my travel orders, I reported to the Navy Liaison Office at MIT. After a brief
interview, I was given the choice of assignments as Technician-in-Charge to
install and operate top-secret gear in Greenland, Labrador, or Newfoundland. I
chose Labrador, having learned that the secret base, Advance Base Buck, would
become a Loran double-slave station
and therefore present the greatest technical challenge.
the best of my knowledge, new orders were never written, but I was told to
anticipate and provide for the needs of 12 men in isolation for a period of two
years. I received a book of approved requisition forms from the Boston Navy Yard
and a batch of purchase requisitions for buying supplies not available from the
Navy. A list of all food, needed to sustain 12 men for a period of two years in
the Arctic, detailed to the cups of water, came from Washington. Captain Tom
Hamilton, Supply Officer at the Boston Navy Yard was very cooperative and
suggested a list of gear he would take to the Arctic. It included special
clothing, skis, toboggans, snowshoes, Fox double-barrel shotguns, hunting
rifles, sport pistols, fly-fishing gear and other equipment a sportsman would
find useful. He encouraged me to use some of the purchase requisitions to buy
the items from Boston and New York stores.
began reporting for assignment as they were released from various training
classes. Radiomen 1st class Carl Newton and Leslie Mears took
responsibility for checking every item on our manifest to make sure it was
received. RM2c Bob Wirt, Walter Stewart, and John Nesmith saw to the safe
delivery of every item to the packaging area and then to a locked storage area.
Machinist Mate 1st class Girhard Howen, a Norwegian with 8 years of
Bering Sea experience, fretted about not having real
engines to work on, but he tried to get the tools and spare parts he might
need to keep the Wisconsin gasoline engines we had to accept for driving our AC
generators. Carlos Larsen, a Dane and private chef to the Chairman of Chase
National Bank, was recruited by the Coast Guard as Ship’s Cook 1st
class and assigned to my group. He proved his worth the first day.
interrupted my conversation with CAPT Hamilton: “Two t’ousand pounds of
vienna sausage! T’ree t’ousand pounds of beans! Twenty-five hunnert pounds
of chili con carne! I’m not going. Twelve men having to eat t’is food will
kill de cook!” He waved the papers before the CAPT and slapped them with his
left hand for emphasis as he spoke.
to get this “boot” out of the CAPT’s face, I said, “Cookie, what
substitutes do you suggest?”
hams, canned hams, bacon slabs, corned beef, powdered milk, ice-cream mix, and a
hunnert other t’ings I can name. Whoever made up dis list, never had to feed
the same twelve men every day.”
Hamilton asked, “Who prepared this food list?”
in Washington, sir.”
don’t think they know your mission. I would take this man’s advice.
Everything in the Yard is available to you, and see to it that he has purchase
requisitions for foods he needs from commercial sources. If there is anything he
can’t find, let me know.”
man of us was required to undergo thorough psychological and physical
examinations, because we would be living and working together in isolation under
Arctic weather conditions, without any medical care. Two otherwise qualified
assignees did not meet the stringent requirements and were not accepted. Three
RM3c, Michael Carroll, Frank Turano, and George Swanson, passed the screening
and joined my group. Two important men came in late and were not examined. Both
developed serious problems.
prepared his own list and procured the foodstuff. Finding Klim Powdered Milk and
Klim Ice Cream Mix seemed impossible. When he rejected all other brands, I asked
him why he insisted on Klim. “It’s the best. Besides, I own ten t’ousand
shares of Klim stock.” The company shipped abundant supplies to him at the
Boston Navy Yard.
supplies were packaged in wooden boxes, typically 200 pounds per box. The boxes
were stored at the Navy Yard until loaded onto the Army Transport SS
Seminole, formerly a passenger ship and still manned by a civilian crew.
boarded the Seminole November 23, 1942, but had to remain in port for two days,
due to bad weather. On the third day we stood out, but soon became fogbound and
returned to Boston. A 450-man Construction Battalion came on board. On the
fourth day, we proceeded toward New York to join a convoy, but south of Cape Cod
Canal we were ordered back to Boston.
on November 30, the Seminole reached
Long Island Sound but, instead of going to sea, headed toward New York, through
East River to Bayonne, New Jersey. At midnight, we were ordered off the ship and
went by open truck to Ellis Island, arriving in the early morning hours on
December 1st. As we were traveling under sealed orders, I had to
refuse to answer a lot of prying questions asked by the Coast Guard Executive
Officer. He used his authority to make life unpleasant for us and would not
permit us Liberty to go ashore. I then used my MIT channel to contact Navy Hq.
at Washington. The same day, orders came from the Vice-Chief of Naval Operations
that stopped the interrogations gave us private quarters, and off-island shore
Liberty every night.
