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Preparing to go to sea

Heroes Remember

Preparing to go to sea

The naval barracks at that time was down on Wallace House on Rideau Street. And we went down there and we were issued our kit, etc. and then I think we were sent home for the weekend. And on Sunday night we were drove by train to Toronto for our basic training. And I look back on that with a chuckle because, you know, most of the kids that enlisted at the time had never marched before. And we had an old RCN leading seaman in charge of us and he had to march us right down Rideau Street from Wallace House at one end down to Union Station and it must have been a sight to behold. But anyhow, he bravely carried on and got us there. We left that night for Toronto, arrived and didn’t get much sleep, first time on a train, you know. Yeah, first time out of the city, first time away from home. We talked all night. We arrived in Toronto in the morning, I guess a truck or a bus or something took us up to the exhibition grounds to HMCS York which was the old automotive building and there we started our basic training. Learning how to march, how to handle rifles, how to, you know, do all these things. Go for a run at 6 o’clock in the morning along the Lake Shore Drive, bitterly cold, empty stomachs, lots of sickness en route. Living in a barracks, the food certainly was, it was adequate I guess, but it was not good. And as I look back now I realize that the cooks were also in training. We’d be out in fatigue and you’d take in these big quarters of beef ,oh you’d just drool, you know, in anticipation and that night when you’d go up for dinner you’d get a piece of boot leather, you know. So that was it and then from there we went into the morse pool to learn to copy the morse code and there was an old leading telegraphist there and he’d served in the Royal Navy in the First War, he was a great guy. And he was in charge of us - teaching us and we’d start this dit dot and everybody would try to write it down, A, you know. And so what he finally did, I presume he’s done this with all his classes but anyhow he did it with ours, he brought in a dirty book and he started to tap out the story you see, and all the guys wrote like mad. That’s how we learned the morse code. Then we went off from there to the signal school in St. Hyacinth’s for advance training I guess you’d call it, and eventually became telegraphists. Then to Halifax for a few days, then to Montreal to get a ship, and then we went to sea.

Mr. Bowen describes his basic training and becoming a telegraphist. He describes a ‘novel’ approach to being taught Morse Code.

Gerald Bowen

Gerald R. Bowen was born in Ottawa, Ontario on October 13, 1925. He attended Lisgard High School, and was a paperboy. His family had prior military experience. His uncle had served in the Air Force and his father in the Army, later becoming an historian with the Department of National Defence. Mr. Bowen enlisted in the Navy where he became a telegrapher, serving aboard a Royal Canadian Navy frigate on convoy duty in the North Atlantic until the war ended. He left the service for a brief time and re-enlisted in the Canadian Army, where he became a paratrooper and a specialist in sabotage. He later served as a peacekeeper in Cyprus. Mr. Bowen’s extensive experience in the Canadian military offers us some very informative and perceptive anecdotes.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Gerald Bowen
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Ordinary Seaman
Wireless Operator

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