This story of Guide skills and observation put to use happened at a Girl Guide Camp in New Brunswick during World War II. Adapted from the article “They Were Prepared” by Mrs. N.H. Davis in The Canadian Guider, March 1968.
Although we in Canada fared well, during the Second World War, our entire mode of living changed. Some foods were rationed, materials for civilian manufacture were scarce; families were uprooted, with fathers, brothers, and even sisters joining the armed services. Every restaurant and place of public gathering carried placards like “These Walls Have Ears,” “Zipper Your Lips,” and “Silence is Golden.”
Guides then did not plan what they might do on a Saturday morning; they had a choice of rolling bandages and running errands in a hospital for hours at a time, or covering districts of the city collecting rendered fats and salvage for use in the munitions factories. Because they made an excellent patriotic display, they marched in frequent parades in support of bond drives, service club projects, and so on.
During the summer of 1942, the 5th Moncton Guide Company, under the leadership of Captain Adrienne Brown, held a 10-day camp at “Camp Y’s Acres”. The campsite was a 3-acre site on Cocagne Bay operated by Moncton’s YWCA. Directly across from the site, was Cocagne Island and the Northumberland Strait.
A highlight of the camp was a “motorboat hike” to Cocagne Island, where the Guides would explore, collect specimens, and cookout. On this particular hike, Captain’s eye was caught by a venturesome group sneaking off to the high, rocky ledges that formed a bulwark against the crashing breakers of the Atlantic, where on the highest point stood a deserted two-storey house. The culprits, slightly annoyed at having their adventure nipped in the bud, had the last word by telling the Captain of the fresh footprints they had been following. This was dismissed as over-active imagination.
Later that evening, these same Guides … sneaked quietly out of the back of their tent … sheltered by a grove of birch and spruce … The ground was soft and springy and they stretched out very comfortably to whisper, giggle, and talk about the little island they could see outlined as a dark shape in the mouth of the huge bay. Suddenly one Guide exclaimed, “Look, a light on the island! But it’s uninhabited – There it is again flashing on and off – Girls! It’s a Morse Code signal.”
“Oh you must be crazy,” another offered. Nevertheless, they decided to take the signals down, though they made no sense. “It’s a code,” they whispered excitedly. … They felt they had no choice but to tell, for the security of their country was at stake.
The next afternoon a small monoplane made a quick visit to the island. On the strength of this and negative answers to discreet enquiries … the Guiders staked themselves out that evening in the copse after lights out. Sure enough, the signals began – in Morse but undecipherable – followed by a plane visit the next afternoon. Our alert Captain took down the plane’s markings.
The next day the Commanding Officer of a nearby base came to camp to visit his daughter, and the Guiders took this opportunity to discuss the mystery with him. Although he said little, he showed marked surprise when the plane’s markings were given to him. He asked for the code, and for the ladies to leave matters with him. Within days, it was noted that the signals had ceased.
Just before breaking camp, we had another visit from the Commanding Officer, this time accompanied by the Service Police to thank the Guiders and Guides concerned for their alertness and to assure all that the information had been very helpful. More than that they would not say! Imagine the excitement of all the girls involved when it was later learned that this area had been a very popular one for enemy submarines. We also heard that two enemy agents had landed on the far side of the island by dark of night. One had set himself up with radio transmitter and flash beacon in the deserted house. The other had made his way in rough civilian dress to make contact in Moncton.
Our story is just one of hundreds that tell of the anxious years of the Forties. Was the alertness of our Guides of any help? We like to think so.