[Meanderings]

Fern Blodgett-Sunde

left to right: Photo courtesy Cobourg Museum Foundation; photo courtesy Tyler Fauvelle

Circa 1942

The battle of the Atlantic raged from 1939 to 1945. If the Kriegsmarine won control of the seas, they could cripple the convoys that carried vital supplies to the Allies. German U-boats prowled the waters, eager to pounce upon their prey: the merchant marine ships that navigated the treacherous shipping lanes with their precious cargoes. To a large extent, the safety of those ships depended upon the wireless operators who worked the onboard radios, listening and translating the messages and codes essential to survival.

Fern Blodgett was the first woman to earn her wire less license in Canada and the first to go to sea as a wireless operator on the Norwegian Merchant Navy cargo ship the Mosdale. At the time, the Norwegian Merchant Navy was the only allied merchant fleet that permitted women to serve onboard as wireless operators. Words like daring, courageous and patriotic don’t begin to capture the free spirit and determination of the young Cobourg woman.

Between 1942 and 1945, Fern crossed the Atlantic 78 times. Recounting her life aboard the Mosdale she reminisced, “I wondered what I’d be like in a crisis if we were attacked… I wondered whether I’d be a woman or a wireless operator if we were torpedoed. As a woman I would be expected to head for the lifeboats. As a wireless operator, the ship’s “Sparks”, I’d be expected to remain on duty. I decided I’d be a wireless operator.”

In the midst of the war, she married Gerner Sunde, the Mosdale’s captain but there was no time for a honeymoon. The newlyweds left the port of Saint John, New Brunswick on board the Mosdale for their next Atlantic crossing. Fern Blodgett was lucky. The Mosdale was never torpedoed, but there were many close calls. She wended her way through minefields, was chased by submarines, and was separated from convoys during violent storms but she left the war unscathed, as did Fern Blodgett.

A statue commemorating Fern Blodgett-Sunde, created by Tyler Fauvelle was recently unveiled in Cobourg’s Victoria Park.