Honouring Canada’s radar veterans

November 27, 2012

Russia, Turkey, China, New Guinea, Bengal, Guadalcanal, Malta, Burma—Canadian radar technicians served almost everywhere during the Second World War, yet in a sense they were invisible. Sworn to secrecy, they kept quiet about their crucial contributions even long after the war.

 A recent addition to the Canadian War Museum’s permanent Second World War exhibition is helping to break that silence. The addition brings the story of Canada’s radar veterans to life through text, an archival photograph of a radar installation, a reproduction of a painting from the War Museum collection and—most vividly—the stories of several veterans in their own words.

The addition offers a sampling of material collected by the Canadian Radar History Project, a group formed by radar veterans in the late 1980s to collect and share information about their experiences and contributions. “They’re an amazingly dedicated group of veterans,” says War Museum historian Dr. Jeff Noakes. “They still meet regularly close to 70 years after the end of the war.”

These veterans were among the more than 6,000 Canadians who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force to become radar technicians, trained to install, maintain and repair radar equipment. Working around the world, and often attached to Britain’s Royal Air Force, they operated on land, in the air and at sea. They helped Allied air forces destroy enemy rocket bases and supply ships and to transport supplies and munitions to the troops that liberated Europe and Southeast Asia.

In Canada, they operated the radar warning systems that protected North American shores against enemy air and naval attack and were assisted by the military servicewomen who recorded and analyzed the radar information.

Museum visitors can listen to the stories of several radar veterans through an audio headset. “We chose these stories to give a sense of the range of circumstances and conditions the veterans experienced,” explains Dr. Noakes. “What was it like to be a radar operator in Southeast Asia, in Northwest Europe, in Malta, on Canada’s east coast? For me, the best part of working on this project was meeting the radar veterans and hearing their stories.”

Exhibit on Canada’s radar veterans

Exhibit on Canada’s radar veterans