"If the aircraft could not be identified, there was an interceptor squadron that would go up to intercept the aircraft. And they were just given so much time to identify an aircraft, because they didn’t know whether it was friendly or foe."
My full name’s Ruth Pauline Michener and I was born in Windsor, Ontario, in 1923. I grew up in Windsor, had part of my education in Toronto and then went back to Windsor again, where I joined the air force. I had read about this clerk ops [clerk operations] in the newspaper, girls plotting the aircraft and that appealed to me. And one night a girlfriend of mine phoned me up and she said, Ruth, how would you like to join the air force. I had been thinking about it but I never would have joined on my own. So I said, sure. And that was in February of 1943.
This is what I wanted. I wouldn’t have joined the service if I couldn’t have gotten clerk ops. And I was examined and tested and by September the 3rd, my girlfriend and I, we both, she had gone into wireless and I had clerk ops. We left Windsor and went to Ottawa.
We charted aircraft flying. There was radar stations. I was in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. In Nova Scotia, all around the coast, at different areas, there were radar stations. And the radar operators were always men and they controlled those radar stations 24 hours a day and there were blips on them. And through those blips, they could detect aircraft in the sky and sometimes submarines and surface vessels. And when they would get a blip, they would repeat it to us. We had a grid of Nova Scotia all marked out in squares. He would say, Able Baker 4269 and through what we knew, place a tab on the squares. And he’d keep telling us these numbers. And as it would form a course and you could tell what course the aircraft was taking, then above us were our officers. They were called the ML[O] officers, Movement Liaison [Officers], and then they had all the flight plans up there and could identify the aircraft. If the aircraft could not be identified, there was an interceptor squadron that would go up to intercept the aircraft. And they were just given so much time to identify an aircraft, because they didn’t know whether it was friendly or foe.
And that’s what we did; we worked 24 hours a day also. And it was very secret. It was not something that you talked about.
I was stationed in Halifax at Eastern Air Command. Our barracks were right in the city; it was an all-women’s barracks. We worked 24 hours a day, we worked eight hours a day and we worked shift work. And there were different groups. I was in ‘C’ group and we would work eight hours, day shift for a week and then eight hours afternoon shift for a week and eight hours we used to call it the graveyard shift for a week. And then it would rotate that way again. And I was with the same bunch of girls all the time. And they were great.
After each week, we would get a 48-hour pass and after the graveyard shift, it would become a 72-hour pass. And in those times off, we would hitchhike all through Nova Scotia. In that day, it was very easy to hitchhike. They would pick up military girls very quickly and we would hitchhike in groups. And we saw Annapolis and we saw all the parts of Nova Scotia, which was great. We had great times with the girls because we had to make our own fun. And I know at one point when I was on, we called it the old maid shift because we didn’t go on to work until 4:00 in the afternoon, I did learn to type. I went to the Y [YWCA, Young Women’s Christian Association] and took typing lessons; things like that were available to military personnel. And that’s where I learned to type.
One time in Newfie [Newfoundland], I went aboard a German submarine that had been captured. The girl in charge of our shift, her boyfriend was in the navy and he was stationed in Newfie. And it was through him that we were allowed to go onboard this German submarine. And I never felt so enclosed in my life as… I thought then, boy, I would never want to have to work on a submarine. It was just so close and confined. But that was a real thrill to do that.
Well, it was just narrow aisles. We couldn’t go into many of the rooms like what they had. But there wasn’t a bit of wasted space there, everything was, it was very close.