Saturday, December 12th, verbal orders came. “Proceed to Bayonne,
NJ, and board naval vessel AF-9 for
transport to your port of disembarkation.” As our open-truck conveyance came
to a stop near the ship, I said, “My God! It’s the Yukon.”
USS Yukon was the navy supply ship
which lay disabled in the Irish Sea in January, 1942, until found by the USCGC ALEXANDER
HAMILTON and towed over 600 miles in stormy seas, toward Iceland. The
British tug Friskey relieved the
Cutter of the tow at 1300 hours on January 29, 1942. The German submarine U-132
torpedoed the Cutter at 1313. John Nesmith and I were Radiomen aboard the Cutter
and we saw the Yukon disappear over
the horizon toward Reykjavik, Iceland, under her own power. He and I were among
the men whose lifeboats were destroyed by the torpedo explosion, so we remained
on the sinking Cutter over two hours, until we were rescued by the U.S.
prospects of going to sea on the Yukon
did not please us. I made the fact that we were ALEXANDER
HAMILTON survivors known to LCDR H. G. Williams, Executive Officer, then he
assigned us plush duties, on the bridge and in the radio room.
second day out, we encountered a gale and most of my men were seasick. Off
Halifax, the Yukon joined a convoy of about 80 ships. At one point, about half of
the ships separated from the convoy but the Yukon continued with it toward Iceland. We were going past
Newfoundland when two Canadian Corvettes arrived and escorted the Yukon
to St Johns harbor. We arrived in darkness Monday morning, December 21st.
Howen was sick and had a fever of 102°. We took him to the U.S. Army hospital,
then found quarters for ourselves in the Army barracks at Fort Pepperell. The Yukon
offloaded our cargo onto lighters and went to sea, escorted by a Canadian
afternoon I went with Mr. Keel, our Commanding Officer, to find out when the
Navy would take us to Battle Harbor, Labrador. We learned they had no icebreaker
available and could not undertake the trip before Spring, meaning May at the
earliest. We then visited the Army Air Transport Command, where we got help. The
Col. could have our equipment, supplies, and personnel parachuted in the
vicinity of Battle Harbor, but he could not land us on the ice and snow because
the terrain was unknown. He then suggested that we advertise for a Newfoundland
ship to deliver men and cargo to the Labrador coast. We had to keep secret our
mission, so he prepared an ad from his office. It was run in the St John’s Evening Telegraph and broadcast on the Gerald Doyle News Hour.
response was disappointing. He received only one reply. It was from a
25-year-old man named Guy Earle, of Carbonear. He claimed to have a schooner
that could deliver 13 men and 128 tons of cargo “down on the Labrador.” The
Col. invited Guy Earle to his office where we met him on Wednesday, December 23,
and told him our destination. He said that he would take us there, “If it’s
afternoon, Guy returned with his lawyer and the draft of a Charter. He would
take us aboard the schooner Thomas S.
Gorton as near to Battle Harbor as he deemed safe. He reserved the right to
discharge cargo and passengers if he deemed it necessary to save his vessel. His
fee would be $495 per day. If his vessel became icebound and remained so until
Spring, the fee would be $495 until he returned to St Johns. The schooner was en
route to St Johns and could be loaded and ready to sail in one day.
asked, “Where is it written that you will take us to Battle Harbor ‘if it is
boyish-looking man replied, “Sire, if I don’t deliver ye to Battle Harbor,
ye’ll know it ain’t possible.” He and his lawyer shared a big laugh over
his “cute answer.”
went outside the office for a private discussion. The Col. said, “It’s a
long shot.” Mr. Keel said we had no other choice. I agreed and said that more
delay would not give us milder winter weather. We went back into the office and
Mr. Keel signed the Charter.
a big mid-day Christmas dinner at the Fort, we went to the dock to board the
106-foot schooner Thomas S Gorton. Our large hotel-style, cast-iron cook stove and
55-gallon barrels of gasoline covered the deck, with no tie-downs visible.
looked for the Plimsoll mark on the side of the black vessel and could see none.
