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Canadian Women ran secret Loran Navigation station for D-Day success

06 June 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Thomas Wakelin
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Loran is short for "Long Rang Navigation" and it was a early hyperbolic radio navigation system which greatly aided the navigation of Ships and Aircraft across the Atlantic ocean for D-Day

"Mary Owen, now 93, worked at the Baccaro long-range navigation installation in Nova Scotia during the Second World War"

Members of Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service, known as Wrens, did covert work.

Late night, late fall, 1944. An urgent call from Halifax warned the tiny base at Baccaro, N.S., that two German submarines had been tracked a kilometre offshore. The women stationed there knew what they had to do in the event of an attack.

"We had dynamite. We had Bren guns. We had Sten guns. And we had rifles," said Mary Owen. "And the story was: Shoot, set the dynamite and then run like hell ... We were going to blow the whole thing up."

The "thing" was a long-range navigation (LORAN) installation perched on the tip of a Nova Scotia peninsula. It was connected to two other stations, one further north on Nova Scotia's Deming Island, the other in Nantucket, Mass. Together, they maintained a 24/7 signal from which ships and planes could navigate without making radio or voice contact — technology that had proved crucial to the success of D-Day.

But nothing at the base gave that away — a Quonset hut, a frame building and a car affectionately called Henrietta was the extent of it. Still, Baccaro was considered so secret, so vital to the Allied war effort that it had to be destroyed if attacked.

Luckily for the 24 women of the Royal Canadian Navy operating the base, the warning proved a false alarm. The German subs moved on.

The women stayed put at Baccaro through to the end of hostilities and came to be counted among those whose covert work has been credited with helping win the Second World War.

'The thing to do'

Like so many, Owen joined the war effort because it was "the thing to do." Straight out of high school, she enlisted with the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS), more commonly known as the Wrens. The nickname was taken from the Women's Royal Naval Service in Britain, which was formed in the First World War and revived in 1939.

In 1944, Owen left her home in Kirkland Lake for basic training in Galt, Ont., (now Cambridge). From there, she was sent to learn Morse code in Ste-Hyacinthe, Que.

"There was a little notice put up on the bulletin board at Ste-Hyacinthe: 'Wanted: Girls to go to Baccaro to do secret work,'" Owen said. "That sounded good, sort of interesting, so I signed up."

In January 1945, Owen and the other Wrens set off for Nova Scotia without a clue of what they were going to do. After a 36-hour train ride through a blinding blizzard, an overnight stay in Halifax and a drive to the southernmost point of Nova Scotia, Owen arrived in Baccaro.

"Like Wuthering Heights," she recalled. "That was what Baccaro was like. No trees … a lot of sheep and ocean all around you."