember one thing – in case anybody ever asked me if I was a radar mechanic and had something to do with it, I would tell them, “Look up the word Selsun Driver.” The Selsun Driver was the thing that converted the radar returning – as I call them – blips from the radar parabolas – it converted them into mechanical or it converted the mechanical position of the parabola which was a dish that is still is used as radar equipment. But the Selsun Driver was the change from electronic to mechanical, that’s all I can remember and that’s from 1943 I can remember that.
And subsequently from Clinton we were posted to Gander, Newfoundland which was an overseas posting because at the time Newfoundland was a colony of Britain. It was not a province of Canada, had nothing really to do with Canada other than it was part of what was known where I was stationed – Gander was part of Eastern Air Command. There were three stations, Number 10 Squadron, BR, Bombing and Reconnaissance was located at Gander. There was another one Number 11 – was at Sydney, Nova Scotia and Number 12 was at Goose Bay in Labrador. So these covered the coverage of the Atlantic Ocean for enemy submarines which were always out there torpedoing shipping going from Halifax and New York and Boston and places like that. And the squadrons of bombers would go out with depth charges and try and rid these submarines.
[Serving in Gander with No. 10 (Bomber Reconnaissance) Squadron]
So anyway the ones that – when I got to Gander, the Squadron was a fleet of Catalina Flying Boats or Cansos – they had two names [the Consolidated PBY Catalina, an American flying boat and multi-role aircraft]. One was a civilian name and one was a military name I think. And these flying boats were two engine flying boats. They were huge and they were a target for any German sub that came up. They were not satisfactory for bombing and reconnaissance. So the RCAF brought in Liberators, American B24 Liberator Bombers [the Consolidated B-24 Liberator, an American four-engines heavy bomber], loaded with high explosive depth charges known as Torpex [Torpedo Explosive] – I can still remember that name – and they were painted red. And these pilots would take these planes out and go out over and spend hours and hours over the Atlantic Ocean and it was just like they were at war whether it was on this side of the ocean or not. Because there was an awful lot of shipping that was destroyed by German submarines, especially in 1944 as I understand it anyway.
So I was – we were part of that. And one memory I have is we were paraded out onto the runway, all the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Americans too. There were a lot of Americans on the station at Gander. And we heard this big sound coming, and we looked up and here was 20 Lancaster Bombers [the Avro Lancaster, a British four-engines heavy bomber], all landed one after the other on the runway. And one of them stopped in front of where I was standing and lo and behold the first chap off was a fellow that joined the Bell Telephone with me, the same day we joined the Bell. And I see his obituary in the Bell retirees’ magazine. He passed away just last month. His name was Ken Daily. So anyway, that was one of the memories I had.
[The end of the war]
And from when the war started to cool down in 1945, some of us were shipped to Dorval, Quebec to what was known as the stormy weather station. It was a weather control station and it had a huge great big snowplow type – it was like a parabola that would move back and forth and they checked the weather. So I think they still use the similar devices for weather today. So that was pretty well the end of my career in the military.