The "Special" Wireless Stations
The birth of Canadian Signals Intelligence (SigInt) occured in September 1939, when #1 Special Wireless Station was established in a small building in the Rockcliffe area of Ottawa. #1SWS moved to Leitrim in the latter part of 1941 after the completion of construction of their new building. Now, it must be remembered, that in these times and with the infantancy of SigInt, activities were extremely secretive. This secretive attitude continued well into the 1990's. Personnel who were active in the collection of SigInt were absolutely forbidden to discuss the subject or what they were doing beyond the walls of the various Operations buildings in which they worked.
#1 Special Wireless Station (SWS) was a 2 story building surrounded by barbed wire. The top floor contained a hand speed (morse code) room and a high speed (machine generated morse) room combined with a compilation room. The lower floor contained the offices for the Commanding Officer and his Station Warrant Officer, a coffee room, tech shop and boiler room. The incinerator was located outside the building. The antenna farm consisted of 2 Rhombic antennae, a Cage antenna and a Screen antenna. Personnel who were involved in copying morse signals could not use a typewriter, the signals they were receiving being so weak, the noise of the typewriter was too much.
In December 1940, 1 Canadian Special Wireless Section, Type B, was formed to support Cdn SigInt units in Canada, Europe and Australia.
In 1944, Operations at Naval Radio Station Massett, in the Queen Charlotte Islands commenced their "secret duties". This can be read as meaning SigInt, with Japanese radio communications as the target.
In January 1945 #1 Canadian Special Wireless Group (RCCS) departed Victoria enroute Australia. Since a number of these 13 officers and 277 men of the Canadian SigInt unit had worked in a much different SigInt theatre in Europe, it was necessary for them to be brought up to speed for the Pacific theatre. To this end they worked with the Aussies for serveral months and on 13 April 1945 they began SigInt Ops at Darwin, against the Japanese. They continued their work until the end of the war, departing Australia on 5 Feb 1946, arriving back in Canada on 26 Feb 1946.
It should be noted here, that both Gen MacAuthur, area Supreme Commander and his Chief Signals Officer, MajGen Akin, preferred the product of the Australian Wireless Units over the much more lavishly equiped American Special Radio Intelligence Companies.
A couple more notes of interest -- Personnel engaged in SigInt at all stations were given little information about what they were doing. This was in keeping the the extremely "secretive" attitudes of that time. Also, these personnel were given top priority in such things as dental work, due to the fact that they were considered to be on "Active Duty". In fact, these people were forbidden to go within 400 miles of a firing line. This was emphasised in 1944 when parliament decreed, due to a lack of personnel overseas, that 10% of all units in Canada were to be sent to Europe. Some of the Leitrim operators volunteered and made it as far as Halifax before being found out. They were immediately returned to Ottawa.
Besides #1 Special Wireless at Leitrim, 2 other Special Wireless Stations were established. #2 SWS was located at Grande Prairie, Alberta and #3 SWS at Victoria B.C. Victoria also had a remote High Frequency Direction Finding site located in a farmers field in Nanaimo approximately 60 miles to the northwest. This was a 4 man operation, 1 for each shift and a spare.
Another station, #4SWS turned out to be the "Station that never was." It was to be built at Riske Creek in BC's Chilcotin. It began life in late March or early April 1944 but ended suddenly in July 1944, before any facilities could be constructed. Quite possibily the establishment of 1CSWG in Victoria BC contributed to the short history of 4SWS.
#2 SWS had its beginnings in 1939, as an important Northwest Territories and Yukon Radio System (NWT & Y) radio station project that barely got off the ground, before being shut down due to the outbreak of WW2. This radio telephone station was established at the old Newton farm, located just east of Grand Prairie. This property was purchased to serve as the transmitter site, as well as 2 acres of land adjacent to serve as the receiver site. Work on the installation of the transmitter and receiver was well on the way when the order to cease operations was received on 5 September 1939.
DND returned to the Newton farm in 1942 and established #2 Special Wireless Station in the farm house which was still in very good condition.
At War's end, personnel at the SWS's were given the choice of remaining in the Permanent Force or release. Those from Grande Prairie who remained in the Force were transferred to Victoria, as well as several civilian employees from "other duties" at Prince Rupert, B.C. In 1949, Victoria Wireless Station as it had become known, was deemed too crowded and moved to new digs at Ladner across the Strait of Georgia on the lower mainland.
Apparently the above statement regarding a choice of staying in or taking release is not entirely true. One of the CWAC's who was in Victoria has emailed me recently to set the record straight!! She is Pat O'Buck (nee Moyles) and she states:
'"At War's end, personnel at the SWS's were given the choice of remaining in the Permanent Force or release."
"SEXIST!! Members of the CWAC who were "personnel at the SWS's", and there were a lotta us, were not given a choice. At war's end married gals had the option to leave but some of us who were single had no choice. We were assigned to monitor Soviet and Chinese transmissions. THEN, we were demobilized -- I in June of 1946, and the last member of the CWAC (as I recall) was demobilized in September of 1946. No choice there! In other words, the CWAC was deactivated -- no more women in khaki, NADA! Pat"'