I Remember (part 1)

Salt Encrusted Windscreen

You know, it’s hard to write interesting and current stories when you are closer to 90 than to 80. My wife Beverley and I are, as we like to say, “managing” when asked “how are you?”

My name is Bob Barr and I spent 31 years at RRC, mostly associated with and for a while actually a part of the electrical technology groups.

Argus Anti-submarine Aircraft

We old people like to think back on our lives, about our children, grand- and even great-grandchildren. We do indeed live in the past much of the time, for therein lie our stories. Plural, for we all have many. Here is but one, not high adventure, just a small description of life in the air force in  the 50’s and 60’s.

Aside from detecting Russian missile submarines in the North Atlantic  during the Cold War, our crews spent many long and boring hours counting and  classifying ships. 

It was often a bumpy and vomity mission of 16 to 20 hours duration at low  altitude. So we mostly flew our Argus sub-chasers at 500 ft, sometimes even  lower. It’s difficult to find a submarine 300 ft underwater and moving at 20 knots when you are at10,000 ft moving at 300 miles per hour. No, low and slow is better, and the lower the rougher the ride. 

Winter flying suits, a
must in winter

We had a crew of 15: three pilots, three navigators,two flight engineers and seven RO’s (radio officers), I was one of those. Our job was to operate and repair all the electronic gear. In addition, we were regularly scheduled for the “Tactical trainers”, a mock Argus aircraft controlled by computer from the outside for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) tactics. It was made by CAE (Canadian Aviation Electronics). Don Shand was one of the installers, I think. I believe John Bell had also been with CAE at one time. Both were with our RRC’s Electrical/Electronic Technology department.

We were based in Greenwood NS in the Annapolis Valley, a lovely forested  valley if ever there was one. Not too far from Newfoundland which was often an  alternate landing destination for bad weather conditions in Greenwood after a  long patrol. Geologically, this entire coastal area was rich in iron which often  played havoc with voice transmissions to and from base. Sometimes only morse  code could cut through the static. 

On rotation, ROs were given the joe-job of being base Operations Officer  for 24 hours – someone had to be on watch in case of emergencies. This one night a SUBLANT (Submarine Atlantic) exercise was taking place with two of our Argus participating with British and US submarines pretending to be Russian. On the surface were Canadian and US destroyer escorts, ships specially outfitted as ASW sub-chasers. In the ops room on base, a few of us were prepared to be bored silly all night as we were not involved. The exercise was controlled and monitored by Navy installations in  Shearwater, near Halifax. 

But being the only RO present (and in charge as it happened), my  subconscious heard a tiny bip-bip-bip blah-blah-blah, bip-bip-bip. OMG, a  distress call. Now normally when flying and on the morse key, we write it all  down one letter at a time. In a bouncing aircraft over rough seas, it is very hard  to operate a morse key. Heck, you had to hang on to it just so you are not  thrown out of your seat. 

With buckets of adrenaline flowing, this time I managed to decipher the  entire message in my head without a pencil. One of our Argus had it’s  windscreen so encrusted with salt spray, the pilots could no longer see where  they were flying. It was also night time over a dark ocean. Well we reported the  problem to authorities and the one Argus managed to fly partner with the other  back to base. The pilots flew by watching the other aircraft out their open side  window. Over land they managed to use their window washer fluid sufficiently  to clear most of the salt and land safely. 

A ballet of streamers, one from each finger

Not always was the weather so brutal over the North Atlantic. There were  beautiful sunny days too. One of the RO duties was to sit in the plexiglass nose  section, transparent all around your seat and over your head.  Flying through puffy white clouds that fell away under your  feet to reveal whales in the water all in a line. Beautiful. Or dreamily play conductor in a silent symphony with two hands drawing out ten pink streamers of St. Elmo’s fire, static electricity streamers up to 18 inches long.

So these are a few of the memories that I would not trade. Yes, there  were others that were more dangerous and also some that had nothing to do with patrols. But maybe another time.

This is Bob’s second contribution to our Celebration of (Retired) Life series, with his first, The Tunnel, going back to February of 2021. Nice to have you back, Bob.

We welcome any uplifting, funny, inspiring, or otherwise simply interesting story, profile, or bit of whimsy. To share with our other retirees, simply email your 500- to 1,000-word piece to HG-Editor@RRC.CA (and include lots of photos).

Categories: All, HG Life

3 replies »

  1. I am so pleased to read your comments, Guy and Leslie, regarding your parents’ connections to the air force during the War and the Cold War. When your fathers were in Dauphin and The Pas, the BCATP (British Commonwealth Air Training Plan) was still in fading existance. The safest place to train pilots was on the Prairies with fewer hills and more flat landing places. So of course aircraft mechanics were also needed there. Amazing how many Air Force brides either cane from, or settled in places like Dauphin, The Pas, Portage, MacDonald, Brandon etc.

    I wish my Dad, who was stationed in Toronto during the War told me more. But he was connected to the super-secret base near Ajax Ontario called Camp X , so secret it was not given a name. It was the fore-runner of the CIA which was so involved with Sir William Stephenson ( of Winnipeg) known as the spymaster, and later the books and movies known as James Bond.

  2. I loved reading your story Bob. My Dad was in the RCAF as an airplane mechanic. He was stationed in Dauphin, Manitoba and had a stint in London England. I wish he was still alive so I could ask him more questions. He rarely talked about the war.

    • My dad was in the RCAF too as an airframe technician. While in The Pas in 1949-50 with a crew surveying the north, he met my future mom. From there he was stationed in Basingstoke, England, and she sailed on the Queen Mary to meet him there. They were married in Basingstoke on May 1, 1950, and honeymooned in Paris. She was then permitted to fly home on an RCAF transport as a war bride. Thanks Bob; a good read that stoked a lot of memories.

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