Chapter 1 - In the Beginning
Military communications in pre-confederation Canada were, at best, primitive. The British garrisons responsible for the defence of British North America relied on written correspondence, couriers, liaison officers and, where practical, primitive short range signalling devices such as heliograph and semaphore tower systems. Land line telegraph was introduced into Canada in 1846 as a civilian communications system with the military as a potential customer. However, the technology was not introduced into the military for many years. With confederation in 1867 British garrisons began their withdrawal and the new Canadian Government slowly assumed responsibility for the defence of Canada. Militia artillery, cavalry and infantry units had internal signalling elements. However, standardization was lacking. No Canadian military communications, tactical or strategic, existed above unit level.
In 1870 a joint British - Canadian military force was despatched to the Red River Colony (in present day Manitoba) where there was considerable unrest among the Métis. This was the first peace keeping deployment by Canadian forces. While the force was enroute, the Canadian Government refused a British request to pay the costs of the British contingent and, as a result, Britain ordered its soldiers to turn back, leaving the Canadian component under Colonel Garnet Wolseley to carry on alone. As much of the command and control infrastructure for the force would have been British, this left the force with virtually no communications above unit level.
Inadequacies of the existing communications were recognised as early as 1871 when the Adjutant General for Engineering, in his "Report on the State of Militia of the Dominion of Canada", recommended the formation of one militia telegraph company in each province. Although the need was evident, this was not implemented until 1910.
In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. The Canadian military was fairly quick to pick up this new technology. By 1883 the Kingston garrison comprised 4% of Bell's 107 customers with a total of four telephones. At that time the two year old Bell Kingston exchange was one of the largest in Canada and had just begun to offer long distance service as far away as Toronto. The British army, by comparison, was much slower to adapt new technology and its senior officers were very quick to complain about telephone use inefficiencies such as lack of paper records concerning verbal agreements, the disruptions caused by ringers and the unwieldy instruments of the period.
With the North West Rebellion of 1885 the army again found itself in need of tactical communications both within the field force itself and for strategic line of communications telegraph. Where they existed communicators with the force often tapped commercial telegraph lines to "acquire" communications. Interestingly enough, Riel and his forces seldom cut or interrupted the existing telegraph lines as these same lines also provided his communications outlet to the world, in particular to the Government of Canada with whom Riel frequently negotiated. After his raw forces were defeated at the Battles of Fish Creek (24 April) and Cut Knife Hill (1 May) the Canadian forces field commander, British Major General Frederick Middleton, used telegraph effectively to coordinate his campaign. This resulted in the defeat at Batoche of the Métis - Indian forces led by Louis Riel.
Canadian Engineers - 1903
Canada, the second largest country in the world, is a nation in many ways controlled and directed by the realities of its geography. 90% of the population have always lived within 100 miles of its American border. The remainder is sparsely populated and largely undeveloped. Until the advent of modern technology there was no viable commercial communications market. The north was largely ignored until the Klondike Gold Rush provide the catalyst to open it up. In 1898 the Yukon Field Force was despatched to the Klondike to assist police in maintaining law and order. Even then, government and civilian communications requirements could not support a commercial service and the Canadian Government was forced to provide its own communications infrastructure. As no commercial communications existed, a government (Department of Public Works) telegraph service was set up. While the Yukon Field Force was withdrawn by 1900 the "operators" of the Yukon Telegraph Service were still in place and serving the needs of the military and northern communities as late as 1945. This Yukon Telegraph Service was a recognised forerunner of the army North West Territories and Yukon Radio System which began to replace it in 1923.
In 1899 three Royal Navy warships (HMS Alexandra, Europa and Juno) exchanged wireless signals at sea over a range of 87 miles.
On 23 December 1900 a wireless set developed by the Canadian Professor Reginald Aubrey Fessenden transmitted intelligible voice signals for the first time. Military radio, voice or otherwise, was still a long way off.
At 1230 hours 12 December 1901 Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal at St John's Newfoundland. This experiment by Guglielmo Marconi spanned 2,232 miles from Cornwall in England. The first signal was a morse "S", a series of three dots. The acknowledgement went by underwater cable back to England.
Corps of Guides - 1903-1929
On 1 April 1903 the Corps of Guides was authorized. The Corps was virtually part of the General Staff responsible for field security and some aspects of military intelligence. Eventually 12 companies of cyclists were formed, units numbered one to 13 (9 was excluded as there was no Military District Number 9). In 1919 a Cable Censorship Section, Corps Reserve was added to the establishment. On 31 March 1929 the Corps was disbanded and personnel were absorbed into the Canadian Corps of Signals.
