My short naval life, culminating as
Communications Officer on
last updated November 30, 2019
The international call letters for Restigouche were CZDE. On the air we identified with a tactical call sign, but on entry into a port our call letters were clearly displayed by way of a vertical row of flags, as well as permanently with a painted horizontal row of flag symbols on both sides of the bridge. The tall lattice mast shown below is something I wish I had climbed but never did!
In the 1970's I was for a short time the Communications and Electronic Warfare Officer on HMCS Restigouche. Restigouche was a the lead ship of a class of destroyers built for the Royal Canadian Navy, which began to come into service in 1958 and lasted into the early 90's. As for three other members of the class she was rebuilt as an IRE (Improved Restigouche class) vessel in the early 70's. It is not my purpose here to describe the ship or relate its history in any detail but rather to briefly relate my connection to her. For interest's sake I will mention that Restigouche now lies on the bottom off the coast of Mexico, sharing the now common fate of being an artificial reef.
Here are links to the Wikipedia articles on the Restigouche and on the Restigouche class in general. Here are dedicated pages by others: Restigouche page. HMCS Restigouche webpage
Prior to my long full-time career in the public schools of Nova Scotia, and my even longer part-time career as a driver education instructor, I was for a time a member of Canada's navy. I hesitate to say that I was in the Royal Canadian Navy, because my service was during that period when it was called Maritime Command of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Elsewhere I have written a full account of my short but eventful time in the navy, but will give you a summary here. In doing so I fully acknowledge that I was not in long but I did successfully complete much challenging training and left at my own choice to become a teacher.
In 1971 following my completion of studies at the University of Victoria I enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces. Due to my completed education I was considered only for officer status, and a number of options were presented to me. I chose to take the pathway to become a naval officer. Following the basic physical and psychological testing I was in, and sent off to Officer Candidate School at CFB Chilliwack. This was a basic boot camp with all the normal marching and boot polishing and obstacle coursing, and introduction to military life, but it also emphasized leadership. All in all it was quite army oriented, being on the parade square and out in the woods. Immediately following OCS I drove to Quebec for a three-month French language course, which was pure luxury after the rigours of the previous few months. After language training it was a drive back to BC, in the winter, to start my actual naval training at Esquimalt. This was approximately a year in length, and was intended to produce a basic junior officer, able to stand a watch at sea and alongside. After a bit of basic naval indoctrination it was out to sea in a succession of various ships. In this training I spent time in HMC Ships Columbia, Chaudiere, Fundy, Chignecto and perhaps one or two others, then for the final phase on HMCS St. Croix for the crucial lead up to obtaining the necessary Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate. In these cruises we really did not go very far, but did cover the coast from Ketchikan, Alaska down to San Diego, California. The concentration was on the intricate channels of the southern coast of BC and the adjacent American San Juan Islands. Much of my time was taken up by either planning and carrying out navigational passages amongst these islands, or standing as junior officer of the watch under the guidance of the actual OOW.
I must say that I enjoyed very much the actual passages on the coast, and being out in the ocean with huge waves crashing over the ship, but overall I was not really thrilled by the job. I did obtain the Watchkeeping Certificate but really did not feel the urge to get on with it and become the Captain someday. Even then I felt somewhat alone and confined, even with a ready-made set of fellow trainees and ship's company. In fact even in the early days of my training I already knew that if I stayed in the armed forces I really wanted to be an Intelligence Officer. Unfortunately, in those days at least, this was an occupation you could only enter after having served in another role. My naval role, formally called MARS (Maritime Surface Officer) was suitable but had to be followed for a few years before I could be considered for transfer.
