Veteran Stories:
Sandford Tuey

Air Force

  • Sandford Tuey on his first day at Cornwallis military base to begin training. 1976.

    Sandford Tuey
  • The morning ritual at Cornwallis military base: a crisp made bed and one's gun broken down and displayed for inspection.

    Sandford Tuey
  • Sandford Tuey and other graduates of a communications course.

    Sandford Tuey
  • Document showing Sandford Tuey's top secret clearance with the armed forces. He researched communications from other countries and monitored Russian reaction time to American tests.

    Sandford Tuey
  • Sandford Tuey at Alert in the Arctic.

    Sandford Tuey
  • Getting to the Canadian Forces stations in the Arctic was often a dangerous endeavour as evidenced by the downed Hercules aircraft.

    Sandford Tuey
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I'm Sandford Tuey. I was with Communication Research 291 in the Canadian Armed Forces.

I volunteered to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces from 1976 to 1979. I was straight out of high school, age seventeen, too young to join myself so I convinced my mother to sign me up, which she did.

I flew in a jet for the first time from Vancouver, BC to Canadian Forces base Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, where I went through very rigorous basic military training, harder than what was portrayed in Stanley Kubrick's movie Full Metal Jacket. My favourite course was 'Chemical, Biological and Nuclear Warfare' – an eye-opening subject for a teenager. To this day, it was one of the most stressful and physically demanding times of my life, but well worth the experience.

After graduating from basic training, I worked at Canadian Forces base Kingston to begin my trade – communications research. I learned general communications and how to operate many kinds of transmitters/receivers, typing, cryptography, to being able to copy Morse code to how to receive signals from telex and satellite. There were also courses like 'riot squad' and 'base defence', where dealing with anti-terrorism techniques and controlling rioting crowds was mandatory education. I was proud to graduate with a top-secret clearance level.

I was then stationed at Masset, Queen Charlotte Islands, in the British Columbia wonderful and beautiful group of the Haida Gwai'i Islands. Due to the top-secret nature of the work I did there, I am not liberty to discuss this other than to say that I continued to research communications for the benefit of Canada and NATO. If you visit the area today, you will still see the tall listening poles in a circle around the main building where I worked.

I then served six months – one hundred and eighty-three days and a wakie – at Canadian Forces station Alert, Northwest Territories, now Nunavut, at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island, four hundred miles south of the North Pole. So far north of the Arctic Circle that when you looked at a compass, magnetic north read southwest. When I arrived there it was pitch black twenty-four hours a day and deadly cold. In between whiteout blizzards, we would go outside to watch the aurora borealis swirling overhead, with its greenish blue and red ion trails. It was so quiet up there sometimes; you could even hear the northern lights crackle.

Researching communications from other countries during the Cold War was a dangerous time, and the servicemen like myself paid their dues during isolation duty received Special Forces medals. This is due to the fact that if the Cold War ever went hot, we could be one of the first bases to be attacked. Back in the '50s, '60s and '70s, there was always the chance that the Americans and the Russians would start World War III. I, however, always believed that the Cold War was World War III, based on the fact that hundreds of thousands of lives were lost, if not millions, in conflicts that took place all over the world since the end of World War II until the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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