Bill Hillman's Monthly Military Tribute
AS YOU WERE . . .
WAR YEARS ECLECTICA
Continued in PART 2: INTRO and PRESS GALLERY
STORIES OF THE WAR YEARS
Click to see book photos in a larger collage poster
LIEUTENANT NURSING SISTER
Isabel joined the Army in Winnipeg, Manitoba and left in May 1940. She arrived in Halifax where transportation was waiting to take them to England. They arrived in England on June 20, 1940. Isabel was stationed at the #5 Canadian Hospital. She tells of her many experiences there even meeting the Duchess of York and her daughters, one of whom was Elizabeth, our present Queen.
A group of nurses, including Isabel, landed in Sicily with the first wave of Canadian troops - apparently by mistake. She told of the bombing and gunfire and how they were hustled into an army truck and driven over mountain roads with no lights due to the blackouts. In Sicily, Isabel was bothered by sand fleas and by the lizards, which were apt to be in your bed. In January 1943 they had moved over to Italy where they followed the fighting up the boot of Italy, working in field hospital tents close to the front lines. While working in the operating room, a sniper shot Isabel’s best friend who was standing across from her.
The family received a cablegram from Isabel in December 1944 saying, “Home for Christmas”. After the war was over she stayed in England, working at the Canadian hospitals. Isabel’s records and letters, etc. were left to my husband when she died, as she had no children. My family treasure all the pictures and memorabilia we "inherited" from Isabel.
Mrs. A. Gervin, Boissevain, Manitoba.
VERNA MARIE SCOTT (nee WOOD)
I was stationed in Ottawa in the Discharge Department and my friend and I became quite bored one weekend and decided to do something about it. We asked around and found out that we weren’t very far from Montreal (Ha Ha) and decided to hitch hike there. I had never hitch hiked in my life. As we started out we must have looked quite strange. My friend was six feet and I was just 5’2”. We eventually arrived in Montreal and had a very nice weekend after staying at the ANA House (Army, Navy and Airforce). They charged us ten cents a night, including breakfast.
We took off on Sunday and were eventually picked up by a very kind gentleman who informed us that he worked in a bank in Ottawa. We in turn told him that we worked in an office in the army. My friend left her wallet (containing ten cents) in his car. Later in the day we had a phone call from the Bank of Canada (somebody’s Secretary). The wallet was delivered to our barracks later that day covered in sealing wax.
It turned out our kind friend was Graham Towers – the Governor of the Bank of Canada. We have had many a laugh over this.
PEGGY BOYER (nee HEDGE)
When I joined the service, RCAF (WD), my mother was very upset as I was shipped off to Rockcliffe in a week. After the usual postings for Basic and Trade training I was sent to Lachine, Quebec, Moncton, New Brunswick and finally Summerside, Prince Edward Island.
My sister was in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and I was going to visit her on a pass. I had met this Officer on our station who was a Navigator on a Liberator. They did patrols along the coastal waters. He told me if I got permission, I could fly with them to Sydney. In my excitement I made an appointment with the CO and after a long discussion, he approved. What a thrill for me! We flew in the bubble at the nose of the Liberator and between Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton, low and behold, on the bottom of the Gulf of St. Lawrence was a German Submarine. There was a lot of activity on the aircraft radioing back to base, as they were only a patrol craft without ammunition. We circled around for several minutes, giving positions, but what a sight to see, the enemy laying in wait for our ships coming and going through the St. Lawrence.
On my return to Summerside I was informed that the pursuit ships and planes were able to intercept and destroy but it was a sight I shall never forget!
DORIS HARDERN (nee SHUFFLEBOTHAM)
I worked in the ammunition factory at Radway Green with my Mother and three Sisters. My three brothers were in the forces, as were my three brothers-in-law, so we did our duty for England during the war. I met my husband, Bill Hardern in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire. He was visiting his Auntie in Trent Vale a mile from my home. My sister, my friend and I stopped in at the Globe Cafe for tea on a Saturday afternoon in April 1942 before going to a show. Bill came over and joined us at our table and guess what, we never made it to the show. There was a dance at the Castle Hotel so the four of us (Bill and 3 girls) went there instead.
