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Wireless Operator Training

Heroes Remember

Wireless Operator Training

We took tests each day, and we were marked on them. And then, as the majority of the class began to get what the instructor was sending, he’d up the speed and that way he would eventually arrive at the desired speed, but he was ... if I remember correctly, he was at 40 words a minute when he gave us our final test. And my problem was, I just couldn’t get the code. And the instructor told me not to worry. He wasn’t worried about me, he said it was the other guys, ‘cause once I got it, it would be there for life, and I still remember it. To transmit was to pound the key as it were, was something that they kind of left up to the individual. There’s the key - you send it the best way you can. It was kind of disconcerting because you’re sitting there looking at the key. Alright dot, dash, dot, dash, yeah, but you can’t go on like that. So you adopted your own way. Some guys, they’d just use the fingers, they’d go like that for the dots, and then use the thumb for the dash. The instructor sat up at the front and he was, he had a, I guess you’d call it a console, where you could hook into … any one of the desks could send him a message if, and ask him for a repeat. And then in the meantime, we … we’re learning as well how the navy messages were put together. It wasn’t all … you just didn’t pick up a phone and say, “Hey butthead! I got a message for you.” You had to follow a certain procedure and all the messages were coded in with a priority. They had a heading which was, I think, two letter groups, and each group meant something. Either it was for North Atlantic Command, or what have you. The letters were shorter, numbers were longer like four, four five one would be, di di di di da di di di di dat da da da da da, where in that space that time, you might get di da dot da dit dit di di da dit da da dit dit dit dit dit dat. They’d just fire ‘em at ya, left and right. So we preferred the numbers, and once you got used to them, you could copy a group behind, that way it just flowed out. So when anybody sent plain language, you …I was at a total loss at what this foreign language was they were sending.

Mr. Irwin describes, in detail, training to be a wireless operator.

Robert Irwin

Mr. Irwin was born in Toronto, Ontario on April 9, 1921. He lost his father in a car accident while a boy. Because his mother had to work, he and his brother were taken under the wing of the local YMCA, where they both became excellent competitive swimmers. Once old enough, Mr. Irwin worked on the lake boats on Lake Superior. Shortly before enlisting, he also worked for General Electric, where he was promised a job upon his return from active service. Mr. Irwin trained as a wireless operator and, after doing shore duty in the Halifax communications centre, joined the frigate HMCS Prince Rupert, which was assigned to convoy duty. Mr. Irwin spent his entire time at sea aboard this vessel. Notable events during his duty include a possible sub kill off Ireland and the rescue of survivors from a torpedoed British warship in the same action. After leaving the service, General Electric made good on its promise, and Mr. Irwin pursued a 40 year career with them. He now resides in London, Ontario.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Robert Irwin
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
North Atlantic Ocean
North Atlantic
HMCS Prince Rupert
Wireless Operator

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