Veteran Stories:
Charles William Usher

Army

  • The Memory Project, Historica Canada
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When I arrived on the, well, according to my documents, I was taken on strength about the 20th or 21st of April.  My second son was born on the 23rd of April.  So I didn’t see him until he was about 13 months old.  So...  Which was kind of hard to take but, again, at that time, as in the war [Second World War], some of them were away for five, five and a half years, so we bit the bullet and we were there for 13 months, so be it.  That was our job to do.

My operational role was, I was crypto-custodian at 25 Canadian Infantry Brigade Signal Troop, as they called it.  And I was responsible for the crypto portion, or, I was a cryptographer* for the enciphering and deciphering of all classified correspondence that either was coming into Brigade Headquarters or other formations, or going out of Brigade Headquarters to Canada or other locations.

We had two vehicles.  One was the radio vehicle and where our crypto stuff came in and they would bring it over to us and, of course, we did the deciphering or enciphering, whichever.  We worked with – and they’re now equipment that’s unclassified – we were using Typex machines** at that time, which were adopted to run off great big, I think they’re about a 30 pound battery, which we had two of them, under the truck, which we had to kind of charge daily, and we’re working with, I believe they call the rheostat*** that, to ensure that we had enough power to run the machines and every so often it would slow down.  We’d have to kind of crank up the rheostat to get enough power, or go out and try to recharge the batteries.  So it was kind of an interesting, not complex, but very interesting work in that we worked out of the back of a two and a half tonne truck with a shell. Not the trucks that they have today, there was a shell on the back that had a door and no windows.

Well, one factor, I suppose, which was kind of a stupid thing on my part.  Like it was about September 1953.  Again, working as a cryptographer, all our classified waste had to be burnt.  That was, and had to, couldn’t keep much stuff around especially when we’re north of the Imjin [River] because if we had to move fast, we had to get rid of all the loose stuff we had.

So anyway, we had a 45 gallon drum which was used for burning our classified waste and I put all my tapes and that in there, and nothing happened, so I, and of course, we’d use to put a wee bit of gas at the bottom and throw a match and get something burning first, and then we’d throw the paper in.  Nothing happened, so I decided to light another match and walk up to it, and that was most, probably the most stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life and I’ve never done it since.  I wound up flat on my back as it kind of exploded and caused me a few days in the hospital, and I didn’t have to shave for a couple of weeks, or a week at least.

I could probably make a comment at one silly little thing that the army had at that time or I should say, the forces.  We had the service books, which I think I still have mine kicking around the house here somewhere.  And one of the pages, it had your trade.  And in our book, that trade page was torn out as was, I’m told, and I don’t have a confirmation of this, but I’m told for any one that was in the [Canadian] Intelligent Corps, that page was tore out as well.  So that if we were taken prisoner and asked what trade we were, it was quite obvious.  We were either crypto or intelligence, which was, we thought was a rather silly thing that was going on at that time.  But, of course, we’re talking late 1940s, early 1950s.

 

*Cryptographers encrypted and decrypted communications in order to protect military information from the enemy

**The Typex machine was a classified cipher tool that was so large and heavy, it required a truck to transport and power it

***A rheostat, often constructed of coiled wire, is used to vary resistance in an electric circuit

The Imjin River flows from north to south through North and South Korea, crossing what is now the demilitarized zone

 

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