On completing my basic naval officer requirements I was sent to Halifax for specialty training, in my case it was Communications and Electronic Warfare. As this page is being presented as part of my radio-oriented website, I will say that this specialty was my choice, and it fit in with my teenage interests and hobbies. I have never been a technician and while there is no need for the officers to be able to fix a radio, there was a need for basic understanding, so we did learn about all the communications equipment on the ships, both for two way communications and for monitoring the Soviet Union, which at the time was the presumed "enemy". Also was included countermeasures against Soviet radar signals and Soviet missiles. Another major component was to become familiar with the daily codes required for communications within our navy and with allied forces. For this training I was required to obtain NATO Top Secret clearance, and as they say, there are things I cannot tell you even now without being charged. Well that may be an overstatement, as all this happened more than 40 years ago, and everything has changed since then. Following this training I was eligible to not only be a bridge watchkeeper but also become a Communications and Electronic Warfare Officer, and I was posted as such to HMCS Restigouche.
Restigouche had been completely rebuilt as an IRE (improved Restigouche class) and at that time she and her 3 sister ships were routinely referred to as "the IRE's". She was alongside still at Halifax Shipyard and with a skeleton crew when I joined, but soon was in service and began workups in harbour and along the Nova Scotia coast. The plan was to leave for BC as soon as the ship and crew were capable of such a voyage. We were readied to meet any safety issues and to navigate promptly but did not do full workups. During this voyage there was an unexpected speculation that we would be diverted to Vietnam. Most Canadians do not realize that the Canadian military had a presence in Vietnam as part of the International Commission for Control and Supervision. This was a body intended to monitor the wind-down of the war, not to fight in it. Canada withdrew from it on July 1, just before Restigouche left Halifax, as the war seemed to be going on, and there was no orderly wind-down to observe. An option considered for the Canadians' removal was to send the newly rebuilt Restigouche to the coast of Vietnam and take the them home to Canada. Eventually air arrangements were made and the idea was scrapped, but for a few days en route we though we might be going to Vietnam!
While I was in training at the Fleet School in Halifax, and living ashore, I met a secretary at the base Social Welfare office, and we began an unlikely relationship. I say that because I was in the middle of intense training and not with a history of relationships, and she was hardly likely to be interested in a geeky be-spectacled young officer who hardly knew what he was doing. I really still do not understand how it happened. The result of this is that my already existing ambivalence about the naval life was accentuated. I gradually came around to the concept that I really did not want to be going out to sea for extended periods of time, and would prefer to be home with Michelle, because it had become clear that we were going to get married. The result was that, just before the ship was to leave for the Pacific, I resigned to take effect, as of the completion of the voyage. As I had paid for my own education, and we were not at war, there was no compulsion for me to be retained, and this was accepted.
As made clear above, I did go on the voyage via Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal to BC, and on this voyage I did get to stand watches by myself and carry out the functions of COMMEWO, so although my service after training was brief I did not wash out and could have continued and I am proud of my accomplishments. The whole chapter profoundly changed my life, and that began the minute I walked into the officer candidate school in Chilliwack. I could not have become a teacher without it all happening, as there is no way I could have gotten up in front of a class before then, but could do so after my short naval career.
I have no illusions about my service. While my identity card says that I am "a veteran" it is not something I ever proclaim, as my service was very short. I am almost embarrassed when I am sitting conversing with a stranger who turns out to have been in the navy as they inevitably were in a long time and had been all over the place, and most likely were sailors, not officers. I am in no way thinking myself better... in fact it is the other way around. The sailors are the ones who know how to carry out the tasks. In my role as Communications Officer I had twenty sailors under me, both Radiomen and Signallers, and they were the experts. In fact I found it hard to be "in charge" while really knowing next to nothing. Back then and perhaps now there is a divide between being a sailor and being a naval officer, sort of a we and them situation. So the result is, that if I even mention I was in the navy, I rarely ever say I was an officer.
As a footnote I will also say that I did serve a couple of years as a naval reservist but this was entirely uneventful. Later in life a reserve Intelligence unit was begun in Halifax, and I was tempted to join, but by then I was entrenched in my part-time work as a driving instructor, so lack of time quashed the notion to fulfill that Intelligence notion, and to this day I have lingering regrets.