Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement July 27, 1977


Howard Barnes

“I was working in Botwood in 1936 when Ned Beaton asked me if I wanted a job on the Gander with the British Marconi Company.  I had been installing transmitter towers and would be doing the same thing there.  The Canadian, British and American governments were joint administrators of the new air base that was being constructed and the job looked like a steady one.  The pay was good $75.00 per month so I accepted.  I moved to Gander in 1937.”  And so Howard Barnes, native of English Harbour, Trinity Bay, became one of the pioneers of Gander.

Because the base was closed to civilians, those not in the military or working with the military, Mrs. Barnes, the former Emma Petton of Port de Grave and their three children could not join Mr. Barrow.H Barnes  They remained at English Harbour while he bunked in the barracks - local camps run by the employing companies at Gander

Gander was pretty bare at that time.  Work had started on part of the first runway, Signals, the Radoi Site in the Administration Building and the old transmitter had been built but other than that there wasn’t much.  A few houses on the upper part of Chestnut Street and a couple by the tracks on the old road to the Old Receivers plus the Eastbound Inn and the Gander Inn (apartment blocks) was all the accommodation available.  Just about everyone ate in the mess halls in the building in which they stayed. 

There were rumours that a war was about to start with Germany and security was very tight.  Everyone  on Gander was issued with a pass even the families of the men, when they finally were allowed to move in and if  you left your house you took your pass with you.  Many times the children went out without their passes and they were held at the Guard House until someone came to claim them. 

Many of the civilians working here were employed by the Ferry Command. This organization was a civilian group attached to the British military and they did just what the name suggests, they ferried aircraft from Canada and the United States to Britain  for use in the different theatres of war.

The Ferry Command built large two story houses on the upper end of Chestnut, around where the present terminal stands.  They also had their own store for their employees.  Since there were no civilian cars in Gander, the bus delivered the groceries.  Goodyear’s had their first stores in the vicinity of the Esso refueling plant on the airport.  All main was addressed to 83 Staging Post, the wartime equivalent of the M.O.T.

In 1941 the Barnes family was at last able to move to Gander.  They moved in on Christmas Eve but a surprise awaited them on their arrival.  The expected bunkhouse that was to be converted to a dwelling was not finished.  There was a front door, a back door, a roof and four walls, and nothing in between.  Jack Gillingham fixed up a pantry they swept out, got the beds up and a fire going and settled down to spend their first night and their first Christmas in Gander.  The baby of the family, Betty, who was almost five years old, was afraid that Santa wouldn’t know where she was but the  Gillinghams presented her with a big doll as a special “Welcome to Gander” and she was quite happy with the move.

The first school of any kind was in a boxcar.  It would spend one week in Gander and then the school would move to Glenwood for a week.  By the early 40’s there were enough children among the civilian and military personnel to build a permanent structure.  The first permanent school was built on the lower end of Chestnut Street.  Soon this two room school was too small and one of the mess halls on Circular Road, known as Duffy’s Tavern was converted to a school.  They again expanded to Building 108 and finally built a 20 classroom complex in one of the “H” buildings.  The Barnes children would leave home at 8 o’clock in the morning on the duty run when the men went to work and return at 5 in the evening when the shifts changed. 

Even though the town was small, Mrs. Barnes says there was no lack of entertainment.  Card games were very popular and she recalls walking across the foot of the main runway to Bill Locke’s and Gordon Stanley’s for the usual evening out.

Many of the local women belonged to the Red Cross and the American bus would pick them up and take them to the meetings where they were served a delicious supper.  Each Christmas many members of the community would gather to decorate the tree in the American mess hall and welcome the season with a party for the children and adults. 

Even though the pay was good by the standards of the 30’s there were still a lot of work to providing for a family.  The wages for Mr. Barnes were 25 cents an hour plus an extra 5 cents if they had to go aloft in the transmitter towers.  But they kept hens and raised vegtables in their own gardens, caught rabbitt and moose, which they bottled and put down berries.  They would leave from the Old Transmitters (by the Cemetery on the Highway), boat across Ganer Lake and walkt to Rodney Pond where they had their rabbit trails.  Moose were a bit closer, the main migration route was across the present Trans Canada Highway by the inner marker. 

Even though the children had to do their share of providing for the family, they had a lot of fun too.  They would go to the theatre in the Drill Hall on the Army Side.  The cost was 17 cents.  There was also a shooting range, swimming pools, billiard room, tennis, basketball and badminton courts and a bowling alley and Captain Dennis, the C.O. made sure that the children were always welcome. 

One of the hardest parts of living in Gander during the war was the number of plane crashes that took place with tragic rgularity.  Most of the young pilots were very young and they had not received a great deal of training as pilots.  The planes would be lined up on the runway wing tip to wing tip and would take off as fast as they could be moved.  The woods around the Barnes’ house was ringed with crashed aircraft but, fortunately, the house was never hit.

The transmitters was guarded by detachments usually consisting of 25 men each who would rotate from the main base every two weeks.  Each detachment would have their own cook and their own supplies.  When their two week period was up they would give all the remaining supplies away and the next bunch would stock up again.  One group from Prince Edward Island caught measles or mumps, Mr. Barnes couldn’t remember which, and the whole detachment was guarantined.  The children, already having had the disease, spent a geat deal of their time with the men, most of whom were homesick for their own children and got to know them quite well.  Unfortunately, most of the men were lost aboard ship on their way home.

If things weren’t all that safe for the pilots, the civilian population who were required to fly in connection with their jobs also had their hair raising moments.  Mr. Barnes remembers being asked during a flight to Goose Bay, to crawl to the front of the plane along with his fellow passengers because the aircraft was too heavily loaded to get off the ground.

After the war the administration of Gander was in doubt.  The government didn’t know quite what to do with it.  Stephenville, Goose Bay and Argentia remained military installations.  Between the war and confederation, the British Government ran Gander.  Everyone drove on the left side of the road and in 1949, when the traffic laws were changed, the driving public spent a few confusing days with people meeting each other going in both directions on the same side of the road until everything was sorted out.

Mr. Barnes retired from the D.O.T. which had taken over from British Marconi after Confederation in 1961 but the Barnes still visit Gander two or three times a year to visit relatives and to look up old friends.


researched by Carol Walsh

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