In April 1903 Lord Dundonald (Major General Douglas MacKinnon Baillie Hamilton Cochrane, 12th Earl of Dundonald, General Officer Commanding, Canadian Militia) publicly remarked on the need for "a better system of Signals" in the army. He stated that "I would like to see heliographs brought into use to enable me to signal my forces at a distance and I believe that there should be established schools of instruction in signalling".
On 1 July 1903 the Canadian Engineer Corps (CE) was formed as a "Permanent Corps" and, as part of its many duties, was assigned responsibility for all communications above unit level. The non-permanent engineer corps then acquired sole title to the name "Canadian Engineers". In 1913 brigade level signals were assigned to the Canadian Signal Corps while Division and higher remained with CE. During World War I most division and higher level signal units were actually engineer signal units (except for 1 Canadian Divisional Signal Company which was formed as a mixed corps unit). CE lost its communications role in 1920 when all responsibility for signalling was assigned to the Canadian Signal Corps.
By 1903 radio design improvements by R.A. Fessenden were instrumental in making radio feasible. He invented the synchronous rotary spark-gap which, for the first time, produced a clear musical "voice" which could drill through natural noise and man made interference and a liquid barreter detector whose efficiency and sensitivity extended the range of wireless telegraphy. His heterodyne principle solved the problem of receiving continuous waves from the radio frequency alternator which he also invented. Fessenden eventually was awarded over 500 patents. Using Fessenden designed equipment, two way trans-Atlantic wireless telegraphy was initiated on 10 January 1906 between Brant Rock Massachusetts and Machrihanish, Scotland. Power was an impressive 750 watts at 20 kilohertz. Range and reliability was superior to earlier Marconi equipment and transmitters were capable of both continuous wave and voice transmissions. By October 1914 the Marconi company had applied for a licence to use the superior Fessenden developed technology. Fessenden produced significant techni-cal milestones which were to have a great impact upon military communications of the future.
On 1 February 1904 the Canadian Engineer Corps was renamed the Royal Canadian Engineers and adopted the Royal Cypher surmounted by the Imperial Crown for their badge. The militia component continued to be designated as Canadian Engineers and wore the beaver on their badge instead of the Royal Cypher. This same differentiation between "regular" and "reservist" occurred in Signals in 1924.
On 1 June 1905, formation of Number 1 Section, Field Telegraphs, CE was authorized at Ottawa While authorized this unit was never organized and it was dropped from the establishment in 1910.
In the fall of 1905, Canadian Engineer signallers trained in the use of field telegraph cables at Levis Camp, Quebec. This was the first use of such military equipment in Canada.
In 1907, the CE School of Telegraphy was created as one of five departments at the Royal School of Military Engineering at Halifax Nova Scotia.
By 1907 the first two wireless companies were authorized. At the same time a reorganization of telegraph units took place and establishments were authorized for thirteen Telegraph, two Air-line, two Cable, six Divisional and two Wireless Telegraph Companies as well as "K" Telegraph Company.
In 1909 the Royal Canadian Engineers provided support for the first Canadian demonstration of the military applications of heavier-than-air aircraft at Petawawa, Ontario. This involved provision of hangers, the first, albeit temporary, military airstrip and assistance in assembling the flying machines, called "aerodromes" at the time. The pilots, J.A.D. McCurdy and F.W. Baldwin, were former members of 2 Field Company CE. The first aircraft, Silver Dart, was demonstrated on 2 August 1909 and after several successful flights was wrecked while landing. On 12 August its replacement, Baddeck I, was demonstrated and, unfortunately, was also damaged on 13 August. This terminated the demonstrations. Subsequent attempts to create an Aviation Section RCE, while gaining Militia Council approval, were not funded by the Privy Council and were opposed by the Minister of Militia and Defence, Sir Sam Hughes.
In 1910 Canadian Engineer companies involved in communications were re-named "Signal Companies", the Army companies being lettered and the Divisional companies numbered. Visual signalling above battalion level was taken over by the Signalling Service.
On 1 April 1910, Canadian Engineer telegraph detachments were authorized as part of five field engineer companies.
By 1911, the Canadian Engineer Signalling Service had grown to 13 sections support-ing 3 Military Districts and 6 Division Areas. A Director of Army Signals was appointed. Signal units were reorganized and the new organizations tested in 1912, 1913, and 1914.
In 1912, following the sinking of the TITANIC, R.A. Fessenden announced that he had "bounced signals off icebergs by radio, measuring the distance". Radar was almost born.
In April 1912, Number 1 Wireless Detachment, CE, was formed at Hamilton, Ontario. This was the first unit created to take advantage of this new form of communications (known today as radio).