Bill had told his buddies he was coming to the dance and was bringing his wife. They told him he didn’t even know me but he said I was his wife. A few days later he asked me to marry him. This was in April 1942 and we planned to marry in August of that year but things didn’t work out that way as Bill was shipped out and didn’t return until April 1945. We were married on April 21, 1945 and Bill was again sent back overseas. I only saw him once until just before I came to Canada. He was shipped home in December 1945.
I came to Canada in March 1946 on the "Aquitania". Bill and I lived on a farm 13 miles Southwest of Killarney, Manitoba. While on the farm our three daughters were born, Gwen on February 14, 1947 and Shirley and Brenda in 1948 and 1950. I now have 10 Grandchildren and 7 Great-Grandchildren. We left the farm after ten years because of my poor health. Bill passed away in November 1995.
My second daughter traveled with me to England in 1996 and 1997, for a month's visit each year. She just loves it over there -- especially the shopping! With any luck I will be making another trip to England in 1999 with my oldest daughter Gwen and her husband Victor. We hope to do some touring as well as visiting.
I have belonged to the War Brides of Brandon since 1983 and have attended every reunion except last year (1997) became of having surgery. I do, however, plan to attend the October 1998 reunion if nothing unforeseen happens. I thoroughly enjoy getting together with "the girls".
A RECOLLECTION FROM WORLD WAR II
As a cook in the RCAF (Women's Division) in World War II, I spent most of my time in the Airmen's mess, helping to feed 1,000 or more men each day. Rations were drawn from the Army Quartermaster Corps - a unit of which was on each station. The meat came to us as sides of beef, pork or bacon, as well as hams and sausage. Our butchers had to be very creative in accumulating a steak for each man, so a steak dinner was a major event. The diet sheet read: steak and onions, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, coleslaw, apple pie. The "pie" was made in sheet pans and cut in squares. Potatoes, carrots and slaw were common fodder. The afternoon shift before steak day wept their way through sacks of onions, toilet rolls by their sides.
Next morning I was to slice the onions and cook them. More tears as I sliced, then dumped the fragrant lot into a huge steam pot. As I stirred them with a paddle, I basted them with bacon fat, which was kept ready in pails at the back of the coal stoves. The rest of the shift were mashing, glazing and perspiring over the grills. When all was ready, the cooks ate first. Our biggest jolliest fellow took his plate and dug in. Then came a roar, "What the h--ll is wrong with these onions?" Simultaneously a roar from the head dishwasher, "Who took my pail of melted soap?" Henceforth the Sergeant had the final taste of anything I touched.
VERA E. MCDONALD (nee “PIP” WALLACE)
I was 18 when war was declared on Sept.3rd, 1939. I can still hear Sir Winston Churchill saying in his unmistakable voice, "We are at war with Germany". It was a solemn moment. I asked my father, "What do we do, Dad?" He replied, “We carry on", and of course we did.
I was a shorthand typist (stenographer) at the time and, after working with a couple of companies, I finally was with the Hull Corporation Health Department in Hull, Yorkshire. I was born and raised in Hull, Yorkshire I921. My father was Scottish and my mother English.
An air-raid shelter was built on our back lawn and we used it many times during the six years of war. I was the eldest of the family with a younger sister and brother who were still in school.
Being almost on the northeast coast of England, Hull was very vulnerable. It was a very important port at that time with docks that were constantly busy. In 1940 we experienced some small German fighter planes dipping and strafing our streets with bullets. One Saturday afternoon, I was riding my bicycle downtown and a fighter plane appeared in the sky from nowhere and the rat-a-tat of bullets could be heard. I dropped my cycle and ran into a store's shelter.
