Tales From Thule, Greenland Part II

This is the second half of the 72-year-old journal I found of my father’s time in Thule, Greenland during the summer of 1948. Click HERE to read Part I.

(Any content appearing in parentheses are my own additions to provide more clarity.)

August 3

I’ve been assigned to take care of our one and only station jeep – oil, gas, battery, water, tires etc. I’ve been running it a great deal. It certainly is a handy car for this kind of terrain. Sitting here listening to the record player Koski and I constructed. It runs very well. The motor was run in Elyria (Ohio.)

August 4

It was raining this morning, very lightly, but enough to get wet. I got a pair of overshoes out of the warehouse. It wasn’t making the ground too damp, but the top dirt made walking difficult. The rain stopped after lunch, but the winds then took over. Belmont and I went to the ship after chow to get more supplies. The ride back was rough, the seas coming right over the bow of the LCVP (landing craft, vehicle, personnel). The wind was coming offshore, blowing strong gusts. It started raining again as we reached shore. I had to help pull out an army truck with the weasel that was stuck on the beach. It had been helping to unload a Danish supply ship which came in last night with the coming year’s supplies for the Danes.

August 5

A beautiful day for a change. Spent the morning doing odd jobs, helping finish the extension, laying the sewer pipe. MacMillan left, as did the Danish supply vessel. After supper, Koski and I went out in search of our jeep, which somehow disappears toward evening. Discovered it down on the beach, about 11:00 P.M. I had to change the battery in it this morning, after it had gotten back from its prowl last night. No more movies.

August 6

Cloudy again this morning. The low front seems to be sticking close to Thule. Learned from the recon plane yesterday that Resolute Bay is still iced in. We also heard that both icebreakers have damage down to their propellors, and the Edisto may have to return earlier than desired to the States. Had to change a flat this morning, my being curator of the jeep.

August 7

Awoke to the pitter patter of rain this morning, which grew heavier all day, turning our outside ground into a quagmire. Belmont says it’s the heaviest rain at Thule, in over a year. The jeep was a handy thing to have in getting around. An army truck got stuck while hauling water and had to be pulled out by the tractor. The rain finally stopped by late afternoon and it cleared up a little after supper. We got the oil burner going in the extension, and even the sewer is laid now. I spent a good part of the day in the radio shack. Stan tried to get a few hams on his radio, but wasn’t too successful. I’m an accomplished Raob (a meteorological observation made by means of a radiosonde) man now helping out Kerr and Derrick by following the transmitter in the balloon, and recording the elevation and azimuth every minute until the balloon bursts, usually about 65,000 feet. Got the ambition to work on a puzzle about 10:00, but it wasn’t finished until 2:00 AM. I went to bed at 12:30 AM, but Al stayed up and finished it.

August 8

Well, the U.S.S. Wyandot upped anchor and shoved off at 5:55 P.M. tonight. Things began happening about 1:30 when everyone was put on 3 hours notice. I went to the ship for a shower, and when I returned at 4:30 everything was on board ship that was to go to Resolute. The captain sent his respects, and she steamed out of the harbor. The icebreakers are supposedly due in tomorrow or Tuesday, but maybe they’re planning on meeting the Wyandot in Jones Sound. Tomorrow I go on K.P. for one week. Since there are only 9 of us still here, it shouldn’t be too bad. We started hauling sand this afternoon to fill in out front. There hasn’t been any more rain, but it still is a sea of mud. We’ve given up hope temporarily of ever seeing the C-54.

August 9

Thule is again quiet. The two B-17’s left this morning unexpectedly, leaving only the air corp. personnel. The two recon planes were supposed to remain here all summer, but apparently plans are changed. One is going direct to Resolute, the other to Goose Bay and then probably to Resolute. My first day on KP wasn’t bad, sine we only have ten eating here regularly, now that the Wyandot is gone. It was sunny today, quite a change from the past few days. However, there is a radio blackout, in which all communications are shut off due to sun spots, etc. Sent a message to Hubbard about departure information, but it didn’t get off before the blackout. It may last a few hours, may last a week. Worked 6 hours on a puzzle – 4 of us finally finished it. Mail plane due tomorrow, but won’t come because of blackout.

