Saturday, August 27, 2011

Col William L Laurie, O.B.E.

Canadian Engineers

Royal Canadian Corps of Signals

(Side 1) Born on Dec. 4, 1896 in Scarborough Township (Toronto). He recounts his youth and those he knew, some becoming prominent Canadians. A "ham" wireless operator in 1912, a member of the Wireless Association of Ontario in 1914. First employed as a Third Operator in the Great Lakes Wireless navigation system which in 1914 Intercepted messages from a German wireless station on Long Island, N.Y. until the U.S. government forced the station to close. In the summer of 1915 he was a ship's wireless operator on the Great Lakes. Enlisted on his nineteenth birthday in the Canadian Engineers, Signals Branch. Overseas in Apr. 1916 and there became a telegraph operator. (20:00) By mid-June he was in France with the 3rd Divisional Signals, then was posted to Canadian Corps headquarters where he joined the wireless section. Describes a poison gas attack, the early gas mask, and the slight damage to himself by phosgene gas. During his experiences of trench warfare, when attached to infantry battalions, they carried very simple portable crystal wireless sets on their backs. Comments on the front at Vimy Ridge where they experienced heavy shelling and were buried in a collapsed dugout, but were fortunately rescued after some time. He was sent back as "walking wounded" in Jan. 1917. He returned to Vimy in time for the battle, but spent his time in a wireless dugout. The interview returns to reminiscences of the Marconi station in Kingston in 1914 and the burning of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa (1916) where he helped to save some library books. (45:00) In France, by the time of the Battle of Amiens, they were issued the "Woolich" set which used valves (vacuum tubes) which were a great improvement. A bulky interception equipment called a "French Piano" was introduced to pick up any enemy messages. They used a ground loop several hundred yards long with earth pins, a type of I-Toc system. A new amplifier was issued. By the end of the war they had 120-watt wireless sets. (15:00) As German equipment was good Laurie brought some home after the war ended. While his unit was in Cologne as occupation troops he was in Bonn. He refers to postwar articles by Maj. W.A. Steel in the Canadian Defence Quarterly. In Canada he returned to college to become an engineer and gained summer employment as a radio operator aboard steamships on the Great Lakes. (34:00)

(Interview 2) In the fall of 1922 he joined the Signal Corps militia as a Lieutenant. After working with the R.C.A.F. on the Manitoba forestry patrol he joined the permanent force Signal Corps in 1923. Radio stations were established in Edmonton, the Yukon, and the North West Territories (45:00) and run by the army for the use of all government departments and, for a fee, civilian traffic was instituted. All messages were sent by key. In 1925 as district signals officer in Calgary he lived in the officers' mess of the Lord Strathcona's Horse. He mentions a number of permanent force officers of that era and reminisces. (23:00) In 1927 he joined the expedition to check the ice and weather conditions in the Hudson Strait. The R.C.A.F. managed the expedition on behalf of the Dept. of Marine and Fisheries. Two Fokker Universal aircraft (seaplanes) stationed at each of three bases had modified wartime wireless sets in the aircraft. (30:00) They were also in short-wave contact with the R.C.C.S. signal station in Ottawa. Living conditions were hard. (34:00)

(Side 2) Mentions Flt. Lieut. Leitch of the expedition and other air crew who made forced landings. There were many difficulties with planes, weather, etc. (10:00) He became involved in establishing radio beacons for air mail service and beacons/radio stations for the British airship R-100 on its visit to Canada. Later flew to Ottawa in this airship. Became senior technical officer in Ottawa in 1932. Attended the International Radio Conference in Madrid. In 1933 inspected all radio stations in the North West Territories. (20:00) He developed a prototype short-wave radio set for special use in the summertime. The R.C.A.F. began to train their own wireless officers and all equipment in use by them was turned over. Some new equipment was received from England. Sent to England for up-to-date signals training (which was not always forthcoming!) Comments on Col. E. Forde and Maj. Steel. Appointed second-in-command at Vimy Barracks in Kingston in 1939/40. (45:00) Overseas in England in 1940 he later commanded the 7th Corps (British) Signals unit. Remarks on overseas headquarters senior personnel. (9:00)

Link Military Oral History Collection

Link Service Record

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