Roy Sanders

The Tools my Dad used:
From farmer, to RADAR technician,
to physicist, to antiwar activist

Memories from Richard Sanders

Since he died last Friday [Jan.5, 2018], I've been thinking a lot about all the tools that my Dad (Roy Sanders) could handle. From an early age, I thought he could do anything. Being from a long line of hard-working farmers, he was proficient with a whole array of carpentry tools, wrenches for plumbing, things for doing electrical work, blow torches, axes, adzes, iron wedges, giant levers and big old pulleys (block and tackle) for moving huge things, chainsaws, maple sugar spigots, canning equipment, gardening tools of all kinds (both manual and gas powered), pincers for cutting sheet metal to do roofing, shovels for mixing cement, and hundreds of other tools too numerous to remember. He was a creative artist with these practical tools.

He had a big collection of antique tools acquired at country auctions and handed down to him (which I still have). He often used pioneer tools, not just because we didn't have the power to plug in electric tools at the cottage, but because they are still just as good if not better than modern equipment.

But besides all these down-to-earth tools used for the building/renovating his house and cottage, he also learned from an early age how to fix and maintain some of the world's most top-secret technology.

As a teen in Bloomfield, Ontario (where his early schooling days included classes with kids from many grades) he decided to sign up for WWII. He hadn't yet finished high school but wanted to join the military. (His grandfather understood his motivation and didn't object but made sure to tell my Dad that he would be the first in his whole long family line who had ever worked with any military force.)

My Dad, while still a teen, was among a very few recruits who were selected for training in the use of a brand new thing called RADAR ("RAdio Detection And Ranging"). This new technology was so top-secret that trainees were not even allowed to say the word RADAR, let alone say anything about it to anyone, including even to their superiors in the military!

So, when my Dad's small group of technicians were sent off to India to work with the RAF they were not told -- for security reasons -- which British base they were heading to or even when to get off the plane. They were supposed to be met in India by someone who would then identify themselves and take them off the military plane to where they were going. However, some dolt ordered the group of secret guys off the plane in Karachi (now in Pakistan). But, no one in the British military in Karachi knew who these guys were or what they were supposed to be doing or where they were supposed to go and the RADAR guys had been instructed that they couldn't tell anyone anything because it was all so secret! So, finally the little troop of RADAR techies decided to leave Karachi and set off on a 1000+ km adventure across India to reach British military HQ in Delhi. There they finally met with people who were cleared to talk to them about their mission. (They do say military intelligence is a contradiction in terms and this story perhaps exemplifies that....)

One of their little RADAR group was a fellow named Omer Stringer, who was born in Algonquin Park and had been a guide there. My Dad used to talk about the solar-powered reflector oven that Omer built in India. The RADAR technicians were all very thankful for this technology because the mess food was so bad and Omer's oven could bake biscuits! (After the war, Omer attained some fame for founding the Roots Company which made outdoorsy clothes and built Beaver canoes. When I was a kid, around 1967?, my parents took me to visit Omer at Camp Tamakwa in the Park and he took me out for a paddle.)

After the war my Dad finished high school and went on to get his PhD in Physics (Optics) at Imperial College in London, England. In the 1950s he got a job in Applied Physics at the National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa and was there for 23 years. In the early days, he used computers a lot and was one of the few people who had any access to these wondrous machines that we now take for granted. Computers back then filled huge rooms, they had glass tubes not microchips, they needed cardboard cards with holes for programming and they spat out long folding sheets of paper that -- as a toddler -- my parents gave to me to reuse for drawing on.

At NRC he often also used LASERS (for civil not military purposes) to measure light and colour. I remember learning from him at a tender age that LASER is an acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation." There were lots of bizarre machines at his laboratory. These machines had long unpronounceable names that went way over my head as a kid, including, as i recall... spectrophotometers and spectroradiometers. Google tells me these gizmos have something to do with the "quantitative measurement of the reflection or transmission properties of a material as a function of wavelength," but we'll just have to take their word on that.

Here's one final story about my Dad and technological hardware. While stationed in Cuttack, India, during the war, my Dad built a radio out of stuff in their workshop. When he got it working, he and the other technicians sat around it and listened to the announcement that the atomic bomb had just been dropped on Japan. A new era of technology had begun.

After the war my Dad and Mom (who was a veteran of the British Army and lived through the Battle of Britain) worked tirelessly for many decades to oppose nuclear weapons. They also organised many antiwar protests from the Vietnam War days in the 1960s up until the early 2000s. Protests, conferences, vigils, publications, petitions, letters and nonviolent direct actions like blockading the institutions of war and weapons trade shows, are just a few of the many tools that they used in their struggles to raise public awareness and provoke social change.

I am proud to have had the privilege of working closely with them both -- on an almost daily basis -- for over two decades. They were, for example, driving forces within the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade. We were a good team. They were both stalwart activists and they worked very hard to oppose Canada's deep and still ongoing complicity in imperialist wars and in the international arms trade. I am still trying to carry on where they left off, but it is difficult to live up to the example that they set. That struggle continues....