Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement August 2, 1995 August 2, 1995


Charlie Warren

The original construction of the Newfoundland airport represented an emerging science, name aviation, and with it came associated features that were never known before, neither.

One such feature was that of instrument weather forecasting, a science by itself, and one that would play a vital role in flying.

So new was the concept that there had to be quite a knowledgeable gap between it and Charles Franklin Warren, now 73, as Charlie Warrenhe grew up in his native Heart’s Content, Trinity Bay, where the weather glass (barometer) or observation of the commercial fisherman were the only know means of predicting weather.  In that sense a career that Mr. Warren would launch was equally unpredictable, for fate had him hook onto it merely “for the fun of it.”

At the age of 22 he found himself still teaching at this time in Winterton and teaching was something he had been doing for five years.  Ambitious, like any young man would be, he wanted a change and when the first prospect arose he was eager to look into it.

There was much public conversation over constructing an airport in eastern-central Newfoundland, so it didn’t take much encouragement for him to at least look into the matter.   One thing he couldn’t do, however, and that was to go to the area directly.  First, he would have to obtain a pass, otherwise, he would not be permitted off the train.

 He first arrived in this area in June of 1937.  This is where they were building the Newfoundland airport.  In 1930, for instance, he was earning $400 a year as a teacher and now as he looked around at what was shaping up, “I thought the future would be better.”

 From Newfoundland government engineer, Jack Drover, he was able to obtain a night shift job in the “works office”.  He became a communications contact with men employed at Hall’s Quarrie, near Benton, and would keep records of incoming train loads of crushed stone.  Then, during the coming winter, he issued five dollar chit book stamps to workers, which were used instead of money to obtain tobacco and other commodities but there were only 32 workers left, the others being laid off when construction closed for the winter.  Bill Trask was chief accountant and he took on Mr. Warren as his assistant in the spring. 

Charlie WarrenAs the airport took on form the matter of a weather forecasting service took on importance with it.  At Gander Hughie Lacey was a weather observer and by 1938 one of the chores that Mr. Warren had to do was take reports from Mr. Lacey and phone these to Botwood as a service to flying boats arriving. 

 In his relationship, destiny had more in mind for Mr. Warren than he could possibly imagine.  Becoming friends he would got with Mr. Lacey sending up balloons, seeking cloud height or conducting other weather instrument testing.  “I wasn’t paid for it – I was paid as a bookkeeper.  I went with Hughie for the fun of it.”

 The meteorological service had been established at Botwood on July 6, 1937 but when the Newfoundland Airport, renamed Gander in 1942, came more and more into its own, the emphasis grew with it for an improved service at Gander.

 Mr. Lacey was working seven days a week and when the workload became too much for him, it was evident that he needed an assistant.  Mr. Warren was an obvious choice, so when time came, in September of 1939, he was the first one recruited at Gander for the weather office at Gander, located at the new Administration Building, and moved from Botwood on November 30,1938. 

 Chief meteorologist was P.D. McTaggart-Cowan, who, as such, was the first officer-in-charge at Gander.  Mr. Warren was engaged as a cipher clerk, deciphering codes for war security.  In a short while he was promoted to an observer or weather technician, then was trained in map plotting. 

 This era at Gander marked the beginning of the upper atmosphere reports. Which continued until replaced by ground equipment.  The first plane used was one piloted by Doug Fraser, who would take up weather instruments and return reports on wind direction, speed, pressure and the like.

 A main function of the weather office was to brief pilots of the Hudson Bombers, which were being ferried to Europe and mostly this was done by Mr. McTaggart-Cowan, who “had a terrific reputation as a weather man.”

 There were various means of obtaining weather information for forecasting. Besides the on on-site operations at Gander other information would come from ships stationed in the Atlantic which would report in code, while pilots returning from England would impart immediate conditions.

Charlie WarrenThe ferry command started operating through Gander in 1940 and its purpose was to fly bombers, manufactured in the United Stations,  to Britain.  Some 10,000 bombers were delivered in this fashion and Mr.  Warren said he didn’t know of any loss, as the result of weather information.

Mr. Warren recalled one incident that was serious when it happened but amusing in retrospect.  At one period, and all part of the war effort, there were four weather stations in Gander, operated by the Canadian Department of Transport.

This spoke for the significance of the service to aviation and during the incident in question, Mr. Warren sent up a lighted pilot balloon, which was a usual thing to do.  But, in this instance, the wind was different at different levels, which had the effect of causing the balloon to keep on circling Gander. 

The military on seeing a light in the sky challenged it but there was no response. This was December 21, 1941, when the world was in the thick of war, so instantly there was an emergency alert and the most of Newfoundland was blacked out.  In one situation at Gander, the Americans had difficulty locating switches so the lights were shot out.

An enemy aircraft circling Gander was suspected but once the alarm went out, word of the lighted balloon got around, as well, as authorities established just what the culprit was.  The blackout, however, lasted for three hours.

During the war, the four weather stations were operated but when the war was over all operations were concentrated at the ferry command hangar and even hydrogen balloons were generated there.  Also, the use of radar was coming in. 

By 1945, Mr. Warren had become a senior technician and climatologist.  When he started with the weather office he earned $90 a month and paid one-half of it for room and board. 

The Gander side of the story of his career came to an end in 1951 when he was transferred to the weather in Goose Bay, Labrador, where he stayed for three years, when another transfer opportunity arose.  This one took him to Malton Airport, Toronto, where he ran a technical school for meteorological technicians and also represented the government in court cases involving the weather services.

In 1956 he left the weather service altogether, after taking a job as personnel officer with Transport Canada in Toronto and transferred to Ottawa in 1959.   His position was air traffic controller personnel officer.

In 1965 he joined Transport Canada’s regional planning office for airports, located in Edmonton.  Then, in 1968 it was back to Ottawa – this time as a senior planning officer with Transport Canada, a position he retired from.

Besides his pioneer association with the weather office, Mr. Warren was known for some other endeavor at Gander as well.  As a stringer he was probably the first national and international news correspondent at Gander.  He represented Canadian Press and Associated Press, two news wire services and the Evening Standard, a British newspaper.

This was for five years beginning in 1951 and during this period he gained a reputation for covering the Sabena plane crash and for interviews with celebrities transiting the airport – from movie stars to the Pakistan Foreign Minister, President of the Irish Republic or Secretary General of the United States.


researched by Carol Walsh

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