In 1941, during the Battle of the Atlantic, the Admiralty sent a secret letter to The Norwegian Shipping Mission expressing appreciation for the outstanding services rendered to the Allied cause by three Norwegian cargo ships. The letter praised the ships’ radio operators for the “exemplary manner” in which they followed route instructions and diversions designed to keep the merchant ships out of danger. Though not expressly stated in the letter from the Admiralty, German warships and U-boats were the primary danger.
The Mosdale, one of the ships praised, did in fact have a remarkable radio operator. Her name was Fern Blodgett, a young Canadian who was the first woman ever to serve deep sea as a wireless radio operator, also known as a “Sparks”.
Fern grew up in Cobourg, Ont., dreaming of sailing the high seas, even though she knew that ships at the time were not for girls. When the Second World War broke out, she was determined to serve Canada. Although some radio schools were reluctant to train women, she persisted and became the first Canadian woman to earn a Second Class Wireless Operator’s certificate.
Answering an urgent call for an operator, she made her way to Montreal. Gerner Sunde, the young Norwegian captain of the Mosdale – and Fern’s future husband – was shocked to see that his applicant was a woman. At the time, neither Canada nor Britain permitted women to work aboard naval and merchant ships at sea, but luckily Norway had no rule against it….