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I am stuck with my father’s military duffle bag; it’s a tangible reminder of his military service. I have read my father’s journals and the history of his unit in Gil Murray’s The Invisible War: The Untold Secret Story of Number One Canadian Special Wireless Group. These sources helped me craft the following tale about a bag with 80 years of service to the Frood family:
I entered the Frood family realm on July 27, 1943, part of the military kit assigned to Oren Claude Frood during basic training at Fort Frontenac in Kingston.
I am the typical, standard issue army duffle bag, about 30 centimetres in diameter, one metre long and with brass rivets and a blue-grey cord, the original issue, to be tied shut when stuffed full of gear. I am made with heavy-duty khaki canvas and have a sturdy canvas handle on the side. Oren carries me with ease at his side, slings me onto his shoulder or throws me into the back of a truck, train, car or the hull of a ship to be transported from one place to another.
Oren personalized me – FROOD is neatly printed and evenly spaced. There is draftsman precision to this lettering – a testament to his schooling and a drafting job between high-school graduation and enlisting. There is no need for additional identifying information. Froods are few in Canada, mostly in the Ottawa Valley and if by chance another Frood picked me up by mistake, they would likely be a cousin.
For many years now – 40 or so – I waited attentively to be called back into service. I am in a storage locker, folded but visible. Before that, I was in a garage, then in a basement and then tucked into the top of a closet.
But there were times of intensive use and I travelled a lot. During the Second World War, Oren stuffed then restuffed me for various assignments.
After basic training, I took his gear to the University of Toronto where Oren took sciences and mathematics courses at the Army’s expense. At the time, he felt this was a strange way to get to U of T and it was odd to go to university to fight a war. He did not realize he had been noticed and the Army had a plan.
We were weeded out at midterm and assigned to an infantry camp at Lake Simcoe, Ont. Now a master of automatic weaponry, Oren next took me to Toronto where he was interviewed, swore an oath of secrecy and then assigned to the Army Intelligence Corp. Oren studied Japanese and his mathematical skills served him well as he learned to break Japanese codes from messages intercepted by Americans in the Pacific. Our transfer to British Columbia confirmed a new signals group – the No. 1 Canadian Special Wireless Group was formed and destined to serve somewhere in the Pacific.
In January 1945, jammed with military kit, I scrunched into awkward places, got used as a pillow and was generally abused. But I did not complain, I did my job and got to see the world. We are on the move – by truck, ship and train to San Francisco where we waited to board a ship to Australia. We crossed the equator and got an extra day of pay by crossing the international dateline somewhere in the Pacific. We passed New Guinea and Hollandia where troops were on the move as the fortunes of the Pacific War improved.
We landed at Brisbane on Feb. 15, camped for six weeks and then travelled north by train and truck to Darwin in the Northern Territories of Australia. The Wireless Group set up camp and got to work intercepting Japanese communications and forwarding messages for code breaking.
Then our war was over. The Pacific War ended on Aug. 15, 1945, although the unit continued to monitor Japanese communications until mid-October. The battle of the return journey to Canada began. We travelled by train and truck to Adelaide, then Melbourne and then to Sydney. We froze and roasted across the Australian landscape. We were toasted by numerous communities along the way – as one of the last army groups to return home, we provided another opportunity to celebrate.
I waited patiently at the base while the members of the Wireless Group amused themselves in Sydney for two months. At the beginning of February 1946, we finally got on a tramp steamer for the long trip back to Vancouver, arriving in late February 1946. A month later, Oren was discharged in Ottawa.
In the following years, and at a more leisurely pace, I carried Oren’s civilian gear as he travelled between Ottawa and Kingston where he attended Queen’s University, working toward a Bachelor of Commerce. The dream of medical studies at U of T was put aside – finances tipped the balance to study at Queen’s. Oren graduated in 1950 with a dramatically expanded family kit made up of his wife Norah and son, Peter.
I found myself shoved into an expanded collection of suitcases, trunks and baby gear, generally waiting patiently to be called again to service.
Finally, Peter pulled me out of storage. First, I protected his sleeping bags, linens and towels during trips to summer camp and then carried more stuff during Peter’s moves to Toronto for university and work.
Eventually, my active duty ended. I am now an artifact, the last bit of military kit. I survive because of a son’s affection, a reminder of Oren’s unusual journey to Australia and his code-breaking vocation during the war.
Perhaps I will trigger faint memories for Oren’s grandchildren. But for the rest, I am a curiosity, an introduction to another family story.
Peter Frood lives in Ottawa.