The information on registered seafarers is not in all cases complete. As new sources are studied, information on engagements and medals etc. will be added to some of the already registered seafarers.
"I midten av juli måned 1943 avla H.M. kong Håkon og H.K.H. konprins Olav et besøk ombord på et av den norske handelsflåtens moderne dieseldrevne skip, som nettopp var kommet tilbake etter å ha krysset Atlanteren for 51. gang i løpet av 3 år. I alt har dette skip brakt over 50,000 tonn fødevarer fra Nord-Amerika til Storbritannia. Ved denne anledning utdelte kongen medaljer til førstemaskinist, den kvinnelige kanadisk-fødte radiotelegrafist ombord, og skipets motormann. - Bildet viser den kvinnelige radiotelegrafist ombord, fru Fern Sunde (tidl. Fern Blodgett), gift med skipets kaptein, motta den norske krigsmedaljen av Kong Håkon".Copyright: Bergens Tidende, 23. juni 1945
Registernummer under krigen: London 82329, NY 28807.
Gift med (jf. London-kort): Skipsfører Gerner Sunde.
Fra kravskjema om Ex gratia-utbetaling: "Kanadisk inntil 20/7 1942. Norsk fra 20/7 1942 - norsk gift".
"International Women's Day: Fern Blodgett Sunde a warship's wireless officer," The Kingston Whig-Standard:
"I wondered what I'd be like in a crisis if we were attacked by submarine or surface raiders or bombers," recalled Fern Blodgett Sunde about her work in the Second World War. Would she be a justifiably terrified woman scurrying for the lifeboats, or would she find the courage to stay at her crucial work? "As a wireless operator, as the ship's "Sparks," I'd be expected to remain on duty. I decided I'd be a wireless operator."
As chaos and menace thrived during her wartime years of Atlantic crossings, Blodgett Sunde was very fortunate to not have to test her mettle. Born July 6, 1918, Fern Blodgett dreamed of being a sailor as a child, watching ships from the shore of Lake Ontario at Cobourg, their motions and sounds entranced her imagination. But she knew this career was closed to women. Later working in the stenography pool of a Toronto firm, the young woman kept her hope of having a seagoing life one day. The outbreak of the Second World War gave her an opening. Telegraph operators were urgently required and there weren't enough men available or willing to fill the need.
Applying to wireless training schools in Toronto, Blodgett was immediately refused by two of them. Women were not eligible. "The third accepted me. After 18 months of night classes, I was a trained operator," Blodgett told Olive Carroll in Canadians at War 1939-1945, Vol. 1 (Readers Digest Association, 1969). She was now a member of the Sparks, the nickname given to wireless operators due to the spark-gap transmitters used to send messages by radio frequencies. Blodgett's lucky day was Friday, June 13, 1941. She not only graduated as Second Class Wireless Operator, she was offered her dream job: wireless operator aboard a ship.
Packed and on a train for Montreal within a few hours, Blodgett arrived at the dockyard where the fruit carrier M/S Mosdale was preparing to depart for England. The Norwegian vessel needed a radio operator as soon as possible and F. Blodgett was hired ... until the ship's captain, Gerner Sunde found out that the candidate was a woman. Was he even permitted to have her as part of his crew during wartime?
There were no regulations stipulating women could not sail. Likewise, there were none stating they could. Britain and Canada refused to have women on vessels as radio operators, Canadian officials declaring, "Good God no, we have enough trouble on ships now without having women on board!" The Norwegian merchant marine, however, would make their own decisions. Capt. Sunde could wait no longer. He had to get his vessel underway and there were no other operators lining up for the job.
Sunde "spoke with Fern, and since she seemed self-assured and sounded competent, he hesitated only a few minutes before agreeing to sign her on," said Olive Roechner in "Pioneer Canadian Wireless YLs," Radio Amateurs of Canada site. Blodgett was in. She was the first female radio operator to serve at sea. Initially expecting to see an older, grizzled seadog as commander of the vessel, 22-year-old Blodgett was pleasantly surprised by her new boss. Capt. Gerner Sunde was handsome, blond and 31 years old.
"Fern's main task as wireless operator or "Spark" was listening," noted S.V. Saghus in Fern Sunde, Krigsseiler (Vest Agder Museet). Messages were coded and received on short, medium and long wave. When travelling in convoys, messages between Allied vessels were encoded in formats that changed with each sailing. Accuracy in transcribing messages was essential to prevent the ship's falling into the enemy's grasp. Settled into her post as chief wireless officer, one particular situation was out of the radio operator's control. When the ship reached open seas, Blodgett was miserably seasick. As the only operator aboard, she couldn't take to her bed. She had to remain at her radio to do her job, with a bucket nearby on the floor. Seasickness remained her nemesis throughout her time on the ocean.
Blodgett received $170 per month plus board for her duties on the Mosdale. She tried to decorate her small cabin to make it cosy but soon gave up. Her home was a 3,000-ton ship that could make 15 knots and for a time outrun any submarine. Mosdale had a crew of 35 plus could carry 12 passengers along with its payload. (Later, two more radio operators were added to the roster.) "I liked the crew," Blodgett said. "I enjoyed the passengers we carried: correspondents, technical experts, an African explorer, servicemen, merchant seamen who had been torpedoed."
mines in uncharted mine fields, and outrunning enemy subs determined to sink them, Blodgett and Capt. Sunde fell in love. A year after joining the Mosdale crew, Blodgett and Sunde were married in Saint John, N.B. She moved into the spacious officers quarters with her new husband and was at last able to make herself a home at sea. "The captain's cabin was not only an office, with the captain's roll-top desk, typewriter and filing cabinet, but also a homely sitting room with flowers, Dresden china shepherdesses and gaily embroidered cushions," according to "King Haakon Decorates Canadian Wife of Norwegian Ship Captain," Montreal Gazette, July 31, 1942. She needed to add those few comforts: M/S Mosdale would be Mrs. Sunde's household for several years.
Sailing on a regular route between eastern Canadian ports and Britain to deliver supplies, Mosdale made 96 trips across the ocean, Sunde at her wireless post for 78 of them, providing expert communications and interceptions. In July 1943, Fern and Capt. Sunde were recognized for their contributions to the war effort.
King Haakon "presented an award to Captain Sunde and the Norwegian War Medal to his wife, Fern, for her wartime service as the chief wireless operator. She was the first woman to ever receive this decoration," said Merna Forster in 100 More Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces (Dundurn, Toronto 2011).
The Mosdale was the only one of six fruit carriers that began duty together to remain afloat at war's end. The five other ships were destroyed. The Sundes remained on duty with Mosdale for six more months. At the end of 1945, "after almost four and a half years on the harsh North Atlantic run, Fern left the ship to settle down at Kjorestad in her new homeland of Norway," according to Roeckner. Making a home on land, the Sundes became parents to two daughters. Then tragedy struck. Capt. Sunde died of a heart attack.
Remaining in her new country, Sunde received "a medal from the city of Farsund in 1988 for the distinction she brought to it," noted Forster. Fern Blodgett Sunde died in Norway in 1991.
Sunde was the first to open the door for 22 Canadian women to serve aboard Norwegian vessels during the Second World War."
"International Women's Day: Fern Blodgett Sunde a warship's wireless officer," The Kingston Whig-Standard. By Susanna McLeod. 3. March, 2015.
Privat arkiv avgitt til Arkivet freds- og menneskerettighetssenter (Bergens Tidende, 23. juni 1945)