VAI was situated on Westbrook Crescent and the station was a smallish two
storey house set on a huge piece of land with an imposing antenna array. The
OIC, Andy Gray, lived in a separate house nearby. On the first floor of the
station was Mr. Gray’s office, a small frequency monitoring room (if memory
serves me correctly) and the larger marine room, with I believe, two
operating positions. Upstairs, at the top of the landing, was the intercept
shift supervisor’s desk. To one side of the landing, facing north, was the
recording room with at least four or five monitoring positions. Across the
landing, in a smaller room, were three transcribing positions.
We few new recruits polished our Kana in the Marine Room. In fact classes
weren't held at all on Kana out West - certainly not to my knowledge. We
were given the code and told to learn it...on our own. Which we had to do
pretty quickly. If memory serves me correctly (?) we were given a small
bonus if we could get our copying speed up to 20 characters per min.
When judged efficient we were posted to shifts upstairs.
I don’t recall the surname of my initial shift supervisor, but I think
his first name was Vern. Then there was a change and Sammy Gold became
supervisor. I also do not recall the names of all the fellows monitoring and
recording (there were never more than four or five at any time on my shift).
Some I do remember were Ron Thomas ( he later went to VAE and eventually
became a Radio Inspector ), George Scroxton, Tommy Mayne (formerly with the
Merchant Navy) and a fellow who had flown with Ferry Command.. Regrettably I
have forgotten the few others.
Only high speed stations were monitored - Japanese and a couple of Vichy
French. I am not sure of the numbers but I believe they were FFZ2 and FFZ3 -
I do recall that we always referred to them as Fuzzy 2 and Fuzzy 3 ! Once a
station stopped idling and began transmitting the OM ops would record the
transmissions on wax cylinders and as each cylinder was filled up a slip of
paper with time, date and station call sign was tucked in the tube and
placed on the supervisor’s desk.
As for any photos taken at Point Grey - I don't recall anyone taking
pictures while I was there. Whether it was forbidden I'm not sure. At one
time I did have an exterior shot of the station building but it seems to
have been lost over the years.
Thank you for the photos of VAI...so much better than the one I
had...(and yes I did know of Mr. Bowerman).
Believe me, that brought back memories - of one particular graveyard
shift night when absolutely no signals at all were coming in. Those who
weren't snoozing were looking for some mischief to get into. Along with
another op (Ron Thomas) we climbed the fence that surrounded the station
property, made our way along a path through the woods...and into the stadium
where we jogged around the track in the dark. Then back and over the fence
again...only this time I caught my skirt and ripped a seam open! Thank
goodness for safety pins.
But I digress..
All transcribing of the wax cylinders was done by YL operators. (The
other two on my shift were Janet Bird and Florence Quilty) Typed transcripts
were placed on the supervisor’s desk where they were collated, ready to be
picked up by the Army motorcycle dispatch rider who came every afternoon. I
believe these dispatches were then taken to the RCAF station at Sea Island
and flown to Washington, D.C. We never knew of course, the contents of the
intercepts and had no knowledge of what we were copying - only that our work
was important. So it was very satisfying once when Mr. Gray notified us all
that a commendation had been received from Washington congratulating the
station on the quantity and quality of the intercepts!
One Japanese station was copied direct by the girls on every afternoon
shift- this was from the Domei News Agency in Tokyo. This was in English of
course and taken down on our typewriters at a good speed. At any one time
actually only one girl was responsible to copy but because conditions were
not always favourable the three on my shift all copied to help with any
fills. The broadcasts contained names of prisoners of war and any other news
of battles, Allied planes and ships lost (propaganda?) that the Japanese
felt it necessary to pass on.
As for copying Kana, it wasn’t until decades later that I learned there
were special typewriters for this task but I’m just as well pleased we only
had a typical mill. It was enough to master the Japanese code without having
to find ones way around a different keyboard as well.
the messages had been transcribed the wax cylinders were shaved in a special
little machine to be used, and used, again.
After VE Day the women operators at the station were notified that they
were no longer under contract to the DOT and they could leave if they wished
(!). No one did to my knowledge. But once VJ Day was a fact all female
operators were released and the men reassigned to various positions
throughout the province…or elsewhere.
