November 17, 2008

A fortress deep and mighty


At 11:11 on November 11, all presses and various bindery machines in the Booster's production departments were shut down to observe a moment of silence. The thrums, clanks, clatters, and talking ceased throughout the building. As I assumed a civilian stance of remembrance, my eyes fixated on the Hummer-sized two-colour press in the centre of the print shop.

In my mind, I dove beneath the cold Atlantic during World War II where packs of Nazi U-Boats hunted around the coast of Newfoundland.

The Dominion of Newfoundland in its strategic central location, was an ideal site for military bases. Built up properly, the island would be a very large, very formidable fortress with easy access to the mainland Canada/U.S. and Europe. Because of this potential, it was also a prime target of conquest for the Nazis. If they gained a foothold on the Rock and were able to expand their influence further west, North America would be crushed under the Iron Curtain. The image of the red swatiska flag being raised over the Colonial Building and Nazis marching through St. John's saluting Hitler is a disturbing alternate universe to comtemplate.

The Allies had aircraft stationed in Newfoundland at Stephenville, Gander, Argentia and Torbay. As RCAF Station Torbay became fully operational early in 1942, its aircraft provided protection as far east as the Grand Banks, where many U-boats patrolled.


With the exception of Pearl Harbour, the Dominion of Newfoundland was the only part of North America to be attacked on the homefront. Newfoundland was in the war zone and there was always the threat of a direct enemy attack. Blackouts were implemented soon after the war began, and St. John's had a scorched earth policy imposed on it. If invaded, the city would be evacuated and burned, denying the enemy anything useful.

People reported encounters with strange men on deserted roads who smelled of diesel fumes - presumably spies. In Labrador, a weather station was constructed by a U-boat crew who made it ashore for at least 28 hours. U-boats surfaced next to fishing boats to actually buy fresh fish. Bell Island (within sight of my hometown) was attacked several times by submarines with iron ore ships being sunk. One of the torpedoes was recovered by divers in 2000. The ferry S.S. Caribou was sunk during its run from North Sydney to Port Aux Basques. I remember reading an account in college about a nightclub being set afire in downtown St. John's, presumably by Nazi sabotage. Three torpedoes were fired at St. John’s. One hit Fort Amherst and two more hit the cliffs below Cabot Tower. The impact of the torpedo blast broke every window in the building.

I snapped out of my reverie as the moment of silence came to an end. I'm thankful that my island wasn't captured by the Nazis and used as a weapon against the mainland. Pure conjecture, but it's a terrifying thought. Unfortunately, the guns really haven't gone silent. They still rage throughout the world, with more death and destruction by the day. We are a violent species. Let's not forget the sacrifices made then and now.

I powered up my small envelope duplicator, and went back to work.

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