August 10

The blackout let up for awhile today, allowing time to send and receive most all the messages. Visited by Eskimos today. They’re very interesting people. Tried my Eskimo book on them. Everyone got a big laugh out of it. Moved the barber shop today., nearer the extension. Had to replace the jeep battery again. Worked around the place today, cleaning up, moving supplies, etc. Am becoming an experienced tractor driver as well as a jeep and a weasel. Washed clothes – oh, the dirt! Weather was beautiful and sunny. Pork chops for dinner!

August 11

The only remaining original photo from the trip. Is this the gorge? Is that the photographer’s shadow?

Unexpectedly had the B-17 crew of the Arctic Queen here for breakfast. They were on recon from Resolute Bay, but the weather turned bad while in the air and they had to come to Thule to land.  They took off again at suppertime taking outgoing mail and Belmont and Milan to Resolute. Faller, Ward and I went hiking for three hours this afternoon, over along the river to the south. Took quite a few pictures of the gorge. Almost brained myself trying to climb a shale cliff after an unsuccessful attempt at crossing the river. It was a beautiful day. The radio blackout has cleared up pretty well by now, although there are a few times when signals grow weak. Going to try and finish the washroom tomorrow so everyone can take a Finnish steam bath. Put oilcloth on the table today – really becoming fancy!

August 12

Expect a plane in from Goose this evening about 11 o’clock. It was at BW-8 (Bluie West 8 airfield, now known as Sondrestrom Air Base) at suppertime. Maybe it’ll have mail. Received wire from Hubbard okaying my departure by air about Aug. 25th, destination Westover Field (now Westover Air Reserve Base) in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Radio blackout about over now. The Wyandot should be in Resolute by now, unless she ran into bad ice. Bill Johnson is going to send me my Blue Nose certificate this fall, I guess. They didn’t have enough aboard ship to go around. Frenchy made some delicious cookies today. If I keep eating like I have, I’ll be pretty heavy by fall.

Friday, August 13th

The B-17 which brought our mail, left this morning, bound for Resolute Bay. We heard via radio that the other one is bound for Fairbanks, Alaska. A very quiet day, didn’t feel like doing much so I didn’t. About 9:00 we got a report from BW-8 saying that a C-54 was coming in tomorrow morning to pick up the 30 air corp. men. They plan to eat breakfast here and clean up their mess hall. A nice day as a whole, although rather cold.

August 14

The C-54 arrived late this morning, and left at ten. I woke up at six, to the noise of dishes. They were eating and washing dishes outside my room. They did all the breakfast dishes, so I was glad being K.P. The plane took all outgoing mail but didn’t bring any. We heated the shower room in the army barracks and are going to take showers as soon as the water heats up. There are barrels over the house with gas burners in each one to heat the water. Since the army’s gone, we have two more vehicles, a truck and another jeep. They aren’t much good, however, the jeep’s transmission being all fouled up and the truck’s battery on the blink. It dropped below freezing last night. Lt. Wade said there was thin ice on the puddles outside the barracks. I hope to look Wade up when I get to BW-1 (Bluie West 1 airfield on the SW coast of Greenland). Apparently, the planes only fly to Goose Bay every other day or so. I plan to catch the next plane from Thule, for they’re getting fewer and fewer as winter approaches.

August 15

Today was such a beautiful day Hinton, Derrick, Havens and myself took a hike after lunch to the north, finally reaching the top of a group of small mountains. From there we could see the glacier to the north and the entrance to the fjord, as well as the Greenland icecap. I took about 15 pictures, and hope they turn out. We got to a point right above the village which is a good deal higher than Mount Dundas. We had trouble crossing the river, but after finding no shallow enough place to cross we just took our time and walked across, ignoring the icy water. Tomorrow we may go in the Mona and get as far as the fjord. I didn’t take my movie camera today, but will tomorrow if it’s nice. It’s too heavy to lug over these hills. I just finished my last meal on K.P., and am very much relieved to get it over with. After the 3-hour hike, I’m a little tired and footsore so will retire early. A couple of the boys are nursing blisters.