But life did go on, and I continued to go to work, to night school and the theatres. One evening I was in our Alexandra Theatre, watching Richard Tauber in "The Land of Dreams”. He sings that once famous song, "You Are My Heart's Delight". It always stopped the show and on this occasion, he sang it three times, all different interpretations. While he was singing, the sirens sounded, warning of an approaching air raid. Attendants opened the theatre doors so patrons could leave and go to a shelter -- not a soul moved. We all sat, oblivious to the sirens, enraptured by Richard Tauber's magnificent voice singing that beautiful song. After the show, I had quite a time getting home as all the buses had stopped. However, the all clear sounded, and I did get home, rather late, to worried parents, waiting up for me.
Until the spring of 1941, Hull had little damage from air raids, but that changed when, for three consecutive nights, we suffered severe bombings. Our city centre with all its nice shops and offices was almost razed to the ground. Our docks were wiped out, and the final blow was to a mixed shops and residential area close to us. We suffered damage to our roof and broken windows, but a mile or so east of us was devastation and homes in a small crescent were destroyed. As I cycled to work the next morning, it was all a sickening sight; houses, banks, shops, all flattened with rubble everywhere. The saddest news of all was the deaths of mostly women and children in shelters that had been built down the centre of the streets.
I went on to work -- The Guildhall was still standing and most of the buildings on the street were undamaged. Also undamaged was our historical High Street and the home where Sir William Wilberforce once lived, and down which King Charles 1st escaped the Roundheads in the early 17th Century. Those old buildings, as far as I know are still there.
After the severe bombings in the spring of 1941, Sir Winston Churchill visited Hull, and I was one of the staff of the Guildhall who had the honour of meeting him.
As the junior typist, it was my job to type the names of the dead, and a school friend was among them.
My whole family went to stay with friends in the country and commuted to the city for a week or two, while our roof was repaired and the windows put in.
I joined the ATS in November 1941 and was called up December 5th going to the Fulford Barracks in York, England for my basic training. On completion of those three weeks I received a L/Cpl stripe and was transferred to Huddersfield, Yorkshire, and attached to the Royal Signal Corps. I was a shorthand typist in the office for a Captain and also in charge of a billet for girls. We were billeted in homes and went to a central mess for meals.
I was stationed in Huddersfield for two and one half years during which time I attended a Camp for NCOs in Ashton-under-Lyne, near Manchester. I was made a Corporal and went to Berry Brow (near Huddersfield) where I worked in the office and was in charge of a platoon of girls. There was also a period when I was in a Company office where we processed Soldiers from Norway, into the Signal Corps.
I also enjoyed playing the violin and singing with the Certo Cito orchestra and for two Christmases sang with the famous Huddersfield Choral Society in Handel’s “messiah”. Huddersfield was and still is a very musical city. It was home to the Halle Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.
In early 1944, I was called to attend OCTU. I can still remember my final interview, when I was informed that an Overseas posting had come through. I was given a choice of remaining in England as an Officer, or go Overseas with the rank of Sgt. I chose the latter, and was posted to Washington, DC in the United States.
I was given Overseas leave in March 1944 and reported to Radner Place in London where, with 14 other ATS girls, was processed for the trip Overseas - medical, passports, etc. We spent two weeks in London, but, apart from the trip to Whitehall, we were pretty well confined to barracks. We were housed in charming old homes but there was a common mess in the complex.
One night we left London on the overnight train for Scotland and next morning, found ourselves in Greenoch, being loaded on to a tender and heading for the biggest ship I had ever seen. She was the old Queen Mary. Even in war and being painted gunmetal gray, she was beautiful. I remember the first evening aboard and we were all sitting in the first class lounge (stripped of its finery and everything covered) when chairs started to slowly move across the room. We had got underway and started our journey across the Atlantic Ocean to New York.
