When Nazi Germany invaded neutral Norway in 1940, most of Norway’s merchant fleet was at sea, Although the Germans ordered them home, not one turned back. King Haakon VII and his government went into exile in London. From there, they formed Nortraship (the Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission), which administered the Norwegian merchant fleet outside German-controlled areas. Nortraship operated some 1,000 vessels and was the largest shipping company in the world. It made a major contribution to the Allied war effort.
The Sparks (named after spark-gap transmitters) maintained the links between the ships and land-based stations. Operators provided aids to navigation, weather information and radio-direction finding, as well as visual signalling. They usually handled clerical and purser functions. If their ship was under attack, the Sparks had to get rid of the code books, no matter what – they could not fall into enemy hands. It was their job to transmit the ship’s name and position in the event of a submarine sighting, torpedo attack, surface raid or other emergency. Their main responsibility was to listen – signals were in Continuous Wave (CW), keyed in Morse Code. The operators had to decode messages to see whether they applied to their ship or convoy. The formats changed often. A missed or incorrectly-decoded message could lead the ship to disaster. The emergency frequency commanded their utmost attention.
Of the nine thousand foreigners who served aboard Norwegian vessels during WW II about 2000 were Canadians, according to records from Norway. Of these 2000 Canadians, twenty-two were young women who served as wireless operators aboard Norwegian vessels; little information is available on these women, aside from the Norwegian records . Fern Blodgett was one of many Canadians and Britons to sail the North Atlantic with Nortraship.
(tnx as always to Heather Holland for the media)