The Invasion Of Padloping Island
Canadian Sailors Gather Weather Data Above The Arctic Circle
From Crowsnest Magazine , February 1954
Provided by Ray White
Up beyond the Arctic Circle, on a little island off the coast of Baffin Island, the Royal Canadian Navy has taken over the task of gathering weather information and transmitting it to aircraft and ships traversing the North Atlantic. The meteorological station was established on Padloping Island during the Second World War by the US Air Force, which relinquished its duties there in the fall of 1953. How the RCN personnel who now man the station got there and something of the life they lead in this icebound corner of the world are described by PO W. K. Carson, Petty Officer In Charge, in the following article:
The movement of the draft of naval personnel to Padloping Island was quite a complex affair. From the RCAF airfield at Rockcliffe, just outside of Ottawa, the navymen were flown by RCAF aircraft to Goose Bay, Labrador. Upon arrival they were met by a USN Commander, who turned them over to the USAF, who in turn flew them to Argentia, Newfoundland, where they were turned over to the USN for onward transportation by USS Oberon, a supply ship en route to Padloping and a few other stations in the north.
The trip in the Oberon was uneventful, fair living quarters and good food being supplied. The relationship between the two services was good and the trip was enjoyed by all. We arrived at Padloping on the morning of September 8, 1953 and the next two weeks were spent at the back-breaking task of moving hundreds of drums of oil and 20 tons of supplies from the beach up a muddy road to the fuel storage dump and warehouses. On September 10, the station was officially taken over by the RCN personnel. Following this, a general cleanup was inaugurated, the barracks and operations buildings both being painted throughout. The recreational facilities are limited - a billiard table and playing cards, plus a goodly supply of reading material. As there was a definite shortage of lockers, many of the men became carpenters and a good deal of time was spent making lockers and desks for their rooms.
The function of the station is to provide weather information. This data is relayed through a network of stations to the central Department of Transport weather office in Montreal and is used in forming the overall weather picture. A fire on October 25 temporarily disrupted the serenity of the stations. Supplies which are normally taken on a yearly basis were destroyed. However, an airdrop by the RCAF restored the morale of the men to an even higher standard than before
Once a month the station personnel hold a dance for the local Eskimo population in an unused quonset hut. The station supplies refreshments. Music is provided by one of the Eskimo women, who plays a concertina. Each dance lasts about 20 minutes and is accompanied by a great deal of hand-clapping, the music being much the same regardless of the type of dance.
The Communicators are employed as watchkeepers. All but one of these work in three eight-hour shifts for a period of seven days, while the remaining man works in the barracks building as dayman. At the end of each seven days the watches rotate, the dayman taking over a watch and the man he relieves taking the job of dayman. In this way all men have a change each week.
The work is interesting but has a few drawbacks, including the taking of "pibals", which is a system for finding the wind's speed and direction at various heights. A balloon filled with helium is released and a man on a tower outside the building uses an instrument known as a theodolite to obtain the angle of sight and bearing from the observation point. These readings used in conjunction with tables and a plotting board give the windspeed and direction up to the height the balloon attains whilst in sight. This job, when the temperature is about 20 below zero, is far from a comfortable one.
An amateur radio station is maintained and so far this has been our only daily means of communication with the outside world as far as news is concerned. It also serves as our means of obtaining medical advice from a doctor located in Pangnirtung, approximately 160 miles from Padloping. The engine room branch might be termed the hub in the wheel at this station, as they run the diesel generators which supply all the power for the lights, maintain the vehicles and supply the oil. The job of obtaining water is the most undesirable of all, as fresh water is drawn from a lake a considerable distance from this station. A large diesel tractor hauling a 500 gallon tank is used. Water is required about every three days and is looked after much the same as in a ship, it being a very valuable asset which must be used sparingly due to the hardships involved in obtaining it.
Ldg. Sea. James W. Dixon has the job of keeping track of all the stores and provisions for the station. This involves two warehouses and requires a knowledge of the innumerable spare parts for the running of all gear required for the operation of the station. He is also in charge of the canteen.
Ldg. Sea. William J. Marten has without a doubt the most important job on the station, supplying a variety of good meals to the staff. He has long hours and quite a task figuring out a welcome assortment of foods, as mealtime in the north is one of the most important happenings of the day. The quality of his cooking is quite apparent when one looks at the swelling waistlines which are beginning to appear.
PO Gordon H. Winges is in charge of the maintenance of radio equipment. The checking of transmitters to ensure they are constantly on frequency and alignment of receivers has been the major job of the radio technician to date. AB Donald R. Burgess is in charge of the electrical end of the station. His jobs are various, from fixing motors in oil stoves to the climbing of steel towers to replace warning lights when they burn out. The ascent of these towers is in itself a disagreeable job and quite a task, but when the temperature is well below zero it is doubly so.
To date there has been no medical assistant at Padloping and the duties have been carried out by the Petty Officer in charge, PO W. K. Carson, assisted by the cook. A few cuts and bruises have been the only ailments so far. Christmas and New Year's were spent according to true naval tradition. Petty officers served Christmas dinner and the youngest. man present assumed command for the day, in place of PO Carson.
Editor's Note: -- Since the foregoing was written, a medical assistant, PO Kenneth D. Powell, has arrived at Padloping by air.
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