I thought it was underwater, as the vessel looked to be grossly overloaded. I
also shared the sailor’s usual superstition against Friday sailing dates, and
Mr. Keel had my unspoken concurrence when he stepped from the vessel to the dock
and announced, “We’ll not sail today, or ever, till more food is brought
aboard.” On Christmas Day, ship’s chandlers were not open.
a few stores opened on Saturday, December 26th. Guy had brought
aboard two crates of oranges and bags of flour and beans before we arrived. Mr.
Keel remained unhappy. He stepped onto the dock and refused to leave until more
food was brought aboard. Guy Earle spoke to his men, “Cast off the lines and
prepare to get underway. We’re sailing on time, in keeping with m’
he spoke to Mr. Keel: “Sire, I represent the owner of this vessel, ‘n what I
say, goes. We’re not bound for the end of the world. If we need it, we’ll
get food in outports along the coast. If ye be coming with us, step aboard,
Keel came aboard and we sailed from St Johns. The Master of the schooner was
aboard. He was an older man, Solomon Abbot, called “Skipper Sol.” I did not
understand why the Master yielded control to the young Guy Earle, even if he was
the owner’s son.
knew nothing about the Thomas S Gorton, but learned that it was nearly 40-years-old and had
raced other schooners from the Grand Banks fishing grounds. In 1934, she
finished third. The famous schooner Blue
Nose, which I did know about, finished third.
clear of the harbor, we encountered a moderate sea and I spoke my concern to Guy
about the gasoline drums, shifting about on deck. “Don’t worry Sire. My men
will take care of it.”
crewmen hauled buckets of water from the sea and threw the water over the drums.
They repeated the operation until the bottoms were locked to the deck by ice. I
said to Guy, “We’d have those drums lashed down and deckhands out there
chipping away any ice that forms topside. Aren’t you afraid of making the
vessel top heavy?”
we ain’t rich like the U.S. Navy. We use what we have. A few buckets o’water
won’t make much difference to the trim of this vessel. Don’t worry. Afore we
arrive Battle Harbor, ye’ll know that ‘Newfies’ are good seamen.”
began encountering snow squalls and fresh winds, but Guy left the mainsail
hoisted and rode out the tempests. By nightfall we had rounded Cape St. Francis
and the snow squalls increased. Guy ordered the sails struck and we ran under
power of the sputtering diesel on a new course, WSW. Mr. Keel came aft to the
wheelhouse and asked, “Where are we heading?”
explained, “Sire, I think we’re in for what ye’d call a Nor’easter with
a big lot of snow. We’re going to take shelter in a safe port till the storm
was about 0200 when Guy called my attention to a flickering light off our
starboard bow. “M’father is after lighting a beacon fire for us on the head
of land. We’ll go into Carbonear Harbor and tie up at the pier till this storm
ends. It’ll turn into a real blizzard, most likely, and nobody a’tall
knows the hours or days it takes a storm to blow over.”
docked in Carbonear at 0315 on December 27th. Guy introduced us to
his father, Mr. Arthur Earle, who invited us to go up the hill to his house for
a mug-up. I volunteered to stay aboard.
next morning, Guy’s father and mother kept an open breakfast table for us.
Most of my men went to either the Catholic or Anglican Church of choice that
Sunday. Outside the Anglican Church some men approached us. One of them asked,
“Ye be the men what’s bound for Loran Point?”
were astonished! We never heard the acronym Loran
until we were leaving the MIT Radiation Lab. An instructor had each man come up
and he whispered the word “Loran” into his ear, a Top Secret word itself,
should not be spoken except to men with proper clearances. He wrote on the
blackboard then erased, “long range aid to navigation,” and mentally we made
the connection. Now, here was a Newfie, talking about Loran
Point. I asked him, “What can you tell us about Loran Point?”
took a stick and drew a map on the surface of the snow, showing us where two
buildings had been constructed and where three antenna poles stood. He said the
proper name was False Harbor Point, but that during the previous summer, the
McNamara Construction Co. had renamed it Loran Point.
met many friendly residents about town, but Frank Turano said he was chased by
three goats and did not ask if they were friendly. Later that day, he earned the
name “Forty Fathoms” when he and Walter Stewart went rowing in a dory, broke
an oar while trying to row to safety in a high wind and were blown onto the
breakwater. Local men went to their rescue and brought them safely ashore. The
gusty northeast wind kept getting stronger.
