Edited By Jerry Proc VE3FAB

During the Korean war, Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) radio operators inadvertently found themselves acting as language translators and playing an important part in the radio operations of that theatre of war. No, it didn't mean converting English to some exotic tongue - rather, American to British and vice-versa! Allow me to elaborate.

A former RCN communicator recalled one of the instances as he told how he had listened to an American radioman trying to explain some message to his counterpart in a British cruiser. The British sailor was becoming more frustrated by the minute as he tried to fathom the American's drawl. "Finally," said the Canadian, he could not take it any longer and called out, "is there anyone out there who can tell me what this message is all about?" The Canadian then broke in. "I'm Canadian and I understand both your languages. It would be to your advantage to relay through me".

This type of 'relay' service was used on several occasions and also included messages between ships and aircraft. Canadian communicators usually got along with their United States Navy and Royal Navy counterparts. They used the same terminology as the British so difficulty was rarely encountered there. They spoke almost the same version of English as did the Americans so it was easy to understand them. The Canadian's main complaint was the American habit of asking repeatedly how the transmission was being received. The Canadian reply was the standard "I hear you loud and clear" . Americans, however, wanted an actual rating on the volume and clarity of their transmissions. The standard "loud and clear" to an American had to be a "five by five" or a "three by three" depending on the reception. No one knew the exact reason for this habit.

Since the Canadian communicators could not understand the reasoning behind this, they refused to comply. Eventually word got around that RCN ships were not about to adopt the American method and they would continue to acknowledge with "loud and clear". One dark night it all came to a climax when an American voice crackled through the static-filled airwaves for the fifth time with the request "How do you read me?". Plainly agitated, the Canadian replied for the fifth time, "I hear you loud and clear. I have been receiving you loud and clear for five minutes. There is no change."

"Is that loud and clear a five by five?" the Yank persisted. No! Gawdammit!" the Canadian snarled, "it's a two by two by two". "I do not understand two by two by two," the confused Yank replied. "It means", growled the Canuck, "that I hear you too loud, too clear and too gawdamn often".

From that point onwards, verbal communication became easier, but on occasion the air would turn several shades of blue over annoying transmissions. The accents of Americans and British continued to grate on one another's nerves while the Canadians continued in their role as interpreters. This ability to understand both 'British English' and 'American English' aided them in their ultimate conquest of a far greater challenge. It took a few months but they eventually learned 'Australian English' - no easy feat.

Bibliography: Thunder in the Morning Calm - The Royal Canadian Navy in Korea 1950-1955. Edward C. Meyers. Vanwell Publishing. St. Catharines Ontario. 1992

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