I have many memories of that trip; walking around the deck to keep fit (it was just a mile); also the Easter Church service. I would like to say here that the old British Ships did not have modern stabilizers and the Queen Mary did her share of rolling, especially mid-Atlantic when we ran through a storm. I was fortunate not to suffer any seasickness, but some of our girls did and at times, there were very few of us in the dining room! One evening there was a dance - have you ever tried foxtrotting on a rolling ship? The popular song of the day was “Maresidoats and Doesidoats and Little Lambsitivy” which we sang frequently.
The journey took six days. As we approached New York, we passed the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island. It was all very exciting seeing sights we had only read about. I should say here that the ship’s passengers, in addition to us 15 ATS girls, consisted of wounded Soldiers - American and Canadian, being shipped home, and also wives of Servicemen and children. Our excitement grew as we approached New York Harbour and tugboats came out to guide us into the dock. Wanting to get the best possible view, we all went up to the upper deck, only to realize, as we eased into the dock that we were looking down on the roofs of the buildings! We did not realize what a huge ship she was, filling the dock with very little room to spare on either side. We were greeted with true American hospitality - coffee and doughnuts.
We spent the night in a women’s hostel in Manhattan. I recall the next morning, on going down to the coffee shop, 15 requests for tea, and our astonishment at being presented with 15 cups of hot water and 15 tea bags, the likes of which none of us had ever seen.
We were transported to Grand Central Station and boarded the train to Washington. As soon as we were on the train, we tried to open the windows, much to the amusement of American passengers, as of course, train windows in North America do not open.
My two and a half years living in Washington were busy and interesting. There was something like 500 British personnel there. The men found their own accommodation in apartments or homes, but we girls were all accommodated in the Cairo Hotel at Q and 16th. We walked to work to offices on “K” Street and Connecticut Avenue. I have memories of visits to the Smithsonian Institute, the Melon Art Gallery, the Archives, and concerts on the Potomac River during the summer called Watergate Concerts. As well, seeing the then President Roosevelt in his private coach on the Presidential train; meeting First Lady Roosevelt at a Press Conference; making some wonderful friends, both Army personnel and American civilians who worked for us. Singing with the British Army Singers (we became quite famous in our time and once sang with the regular choir in the Washington Cathedral); playing tennis on our Embassy courts (we were granted this privilege); attending a cocktail party in the Embassy Grounds to greet the British Ambassador, Lord Avon. I recall enjoying two winter leaves in Clearwater, Florida; the overwhelming hospitality of the American people; viewing the funeral train of President Roosevelt, and later, during the presidency of Harry Truman, meeting Mrs. Truman and daughter Margaret, who, every Wednesday served lunches to the forces in the “H” Street USO; enjoying concerts, plays and special Church Services.
In the summer of 1945, I went to New York to meet friends of my father who were visiting relatives. However, I had a day to kill all by myself, a Saturday. I left the women’s hotel were I stayed I walked down Broadway. I can’t remember the name of the theatre, but, as I was passing it, a lady approached me and asked if I would like to see the show. Apparently a friend had failed to show up and she came outside to give the ticket to the first person in uniform. The show was the Sonja Henie ice show - what a thrill. After the show the two ladies took me out for tea.
I have photos and a scrapbook of all the time I spent in Washington DC. Of course, I kept in touch with my family in Hull, and sent them many food items that were hard to get in England.
Although this story about life during WW II in Washington, DC, would appear we were removed from the field of war, nothing is further from the truth. We were very much aware and fully informed about what was happening in Europe, the horror and courage of Dieppe, and the preparation for the invasion of Europe in Normandy.
Another SGT (Gwen Child) and myself, together with an Officer of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, were trained in the details of the invasion, and went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. Right after VE Day in June 1945, we were part of an exhibition showing, with models, photos and projector, how “Operation Mulberry” - the code name of the invasion of Normandy was executed.
It was a fascinating few days and I felt privileged and honoured to be part of the program informing people of the enormous effort and planning that went into “Operation Mulberry”, which brought an end to the War in Europe. The models showed how the Allied troops thrust into Normandy from three positions, with Canadian, British and American troops brought together in the mammoth operation to defeat Hitler. We must not forget that the Russians, too, were pressing and attacking from the East.