accommodations on the schooner were limited, so Mr. Keel moved us ashore on
December 28. Six of us went to the Goff Hostel and seven went to the West Side
frequent snow squalls and high winds continued, Mr. Keel fretted about our
delay. Guy Earle said that no one was in charge of the weather and that we were
lucky to be in a safe harbor at a time like this. Mr. Earle’s house and
Guy’s house stayed open to us. Beside his parents, we met Guy’s sisters and
his wife Mildred, who looked like a teenager, but was the mother of a baby and
two other children. All over Carbonear, people opened their homes to us and, on
December 30, a dance was held at St. Patricks in our honor. On December 31, we
all had dinner at the Earles’ house.
the sun came out and the winds abated that afternoon, Mr. Keel demanded that we
get underway at once. Guy said that he would wait “. . . to see what the
morrow brings. It may be just a respite in the storm, sire.”
on New Year’s Day, 1943, we rounded Grates Point to the north, then sailed WNW
through Trinity Bay, and tied up at Port Union Dock for the night. We’d made
good progress. When underway with a fair wind, we ran under sail. There being no
aids to navigation, other than stone cairns on the highest hills along the
coast, Guy tried to schedule safe coves for anchorage at night, knowing we might
have to wait a day or two for fair weather before again venturing to sea.
passed Cape Bonavista and were crossing Bonavista Bay under sail, with the lee
rail often awash, when a squall struck. The crew tried to lower the foresail,
but it only slacked and the sheet jammed in the sheave at the mast.
wind billowed the sail and caused the boom to whip about over the deck, forcing
the crew to stand clear. Guy told me to take the helm hard-to-port till we
headed into the wind, then he dashed from the wheelhouse and climbed the
starboard stays running to the foremast. When the wind whipped the sail toward
him, he swung out from the rigging and threw his legs over the top of the sail.
With his back to the deck, he let go of the stay and with the sail locked in the
bend of his knees, he fell, bringing down the sail. Nobody could move fast
enough to keep him from crashing headfirst onto the deck, but he suddenly
somersaulted free and cat-like, landed upright on his feet. We all joined in
applauding his acrobatic performance.
ran a NW course under diesel power to Pool's Island, where we dropped anchor. On
January 3rd, we ran under sail with fair winds and continued sailing
through the night. On January 4th, the winds blew hard, so we
anchored between Fogo and Farewell Islands for the night. There, we saw our
first brilliant display of Northern Lights.
January 5th, Guy decided against stopping in Hooping Harbor and was
sailing NNE about one mile offshore when a heavy snowstorm struck. We hauled
down the sails and ran under diesel power. We could not see the lookout on the
bow when Guy called out to him, “Red, come back to the wheelhouse and get
warm. You can’t see a thing, a-tall.”
Sol, you take the helm. Steady as she goes. I’m going forward.” Then Guy
disappeared in the blowing snow. After a while, he called out, “Sol, take her
three points to port!” Then he returned to the wheelhouse.
Sol asked, “Where be ye going?”
straight down Conch Bight,” Guy said, pointing at the chart, then he added,
“Red, go to the bow. Use the leadline and call out the depth nears eight
fat’oms. Listen too for the sea breaking onto the land and sing out b’y, if
we’re getting too close.
a while, Red sang out, “Nine fat’oms and shoaling up.”
ordered the anchor lowered on forty fathoms of line. It took hold and the
schooner came about. Skipper Sol went forward then came aft and said that we
were dragging anchor. Guy told him to drop the spare anchor and said that we’d
keep the engine running.
the snowstorm passed, the wind continued strong, blowing straight down the
Bight. I asked Guy what kind of a town was Conch.
an outport, Sire. A village you’d call it—has a post office and a general
store. This time of year the men work seal nets. You can buy good sealskin boots
here, if you’re in the market for them.”
there a doctor here?”
even a nurse station, sire. The general store may carry a few medicines.”
was interested in buying medicine. After we left Carbonear, Mr. Keel told me
about his plan to “’climatize’ these Yahoos.”
said that the men were being acclimated, gradually. We had so few bunks, some
men slept two to a bunk and rotated night-day sleeps. When not asleep, they had
to come topside, for there was no toilet on board. The crewmen would squat on
the fantail and relieve themselves directly into the sea. For us, they provided
a bucket. A line tied to its bail permitted us to toss it overboard and get
water in it. Upon finishing, the user would dump water and all overboard, then
drag the bucket in the sea to make it clean for the next man. I told Mr. Keel,
“Besides the necessities, the men always stay topside until the cold drives
explained, “That’s what bothers me. They ain’t getting climatized to the
cold. They go below as soon as they feel the chill. They’ve got to get
showed me a duty list assigning two-hour starboard and bow submarine lookout
watches, around the clock. My name was not on his list, but I objected. “Why
the lookouts? We don’t have guns, or even a transmitter to report a
sub-sighting. Besides the men will get overly cold, standing on deck for two
hours in the clothes they wear. We’ve stowed most of our foul-weather gear in
the hold with the cargo.
Keel’s mind was made up, and I blamed the submarine watch for colds that
several men had by the time we reached Conch Bight.
of us, Guy, King, Skipper Sol, Frank Turano, and I went ashore in the dory.
Frank and I wore caps with aviator-type goggles. As we went ahead, we met a man
whose eyebrows and eyelashes sparkled with ice crystals. He was carrying sticks
of wood, but when he saw us, he dropped them and called out, “Oh by the Lordy
Jesus Christ! Where’d ye come from a-tall?
found the general store. Four men sat around a warm cast-iron stove. I asked the
shopkeeper if he had any medicine for colds. He said, “Yes, sire, but it’s
only for livyers.”
said, “Even if it just treats the liver, I would like to buy some.”
began laughing, “No, Sire. He’s not saying it’s liver medicine. He says
‘live-heres’—it’s for folks what live here.”
answer was the same on everything in the store—he has keeping it for the livyers
and would not sell even an aspirin to me.
next went over to the post office where the lady postmistress was busy sending a
message by landline Morse code on a small battery-powered wireless set. When she
finished and turned off the set, I reached over and tapped out a message on the
dead key, “IS THERE ANY FOOD OR MEDICINE IN CONCH THAT I CAN BUY? I PAY IN
MONEY OR YANKEE CIGARETTES.”
tapped back, “I CAN GIVE YOU A TIN OF ASPIRIN. A MAN GOT 14 SEALS TODAY. DO
YOU WANT TO BUY SEAL MEAT?”
that point Guy said, “What are you ticky-ticking with the lass? You can’t
shack up here, b’y. Mr. Keel will make me sail tonight if you ain’t in the
dory when we return.”
postmistress sent a boy to fetch the man who had the seals. He returned with him
and I traded 9 packs of cigarettes for 6 seal carcasses. We took one with us and
he agreed to bring the other five to the schooner.
$2 the postmistress would send a telegram to Boston. I addressed it to my fiancè,
Connie Dewees: “REMEMBERING YOU ALWAYS STOP ENJOYING COLD WEATHER IN GOOD
HEALTH.” I gave the postmistress a pack of cigarettes for the box of aspirins,
although she asked for no pay.
we returned to the dory, the tide had gone out and the surf was breaking some
distance from the snow-covered shore where we had left the dory. Guy said,
“She’s after breaking over the bellicotter.”
a bellicotter, and how do you spell it? I asked.
don’t think its got a spelling, Sire. Just an old Newfie word used for the ice
wall that builds up on shore at water’s edge, where the sea pounds over it.
With the high wind, the sea is up and now breaks over the ice wall out there at
low tide. The trick is to be there in the dory when the smallest wave is coming
in, else we’ll be spilled out. Wait till I say the word, then give the oars
all ye’ve got.”
did as Guy said, shoved off when the biggest wave broke over the bellicotter and
rode over the ice wall on a small wave that followed. That day, I gained a new
respect for the dory, and was surprised at how well thole pins worked, having
never used anything to support oars but oarlocks.
the schooner, the cook cut up the seal carcass with a handsaw and cooked the
slices in a large frying pan on the coal stove in the fo’c’stle. The meat
was black and tasted like fishy liver, but we ate it. Just as Guy said,
“It’s easy to love the taste, if ye’re hungry.”
that night the wind and sea beat down on the schooner, which dragged anchors so
that we were less than a quarter-mile from shore at the bottom of the Bight. Guy
said that we would wait for the wind to slack off before leaving, but we got
underway, and re-anchored nearly a mile offshore. Mr. Keel wanted to keep going
but Guy explained that we were seeing more slob ice and if strong winds drove
the schooner close to shore, the slob ice could “shelve-up. When that happens,
it can sink any ship a-tall, even a
men went ashore in the dory the next morning, even though the sea was rough in
the bight. When they returned, we had difficulty bringing them on board. Walter
Stewart stood up to grasp the railing of the schooner just as the dory plunged
down in a trough of the sea, leaving him dangling. We rushed to grab him, but
Guy stood up in the dory, grasped his legs and tossed him onto the schooner.
we waited for the on-shore wind to slacken, I got into a discussion with Guy and
asked him how he had navigated into Conch Bight so accurately in the blinding
snowstorm. “It’s a secret, Sire, but I’ll tell you how to do it. There be
breaks in a snowstorm. I knew about where we were by dead reckoning, but not
exactly. In the bow, with m’ back to the wind, I keep looking up for the
headland. Every now and again I catch glimpses of the peaks and crags ashore.
Finally, a moment of break came in the snow and I see a rock cairn of a shape
that’s only found on the peak at the south entrance to Conch Bight. That’s
when I told Skipper Sol to change course.
Keel had brought along a Ship’s Log Book, which he kept locked in his
briefcase when he was not writing in it. “What the Hell do he find to write
about? Every day he asks me, ‘What’s our noon position and how many miles
did we make good in the past 24 hours?’ but it don’t take him all day and
night to write that, Sire.”
didn’t tell Guy that Mr. Keel wrote down everything, including criticisms of
my own men, the crew and especially Guy Earle, who had hurt Mr. Keel’s
feelings when he threatened to leave him standing on the dock in St Johns the
day after Christmas. I felt that we had been well-served by Guy and his crew and
that Mr. Keel had been too critical of them, but I was not going to tell that to
Guy. After all, Mr. Keel was my C.O. and if he wanted to, he could write trivial
things in his log. Once when Nesmith was sick, I got him interested in drinking
some canned tomato juice. I saw Mr. Keel write in his log: “Nesmith felt like
tomato juice. Gave same.”
don’t worry about Mr. Keel’s log book. He’s probably the only one who’ll
ever read it. Now tell me something—you Newfoundlanders appear to be
strong-minded people, proud to have the King of England over you, and the fact
you live in England’s oldest colony, what do you think of the King?”
Sire, you don’t understand the old saying, “The King is dead, long live the
King. The King’s the King, you know. He can do no wrong. Fact is, he can do
nothing now but be respected. Has his own Church and he can do nothing that
earns disrespect. Take the case of recent King Edward—a great King—trained
for it all his life, he did. He abdicated so that the King would not be
criticized, but since he’s no longer King, he’s criticized a-plenty. Even as
Prince of Wales, he was Admiral of the British Fleet. Now he’s Third Mate on
an American Tramp.” With a wry smile he added, “That’s a Newfie joke.”
January 7th, we departed Conch Bight, hoping to reach St Anthony that
day, our last port in Newfoundland. As he often did, Skipper Sol stood on the
foredeck, wearing a heavy black overcoat that was kept closed with wooden pegs
for buttons. He would swing his arms and beat his hands against his body, front
and back, to keep warm. As I had done many times, I asked him if he thought
we’d “make Battle Harbor.”
reply was always the same, “No mison. Neara bitta Battle Harbor yillsee
tisyear. Slobice smaking intebites.” I finally got the meaning: “No my son.
Never a bit of Battle Harbor you’ll see this year. Slob ice is making in the
seasoned skipper spoke openly about the impossibility of our mission. All the
while, he worked hard and faced our failure and unknown fate courageously. Guy
sailed on without showing any doubt about succeeding.
was only four years older than I was. At first I assumed that he was acting
skipper only because his father owned the schooner. In fact, he told me that
Skipper Sol was aboard because he had master’s papers. It was much later when
I learned that Guy also had papers, having become the youngest Newfoundland
master at 17.
day I borrowed Guy’s small calibre pistol, which he kept in the wheelhouse. We
were passing a sea pigeon some 50 feet abeam. As I took aim, Guy called out,
“That bird’s plenty safe,” just in time to see it killed by my shot.
ye’re a marksman with the pistol, Sire, but how’re ye going to get the bird?
Rule of the North is that we eats what we shoots.”
I did not know the rule. Besides, it was a lucky shot. My dad gave me a
double-barrel shotgun when I was 12, just as his father had done for him. I sold
it and bought a .22 rifle and later got an old .22 and made a pistol of it with
a 10-inch barrel. Old man Cub Brooks, a negro who worked on our farm, taught me
to hunt. I became a good shot by using my single-shot guns just like I’d throw
a rock. I shot crows flying and rabbits running, never thinking about how to
shoot targets on the range by squeezing off the trigger. Now I can hit targets,
but I’m no longer a good hunter.“
see you do some target shooting. Here, Red, take this stick to the bow and hold
it out for Wo to shoot.” The de-barked stick was about one-inch in diameter
and six inches long. I thought Guy was joking, but when Red stood in the bow
with his left arm outstretched, holding the stick, Guy stood about 60 feet aft
and fired a shot that caused the stick to fall to the deck, pierced by the
pistol bullet about two inches from the end. I did not compete.
we neared St Anthony, the slob ice covered the inlet and solid ice covered most
of the harbor. We made headway slowly through the slob and finally tied up
against the landlocked ice. Our first task was to take five of my men to the
Grenfell Mission Hospital. Walter Steward had an allergy to bedbug bites and his
face had swollen so that his eyes were closed and he could not see. Larsen was
sick. Howen had not recovered from pneumonia. We took them and two other men
with sore throats to hospital for treatment.