Fortunately for a few of the girls (myself included ) we were hired by
DND to replace personnel being discharged at their special wireless station
(SWS #3) outside of Victoria on Vancouver island. The station remained at
this QTH until about the late ‘40s when it was moved to the former RCAF
station at Boundary Bay near Ladner, B.C. It is more than 60 years since I
worked for the Signal Corps, and no doubt the work done there has long since
been declassified, but I do not know that officially so I will not elaborate
on what we did. No doubt you know of it anyway.
I left the DND when I had an opportunity to go to sea and in early ‘47 I
flew to San Francisco to sign aboard the Norwegian M/V Siranger as
Radio Officer, ship’s Purser and Captain’s secretary. I served at sea four
Operations room (Olive's photo)
Three other of the intercept YL operators who also followed a similar
career path were Elizabeth (King) Anderson, Norma (Gomez) York and Lylie
(Smith) Palmer. The first two were at Pt. Grey and Lylie at Lulu Island. She
was the only one who didn’t serve with the DND. Lylie received her radio
training in Winnipeg and was first employed for a year at Moose Factory by
the Hudson’s Bay Fur Trade before going to Lulu Island.
In perusing Ernie Brown’s website I came across a name I recognized - Jim
Taylor, who worked at the Lulu Island station in ‘44 and ‘45. There couldn’t
have been two Jim Taylors there so it had to be one and the same person..
Jim, and some of his shift mates, were the only operators at the island
station that I knew. They worked the same shift schedule as my shift at VAI,
and I don’t really know how it started, but a couple of times in the winter
of ‘44/’45, after coming off Graveyard, four from my shift got together with
Jim and his mates (Vic Zariski, Malcolm Knox, Scotty Hyde and Bill B.?). We
all traveled over to the North Shore and hiked for three hours up the
mountain where we stayed at a primitive old lodge on Hollyburn (no highways
up or gondola lifts in those days). We had to pack our own food as well
(rationing remember) and we girls bunked in a dorm under the eaves (warmed
by an old wood burning stove). The fellows were down on the main floor, no
heat so they said, and they told us they were sleeping on pine boughs
covered with blankets! At least the girls had mattresses of
sorts. (I won’t mention the WC facilities! ). We all rented skis and had the
mountain side to ourselves for two great days. Then came another hike down
to ‘civilization’ in time for the afternoon shift. It was wonderful to be
young wasn’t it!
But I digress… Jim Taylor was posted to Williams Lake up in central B.C.
after war’s end and I believe he then returned to the east.
Regarding the list of names on the roll-call, four I definitely know and
a couple seem vaguely familiar...but the remainder nothing.
Andy Gray of course...he was OIC at the station.
Agnes (Strachan) Lake is now a SK. She was at Radio School the same time
as myself and we wrote our exams at the same time.
Ina Waller was the first YL ( young lady ) to earn her radio license in
western Canada and she worked in the Marine Room at VAI. She was one of the
girls who went with DND at Victoria. In late '46 Ina married Vic Zariski who
had worked at Lulu Island. I believe at war's end Vic was posted to a
station up the B.C. coast somewhere.
Elizabeth (King) Anderson - she followed the same path as myself. VAI,
then DND then to sea in early '47.
I'm afraid my Point Grey memories are in no way exciting. Both Elizabeth
Anderson and I are ( even collectively ) having trouble recalling names etc.
at VAI. It was a little better when we went to #3SWS - at least we have a
few exterior photo shots of the station and personnel. And it was at that
time I first began writing lengthy and detailed letters home...which my
parents saved. It was the massive file of such letters, a daily diary and
rough radio logs which enabled me to write the book about my time at sea so
many years later.
had asked for me to include in my chronicle the 'before' and 'after' ... but
when you read my book you will learn a little of the 'before' and a lot of
the 'after' .
I think I must have strayed far from the information you asked for but
thinking about those far away years awakened a lot of memories.
I applaud your plan to put together something about the monitoring
service in Canada, but I also appreciate how difficult a task it might be.
Our ranks have thinned considerably.
I'm pleased to have been able to make this small contribution...