In 1913 6 Field Company, CE submitted a proposal for the formation of an aviation section similar to the Air Battalion, Royal Engineers which formed in 1912 and later became the Royal Flying Corps. This idea was rejected by Sir Sam Hughes.
The first recorded use of a motorcycle for military message delivery occurred on 21 June 1913 when the General Officer Commanding, 2nd Division wrote to the Secretary Militia Council that Private T. Dawley, 44th Regiment (Lincoln and Welland), had been selected to serve as an orderly at Niagara-On-The-Lake Camp Headquarters:
"for the reason that he brought to the camp with him his motorcycle. He rendered very efficient service, and did work which would have taken two mounted (cavalry) orderlies to perform. I therefore recommend that authority be granted for him to be paid the sum of $1.25 per diem (which is the rate of horse allowance) to recompense him for the use of his motorcycle in the public service. Repairs to the amount of $4.50 for piston and compensating rings, stand and frame stud, and time fitting were necessary. I recommend that this sum also be paid"
Private Dawley received a total of $17.00.
SO YOU HAD TO WORK THE WEEKEND....
EXTRACT FROM 1904 YUKON TELEGRAPH TRAFFIC JOURNAL 565
August 30th, 1904.
J.Y. Rochester, Esq.
Actg Supt, Yukon Telg Svc,
I beg to advise that Operator Grimes has applied for two months leave of absence, which I have granted, taking effect from yesterday.
I was very glad to have him apply for this as I had fully made up my mind to force him to take a vacation in order to get him out of Tagish for a time; as five years in a place like that is too long for any man.
I had Operator Chambers of Caribou turn his office over to his wife, and himself, go to Tagish to relieve Grimes.
I believe that latter is going East, and will no doubt call on you in Vancouver.
Alfred. A. Clegg
LOVE THAT TELEPHONE!
Telephone, like many technological innovations, was not necessarily initially well accepted by the military. General Alison's letter expresses sentiments which, while still valid today, demonstrate a typical British Army attitude toward this North American invention. His switchboard could accommodate an astonishing three lines, a severely disruptive influence upon a British army garrison of the period. the Kingston Garrison, on the other hand, installed four instruments that year. The following letter and the early Aldershot switchboard are both on display in the C & E Museum.
27 August 1886
"My Dear Fielding,
"I think on manoeuvres or service having telephone communications in camp between Hd Qrs and commanders of brigades and separate corps (and between brigades and each of the regiments under them) would be of great service - and save orderlies immensely.
"Also in a permanent camp such as this it would be of service if brigadiers and their regiments were in telephone communication (or telegraphic).
"When however it becomes a question of superseding the present telegraphic communication we now have between the Hd Qrs offices and the brigade offices (Cav and Infy) - by switchboard at Hd Qrs and telephonic communication by means of it to brigades etc. - other considerations come in and I have not yet been able to satisfy myself that it would be an advantage.
"There are certain objections to telephones, one is that though you can talk through a telephone quicker than you can write out, and then send off, a telegram, you cannot communicate by telephone keeping a copy or record of what is sent (a very important point) much, if at all, quicker.
"I was informed by the head of a staff dept. where telephones were used that he found it absolutely necessary to order that copies of what was sent should be made, as so many mistakes arose by the contrary custom. I am not sure therefore whether in the point of efficiency as well as rapidity there would be any real gain in superseding our present telegraph system (which exists and works well) by the telephone.
"Then again the man holding the cups of a telephone and receiving a message has his hands fully employed. He cannot take down the message he receives but must call it out, to be taken down by a second man (involving two men) or repeat it at its close by memory only. A good telegraph clerk will take a message down (keeping a record of it while doing so) and be sending off another sometimes at the same moment.
"Then the constant ringing of the bell is a decided nuisance. You could not have telephone operators at work within two or three feet of clerks engaged in their ordinary work of writing or calculating - in the same way as you have telegraph operators in our present Hd Qrs office. It would worry everyone to death. A special room would be required.
"Telephones are largely used in America between private houses and shops, cab stands etc. etc. etc. - but on account of this worry of the bell individuals will not have them in their homes and there is no doubt that the telegraph is a quieter system.
"I do not know of course how far new instruments and improvements may change matters but as far as experience has gone here with the telephone, between this and Pirbright, the telephone was a failure - constantly getting out of order and having eventually to be abolished - and I should doubt if it would not be more likely to get out of order than the telegraph.
"As far as the saving of orderlies goes I do not see that they would be saved by the telephonic more than the telegraphic system.
"To sum up - I should not like to supersede our present system of telegraph by telephone until I was more convinced of its being an advantage than I am now. It might be tried between brigade offices and regiments perhaps where now no communication telegraphic or telephone exist.
"Yours very sincerely,