January 8th, we walked about St Anthony, did a little shopping and
met some residents who invited us to dinner in their homes. Mr. Keel said that
one man had to remain onboard, armed at all times to safeguard our cargo. I
volunteered for the night duty, because the other able-bodied men wanted to be
ashore in the evening hours. Two of them claimed to have had quality shack time
in warm beds.
January 9th, Guy Earle woke me at 0400. “Sire, it’s blowing a
gale from the east today. If ever we’re to cross the Strait of Belle Isles to
the Labrador, today’s the day.”
woke my men aboard and we made our way to hospital where we wakened our
shipmates and helped them get dressed. Two men were too weak to walk, so we
borrowed stretchers and carried them to the schooner. The nurses sent word to Dr
Curtis, the hospital’s chief physician. He soon arrived on board the schooner
and told us, “If you take these men now, you are taking them to their
Keel explained that we had no choice. Our orders were to arrive at Battle Harbor
as soon as possible. Dr Curtis then suggested that two men return to hospital
with him and get medicines and directions for their use, so that we could
continue treatment of the sick men.
the men returned, villagers came out on the ice to wish us Godspeed. Their faces
betrayed a great fear for us. Silence settled over the vessel as we watched them
in the dawn’s dim light. First a few, then almost all of them walked over the
ice, up the hill and into the church.
clearing the harbor ice, Guy had the foresail hoisted, the jib set, and the
diesel running at cruising speed as we made headway among scattered ice floes.
we rounded Cape Bauld, the crew began hourly turns as barrelman atop the mast,
on the lookout for leads in the ice field, which extended as far as the eye
could see. All day, the schooner moved haltingly in a north north-westerly
direction, past Belle Isles and through the strait, steering for leads of open
water espied by the barrelman on the mast.
a large floe would block our way, but the wind, mountainous waves, and force of
the schooner pressing onward would cause the flow to break or turn slowly and
let the vessel slide by, into the tumult of smaller floes.
nightfall the schooner’s progress was blocked by landlocked ice that covered
Caribou Bay, but we had achieved what no other vessel had ever done in
mid-winter—we had sailed from Newfoundland “down north to the Labrador.”
Earle, Frank Turano, and I walked over the ice to a small cabin we had seen on
the island in the bay. Inside, I struck a match and saw five ookalik
(arctic hares) hanging from the rafters. “Dout the light!” Guy commanded.
carried the ookalik back to the schooner, where the cook cleaned them and put
them to boil in a large pot on the coal stove in the fo’c’stle. We all
looked forward to a change in diet from sealmeat and beans. Just as the first
shift was sitting down to eat, a young Labrador settler came aboard, whose name
was Doug Bradley. He said he had gone gunning for ducks on the island. The first
day, ice formed in the Tickle, too thick to row through and too thin to walk
over to his home on Little Caribou Island. High seas later broke up the ice, so
that he could neither walk on the slob, nor row his boat through it. He had been
snaring hares for food. “Now, somebody’s after taking m’only food.”
gave the young man a $5 bill and invited him to eat dinner and spend the night
on the schooner.
about 0330, I woke up to the sound of pounding feet and went topside. Guy told
me to lend a hand. The wind had shifted, breaking off a large segment of bay ice
to which we were moored, and we were being carried seaward by it. “Go help
m’ men cut the grappling hooks free, or we’ve been to Labrador and left
cut ice around the two large grappling hooks, got them free and back on board.
Guy said that the wind would clear the slob out of the bay and coves and, if we
could hold our position, we’d soon have open water to the shoreline. At first
light, we saw that we had been blown into Caribou Run, where we were caught in a
river of ice, carrying us seaward. Guy had a man mount the barrel atop the mast.