August 16

Spent most of today helping Chuck H carry supplies to the army mess hall. We had to return many things which they had brought up to our quarters, dishes etc. It fogged in after lunch so we didn’t take a boat ride after all. Resolute, Prince Patrick and Isaachson all report snow today. There was considerable ice last (night) on the ponds, although the temperature didn’t drop below 30 degrees. Purchased a kyack and bracelet last night. They had a dance in the village yesterday. If we had known, we might have gone.

August 17

The Resolute winter hit us with all its fury today. Accompanied by 35 M.P.H. winds, a combination of snow and sleet was thrown at us from the icecap. The winds were strong all day with gusts up to 50 M.P.H. I was helping Chuck nail boards on the army mess hall windows and had to get a parka to put on. The mountains to the north are all covered with snow. I was thinking what weather Cleveland was having. The temperature was above freezing, though, which still makes Thule the “banana belt” of the Arctic. Resolute had freezing temperatures all day, plus snow. I pity the poor guys unloading the Wyandot 24 hours per day.

August 18

A little better weather than yesterday, but still uncomfortably cool without the sun. We’ve had burner trouble all day. Ward welded a broken piece this morning, necessitating our having a cold lunch. We figured the damage was repaired, but it kicked up after lunch, so Ward, Havens and myself changed burners with the army mess hall. We’ve still got troubles now, after supper, so we all think the trouble must be in the oil line. This place really cools off without a stove. There’s a Husky pup I’d like to take home with me.

August 19

Today I had nothing much to do so went to the airstrip and measured its length. Koski said it was 5000 and I said 4000. Actually, it’s 4100 feet long. Resolute Bay will be used as a base for B-29 operations as soon as the strip is long enough to handle them. Koski contacted Leningrad today over his ham radio, in addition to Helsinki and California. Chuck and I covered the army food supply with the tarps to keep most of the snow off. Now we plan to tighten up this building to keep heat in. The stove is finally working all right. There was more snow today, with very funny cloud formations. At the moment (6:00), it’s snowing very hard and looks as if it might keep up quite a while.

August 20

Fish day, but Frenchy gave us some delicious macaroni and cheese. Didn’t do much this morning, but worked hard after lunch doing several things, mainly driving the forklift moving helium cylinders. Moved them for drift purposes this winter, trying to keep them from being covered over. Derrick and Weideman are moving tonight, to the back of the warehouse. We finally saw the sun tonight after supper. Looks like it will be a nice day tomorrow. If so, I hope to hike to the ridge over Thule village and get some pictures with the movie camera. Also want to get some Greenland stamps for Prof. Allen and some coins for myself. Having a good row with Johnson and his crew tonight. They’re getting a good going-over. It snowed – threw my first snowball of the winter.

August 21

A Danish B-17 arrived about three this afternoon, the first to come in a year. It is on a photographic mission and will probably be at Thule two or three days. Tonight or tomorrow they are flying to Peary Land in the northern tip of Greenland to get pictures. I’m working on a ride back to BW-one, if possible, with them. We hope to take a hike to the fjord tomorrow if it’s nice weather. Today was beautiful, sunny, the first in several days. Moved a few more helium cylinders until the forklift went on the blink.

August 22

I’ve got the green light now to go to BW-1 with the Danish plane. Perhaps they’ll leave in a day or so, depending on when they get a chance to fly to Peary Island. I finished moving the helium cylinders this morning, then loafed most of the afternoon, it being Sunday. They had a dance in Danskeville (sp.?) tonight with all the Eskimos from the village here. We had one of two of them talk into Koski’s wire recorder, then played it back. I danced with Avia, the colony manager’s wife. She doesn’t speak English, though. Weather was cloudy again today.

August 23

I got up at 7 this morning, and it seemed funny to beat most of the gang. Havers and I ran “Sound Off” as a means of reveille. Took picture of Soto the pup with Frenchy. I had 18 dogs accompanying me to the garbage pit this morning. They had several good fights among themselves, as usual. I had quite a conversation with Captain Helk this afternoon, learning that this B-17 is the only one in the Danish air force, and is used almost entirely for photographic missions in Greenland. Three PBY’s (Consolidated PBY Catalina is a flying boat and amphibious aircraft that was produced in the 1930s and 1940s) make up most of the rest of the air force and these stay largely on the east coast. They’re trying to contact the Peary Land expedition before flying up there to be sure of the weather. It takes about eleven hours to fly up there and back to Thule. If they aren’t able to go in a day or so, they’ll forget the idea and return immediately to BW-1.

August 24

While writing these few lines, two Eskimo boys are standing in front of me throwing darts at the dartboard which Chuck and I set up today. One of them, about 8, has really got a good arm and should be a good harpoon thrower in a few years. A strong wind has been blowing for the past 24 hours and has made it cold outside, although the air temperature is 38 or 40 degrees. We had a few gusts in the 50’s, with the average about 30-35 M.P.H. I helped Erte compute the pibal (pilot balloon) on the Raob this afternoon after the instrument had hit the water tank and destroyed the humidity recorder. It isn’t necessary to have the humidity, since Belmont, the forecaster has left Thule. Faller got some good pictures on his hike to the fjord and glacier yesterday. It wasn’t a good day for Kodachrome so I didn’t go. I hope a sunny day comes before I leave so I too can get some pictures. Helped Stan get the equipment moved for OX3BC (related to radio communication.) Very unusual cloud formations tonight – cirrus.

(I was excited to find this photo online. It is a QSL card which is written confirmation of having successfully received some type of two-way or one-way radio communication. This card shows the names of Koski and Stan; both of whom worked with my father. Perhaps he was present when the card was filled out.)

Photo: Warcovers.dk

August 25th

Today I saw 70 M.P.H. winds for the first time. It’s been blowing hard since this morning, and doesn’t show signs of letting up. We leave for BW-1 tomorrow morning provided the winds let up. There is still a possibility of a trip to Peary Land tonight, but since it is 10:30 now and it’s still blowing strong, it probably won’t come off. Niilo (Koski) filled out travel orders for me and gave me blanks to fill out for travel reimbursement. We’ll go all way to (BW) one is weather is fair, only to (BW) eight if it is excellent so that we can photograph the seacoast. Took more pictures of cloud formations. Hope they turn out, I think there was enough light. Got a walrus tusk from Jerichow (?) and a narwhal tusk from Dahlkild tonight.

August 26

Departed 1:00 for BW-8. At 10:30 this morning, weather reports for BW-8 were favorable, so we took off in a 50 M.P.H. headwind. The entire trip to Greenland was well worth this beautiful 5-hour ride back to civilization. As soon as we got 200 miles south of Thule, the skies cleared and I was able to get some beautiful pictures of fjords, the ice cap, and other views that could only be taken from a plane. We encountered strong winds aloft, so it took a little over 5 hours to make the trip. BW-8 is a miserable place, although the views aren’t bad. We’re housed in the transient officers’ quarters. After supper at the mess, we all hit the hay about 10:30. The Danish plane is really A-1 in comfort, for it was originally designed for passenger use. Captain Hanson is also an excellent pilot. My pen leaks so I stop writing for now.

August 27

We left BW-8 after lunch today, and flew over the icecap to BW-1. I used up all the remaining film I have, and should have gotten some nice pictures. It took three hours, since we went a little out of the way. I’m staying at the hospital and eating here also. This is where all civilian transients stay. Little bit more civilized than 8, but still an army base. Took a 2-hour hike this afternoon, going almost to the glacier and back. Waiting on a B-17 to leave for Goose Bay. Tomorrow I will probably leave. I’m ready to be heading home.

Footnote:

My father was a kind soul who was highly intelligent and fun-loving. He died from an embolism in 1978. He left behind my sister and I, ages 21 and 17 and our mother.

I am grateful for the journal as it gives me new stories to remember him by.


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