Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement July 23, 1986  


Charlie Blackie

Charlie Blackie, like many of the other thousands of people who have moved and lived in Gander since 1935, didn’t start out with that intent.  Now 80, Mr. charlie blackieBlackie can see a vast change in the community, as he once first saw it.  The first visit was in the fall of 1937 from the radio station in Botwood where the trial flying boat operations were starting.  The administration building was in the final stages of completion and he slept alone in it for a week.  Massive construction efforts were on at the same time for the then Newfoundland Airport.  At the same time the first of the instrument landing systems was being installed and Robin Reid was laying a cable across Gander Lake for the outer marker of this new and unique Telefunken instrument landing system.  The system was probably never used as the German equipment was quickly abandoned at the outbreak of hostilities.

 Charlie’s first role as a radio operator in Gander was to test transmit on the installation of a new powerful transmitter built right on the end of what was then Runway 0523.  Charlie’s route to Botwood was via the Commercial Cable Company in St. John’s following his education at St. Bonaventure’s College (St. Bon’s).  The British Air Ministry was actually the employing agency, hence the British term “Signals” lasted long after the creation of the name Gander Aeradio.

In pre-war Gander there was a huge runway system, a big hangar with the largest single door in the world and an administration building to accommodate single people from other vital services such as MET and a row of houses for the radio operators’ families. 

 It wasn’t actually until after September 1939 when war broke out, that the second massive construction efforts to construct military barracks for the RCAF, the Canadian Army and U.S. Army/Air force began.  This was in addition to the establishment that grew up around Hangar 21 and 22, which in latter years was known as the old EPA Hangar and in the early days was known as the RAF side or Ferry Command.

 The first site that Charlie worked in pre-war Gander was at the old receiver site which is now known as the Old Navy Site and, in fact, that is the oldest section of  Gander still functioning now as married quarters for CFB Gander personnel.  Some of the other old-timers who are still around Gander and who worked this site include Jim Strong, Abby Knee and Jim Dempsey.  The Signals Section moved into Hangar 21 in the centre of RAF Ferry Command during the Second World War and after the War they moved to the VOAC building below the Army Side.  This site was then shifted to the new Gander Aeradio Building.

 One of the unusual visitors whom Charlie remembers vividly was the appearance of a ferry pilot with a bandaged head in the office in 1941 after his rescue, none other than the ferry pilot Mackey who survived the Hudson crash which killed Frederick Banting , not thinking at the time that the famous victim of this crash discovered the use of insulin, which Charlie would later need.

 A prodigious reader, Mr. Blackie has turned a hobby into an avocation since his retirement.  He has seem  Gander develop from a completely isolated spot in the wilderness to a modern, sophisticated community where his grandchildren can leave school bilingual and has seen the evolution of radio communications with aircraft reach from very difficult communications by Morse Code to a state when easy voice communication, ground stations to aircraft at any position on the North Atlantic are the order of the day.  Mr. Blackie noted that despite the pioneering efforts on the North Atlantic delivery routes there were, in actual fact, very few losses, despite the many thousands of heavy bombers which were delivered on the Gander route to Europe. 

 Mr. Blackie takes almost as much delight now in his garden as does his wife, who is the former Agnes Langmead.

researched by Carol Walsh

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