He reported that the flow of “slob” ice
appeared to be thinning in the distance and open water extended out from Cape St
Charles to the south.
told Skipper Sol, “Head south, toward Cape Charles, then go north along the
solid ice. When the slob ice thins out, we’ll head north to Battle Harbour.
made slow headway when we edged northward in the opening the wind created
between the shore and the slob ice. The ice field was packed solid around Battle
Island and we were forced to stay to seaward in navigable water. That course led
us toward Indian Cove.
Bradley, the leading settler there and father of Doug, rowed his dory out and
came aboard. Guy was preparing to start unloading cargo onto the solid ice but
Gus advised against it. “Wait till the morrow, Sire. Most likely the wind will
be blowing a gale from the west and if so, I’ll pilot ye around Great Caribou
Island to False Harbor Cove. It’s just down the cliff from the station and the
best place for discharging the cargo.”
dories soon came out and Mr. Keel decided that he would take most of our men
ashore, where they could go overland 3 miles by kamatik
(dog sled) to the empty barracks that had been built for us the prior summer by
McNamara Construction Co. That’s how the first Coast Guardsmen arrived at
Advance Base Buck on January 10, 1943.
to Gus’ prediction, a strong wind blew from the west and he was able to pilot
the schooner to False Harbor Cove, where we moored to landlocked ice that
covered half of the cove. We rigged a cargo net to the boom and lowered the net
into the hold, where I and two other Coast Guardsmen tried to select boxes in
the order needed ashore, load them into the net, have them hoisted, swung
outboard and lowered to the ice. The boxes were later loaded onto kamatiks
and hauled down the cove, around the rocky crags and uphill to the barracks.
were too many stops—waiting for the kamatiks,
the boom cargo unloading, etc. Guy had his men lean one of the hatch covers over
the side, so that it made a ramp from the schooner to the ice. The boxes were
then slid down it and stacked on the ice, to be hauled away by kamatiks.
two men and I stacked boxes to make a stairway from the bilge to the deck, and
two men carried up each 200-pound box. Being the third man, I began bringing up
a box by myself. Soon we were waiting for men on deck to move the boxes and
clear the way, so my men went topside to do that. I was still going strong hours
later, sweating through my shirt and trousers. I began seeing settlers’ faces
on deck, looking at the American man who was discharging all the cargo from the
signed papers that certified the safe delivery of men and cargo to Battle
Harbor. He gave them to Guy, along with official letters to be mailed, addressed
to CG Headquarters and the First Naval District CG Office.
the envelopes he had stamped a return address below, which compromised all items
of secrecy [underlined portions] about the station’s location and mission. The
FPO Box 228 was cancelled and a mail clerk somewhere could justifiably conclude
that the unit was destroyed by enemy action. Consequently all mail, personal and
official, was appropriately marked and returned to senders. Even Boston Radio
insisted on trying to communicate with NJN by calling on 2670 kcs, as though we
were just up the Charles River.
long last, with official mail being bounced and families complaining to the Red
Cross, CG Hqtrs., et al, somebody finally put the letters in mail bags, held them
until some authority assigned a new FPO Box number to CG Unit 35, notified
senders, and dropped the bags of accumulated mail on Battle Harbor 11 months
after we arrived.
Officer, Advance Base Buck
Guard Unit 35, Radio Station NJN
Site #3, Battle Harbour, Labrador
Fleet Post Office Box 228, NY NY USA
Thomas S Gorton left the Labrador
coast in twilight and re-crossed the Strait of Belle Isles with a fair wind of
near gale force. It was the latest date for a ship’s crossing in history, a
record which may still stand.
At about midnight, the schooner sailed into St Anthony Harbor where the
villagers rang the church bell and celebrated the crew’s safe return with a
party till daylight.
never expressed were due to Guy Earle, who dared try to do what more experienced
skippers knew was not possible. He matched bravery with masterful control of the
schooner Thomas S Gorton to land 13 men and 128 tons of cargo safely down
on the Labrador, January 11, 1943, when it was hardly possible a-tall.
 ‘Newfie’ slang for ice floes,
but denotes sea coverage in pans of various sizes. Guy mentioned the way it
‘shelves’, meaning, when a pan hits a stationary object, it stops, and
sea actions cause other pans to slide on top until a mass is built up,
under, and above water.
 The feat that day of discharging
the schooner’s cargo became a legend which served me well. In a land where
physical strength was important, no Labradorman ever contested mine.
 The wood schooner’s two-way
crossing is even more remarkable considering the fate of the CGC NATSEK, due
to come through the Strait about the same time of our crossing. It
disappeared with all hands lost, even though the Cutter’s steel hull had
been reinforced for service in Greenland waters.