Nova Scotia

93-year-old WWII veteran still taps out Morse code

Merle Taylor learned Morse code at 20 when she signed up to help Canada and the war effort. Her war-time job was to teach it to the pilots.

Merle Taylor, 93, still practices Morse code in her basement outside Antigonish, N.S.

93-year-old Morse code expert taught wartime airmen

7 years ago
Duration 1:23
This Nova Scotian may be 93, but she remembers her wartime service vividly.

We might live in a world where knowing how to write code is gold, but for 93-year-old Merle Taylor there is only one code: Morse code.

Taylor learned Morse code at 20 when she signed up to help Canada and the war effort. Her war-time job was to teach it to the pilots through the British Commonwealth Air Training plan.

"There were 59 airbases built across Canada to accommodate the boys from England, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. It was that group of boys that I taught Morse code to," Taylor said while sitting in her basement outside Antigonish — where she still taps out Morse code.

"It's a signal that will get through because of the sharpness where a voice couldn't. And the other thing is you could send a secret message."

Taylor has a network of people, mostly in Europe and eastern North America where the signal is carried the strongest, with whom she "chats" with using the old technology three times a week.

"People say it's obsolete, it's really not," said Taylor.

"I have a lot of fun with this."

Wanted to join the Royal Canadian Air Force

Taylor originally tried to sign up for the Royal Canadian Air Force in the spring of 1942. But the only job openings available were for cooks, office workers or drivers.

She wasn't interested in any of that.

But in the fall of 1942, casualties were mounting.

"The wireless air gunners, well, ranks were getting thinned out, so they said well, 'We'll take the men who have the radio wireless training and we'll train them to be air gunners and we'll take women into Morse code and they can do the ground work.'"

She was also motivated by her Uncle Sandy Horne, a wireless air gunner killed in action Christmas Eve 1942.

Nov. 11 is the day we all pause to remember — but for Merle Taylor she remembers every day she heads to her basement, sits at her transmitter and starts tapping out Morse code, waiting for someone on the other side of the ocean to tap back.


World champion curler Colleen Jones has been reporting with CBC News for nearly three decades. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleenjones.