LORAN STATION BACCARO
43 27 33.38 N 65 28 10.95 W
Baccaro Station, Nova Scotia
As rate 1L1 (slave) from September 1942 to October 1942
The following article was submitted by Jerry Proc who was able to develop a story about the WRENS who manned the Baccaro (Nova Scotia) Loran-A station towards the end of WWII. http://jproc.ca/hyperbolic/loran_a.html
Samplings of activities at the East Baccaro LORAN station are extracted from an undated pamphlet found among papers from the estate of the late Mary Gamble (nee Black), former WRCNS. These reminiscences are the work of all the women who served as members of the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) at the East Baccaro Naval Station, Nova Scotia, 1944-1946.
In September 1944, some 20 WRENS had travelled from the training facility at St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, through Halifax, down the south shore to overnight at HMCS Shelburne (NS). The remainder of the journey was in the back of a truck headed south on the highway to Barrington and Barrington Passage, then down the barren peninsula jutting out into the cold Atlantic, past Baccaro, and one more mile to East Baccaro. There, on the windswept peninsula tip, with spray blowing in from the sea, the WRENS found a new place of work - a Quonset hut, and a frame building that was to be their home until March 1946.
The arrival of the WRENS meant that 28 RCNVR male ratings could be redeployed to other postings. When this very young, group of women arrived to relieve them, the sailors were jubilant - hardly believing their good fortune. The WRENS were soon to understand why this posting was not up to anyone's expectations.
Soon dubbed "the sailors who never hit port", the WRENS were organized into four watches. Initially, a watch consisted of three people but a later addition made it four to a watch. They worked in shifts from midnight to 4, 4 to 8, 8 to 12, 12 to 4, the two dog watches 4 to 6, 6 to 8, and then again 8 until midnight. Off shift, the WRENS performed necessary chores such as cleaning up the galley, meal preparation, scrubbing out the focs'le and the heads. Every nine days they get three days off. Where to go? Barrington, the base at Shelburne, or perhaps Yarmouth, but they never saw the grand time had by sailors coming back into harbour.
The reason for the deployment of WRENS to Baccaro was simple. The main task was to ensure that the slave Loran 'A' station at Baccaro and the two master stations (one at Demming Island NS and the other at Sugar Nantucket in the US) were always in synchronization. When the signals synchronized precisely, LORAN receivers on ships and planes could follow the lattice charts and navigate to any predetermined destination. During wartime, Loran A was top secret so personnel were instructed not to talk about it outside their work environment.
The Baccaro Loran chain first gave provided operational service for the North Atlantic in 1943. LORAN receiver-indicators were hurriedly installed on key escort craft doing convoy duty, on Canadian corvettes, and on troopships that travelled without escort. The job of the WREN operators at Baccaro was to keep signals synchronized twenty four hours a day. Never for an instant could the signals to get out-of-sync otherwise a ship or aircraft could not obtain a fix from this Loran chain.
Some of the WRENS deployed to Baccaro, had worked out of a signal station connected with Naval
Headquarters near Ottawa. They recorded readings from two sets of transmitting stations on the Atlantic coast. These readings were used to form logbooks that were to accompany the receiving sets aboard ships. Ships could then maintain accurate navigation yet maintaining radio silence. From this original group, some went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) for further training, while others were sent to HMCS St. Hyacinthe to be introduced to transmitting with the purpose of joining the first group going to East Baccaro and Demming Island. It was highly responsible job for young women in their late teens and it required total accuracy since the lives of many people were in their hands. LORAN was a vital link in winning the Battle of the Atlantic.
Life at East Baccaro
What were the difficulties at Baccaro ? To name a few: Night work, shifts, isolation; a highly responsible job with minimum supervision and training. Initially, three very different individuals were thrown together. They bunked together, ate together, worked together, were on shift together, went on the bus together, and somehow they managed to get along. There were no stewards to carry out maintenance work. In spite of highly different backgrounds, they did get along and even managed to have fun.
The person who held it all together at East Baccaro was the Officer-inCharge, Lieutenant Mary Armstrong. She was a highly responsible individual who had a warm and human side along with a strong personality. Mary could quickly decide how to proceed then make it happen. She was an anchor that all the WRENS could relate to. When one of the WRENS planned to go to Halifax to get married, Mary just said "no way" so the wedding was held in the focs'le. Mary planned it all. Some of the local people came bearing gifts and one gave a salute with his muzzle loading gun - not to be forgotten. Another WREN planning a wedding, found Mary with needle and thread helping with some of the civilian clothing. One of the women had a terrible cold, so Mary brought a very large rum and butter tot to her bunk. She said the tot knocked her out cold, but it cured her.
A terrible snowstorm occured on 8 February, 1945. Twelve WRENS were returning from Barrington in a van.
They became snowed-in on the road and had to take refuge on the cold floor of a fisherman's home. It was Mary who was very worried about the LORAN station but when she couldn't get action from Shelburne, she got Danny from Baccaro and some of the local folk to pick up the group in a truck. She didn't forget to thank and bestow gifts to the folks who assisted the WRENS on that bitter night. As a result of the delay in getting back to East Baccaro , one shift had had to man those oscilloscopes for some eighteen hours - an very difficult task.
One night became known as the "Night of the Incident at East Baccaro". There were German U-boats prowling offshore. Mary was unflappable and kept up the group's spirits despite the real risks. On VE Day, when she found two WRENS playing catch with the dinner plates around the galley, she simply said: Get out of those bell bottoms, and into your dress uniforms and meet me at the van. Then, off they went to the base at Shelburne and watched a U-boat rise from the ocean. As the hatches opened, German submariners came out on deck. They were all teenagers and very thinly built.
After viewing this, one WREN waved her hand and smiled. The submariners looked startled, but they waved back. Of those personnel who witnessed this, it made them think about the foolishness and the waste of war. Wonder what those frightened sailors thought when they saw the WRENS wave?
Besides the monitoring the Loran-A equipment, a few WRENS had other duties. One was a motor technician who was in charge of the engines for the auxiliary power supply (motor alternator sets). There was a talented cook who produced incredible meals, organized the galley and had personnel assist with food preparation and clean up. A Sick Berth Attendant was present in case of serious illness. Two or three Radio Artificers were responsible for the technical maintenance of the Loran equipment.
There were so many acts of kindness from the local community and the fisherfolk who may have initially looked askance at these girls in bell bottoms. Every Friday night, a sixteen mm. movie arrived from Shelburne and folks from quite a distance crowded into the station's focs'le to watch the movie. Sometimes, at the front gate, WRENS would find sacks of small lobsters that hadn't made it to market that morning. They learned to empty the sacks, get the lobsters into boiling water, and enjoyed many a lobster feast. Fisherfolk took some of them fishing, while others in Barrington introduced the WRENS to hunting. At the store in Baccaro, the local shopkeeper kept an eye out for the WRENS and often acted like a big brother. It was he who organized a truck of locals to come and get the WRENS back to the station, when they had been snowbound on the road.
Despite the constant and grueling work shifts, the lack of rest, mighty little chance for recreation beyond games of cribbage, walks up the road through the grazing sheep to get mail, playing badminton and volleyball, one well organized scavenger hunt with all the clues written in verse, and trying to find some sun in that fog and dampness to sun themselves, the WRENS had held it all together and they had fun. They had lived through an experience that no one would ever forget.
In March 1946, the station was taken over by civilian employees and the WRENS were released from duty. . By that time, Loran-A was providing day and night navigational service to the North Atlantic shipping lanes.
Mary Adamson Owen organized a reunion of the WRENS who served at East Baccaro. It was held on May 3, 2003 in Thornhill Ontario. Of the original group of 24, only 13 were able to attend. With lots of faded photographs to look at, they were able to relive the better times as well as the tougher times.
Names in alphabetical order:
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