The war with Japan, of course, continued for part of another year, but that is another story and the ATS were not involved.
By the summer of 1946, many of the British Army Staff had returned to England. There was a core of the ATS left in Washington, DC and our Commanding Officer, finding there was a $200.00 surplus in our account, arranged a final trip for the few of us left. It was a bus trip, including lunch, through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. We had lunch at a charming country inn. It was a beautiful day, and a memorable end to our service in Washington, DC.
I made two trips to Canada and crossed the country from Toronto to Victoria by the old Pullman coaches. I had kept in touch with a pen pal living in Vancouver and asked her if she would sponsor me to get into Canada. I had already made up my mind that this is where I wanted to live. So, upon my discharge from the ATS in August I946, I traveled west in the United States and crossed the border into Canada as an immigrant at Emerson, Manitoba. I settled at the YWCA on Dunsmuir Street downtown Vancouver, got a job as stenographer and bookkeeper, and also joined the Theatre Under The Stars for winter rehearsals. The shows (musical comedy) ran for six weeks in the summer. They were open-air shows and I was with them for 5 years, alternating with stenographic jobs.
I was not a War Bride. My husband and I met April 5th, 1951 and were married April 5th, 1952. We have two children, a daughter and a son, and three grandchildren. My husband, Don, has been retired for 16 years. We have enjoyed traveling, golf and our family.
Notes: The ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) was formed in 1937 and disbanded in 1949. The Queen, as Princess Elizabeth served in this Force in London, England, during the war.
I was known as Sgt "Pip" Wallace during my career in the Service. I have lost touch with everyone I knew except one person, Miss Pat Webb who lives in Bournemouth, England. We write each other once a year.
MRS. F.J. MANNING
I was a war bride of the Second Great War. My husband went overseas in the RCAF and I was pregnant. There was no hospital in the small town where my husband had brought me, so I was invited to my sister-in-law’s to be with her and her husband and enter the hospital there. This was in the northern Ontario town of Sioux Lookout. During the war, prisoner of war camps were set up to house German prisoners. One of these camps was north of Sioux Lookout and the reason for this setting was that if a prisoner did escape, he would loose himself in the wood or have too far to travel to freedom. The sick prisoners were brought to the hospital in Sioux Lookout.
The time came for my baby to arrive and I entered the hospital. The lower floor of this building housed the German boys. I was taken to the second floor where the Canadian patients were. I remember getting a smiling welcome from these young lads and saw the good look young faces. The nurses told me that they wished me good luck and when the baby was born (a little girl) the news was taken down stairs to the boys. They were told that my husband was overseas and that he was an Airman. I wondered how many of them had a wife and a baby back in their “home town". I could hear them whistling, and singing and having their own entertainment. To me they were just young men a long way from home and probably no more interested in being in this battle than our own boys.
When it came time to go home, I came down the stairs of the second floor and was met by a group of these young men. They wanted to see the baby and one of the young lads had tears in his eyes and patted me on the arm. I knew right then that these were just human young men. I can still see that incident.
M. BONET (nee METCALFE)
I guess we all have amusing stories to tell. Most of mine were funny ones about getting back into barracks after curfew - and using the hole in the fence as a means of entry. I don't think they would be appreciated, although my children love them.
There is one incident that was interesting. I was a WOG in St. John's, Newfoundland and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. One day I was on duty on the Air to Ground set when I was given a coded message to send to one of the planes doing convoy duty. It was to tell him to check his undercarriage. The codes were three lettered, and changed daily, were very easy to send and receive. This code was Q C B. Unfortunately, the code telling the aircraft to return to base was, on that day, K C B. (Q: - - -; K: -.- ). Imagine my surprise when the whole crew eventually landed in the Wireless Room demanding to know who had sent that message. When I acknowledged I was the one - and we checked the codebook, I admitted sometimes my Q's sounded like K's. Then the wireless operator from the plane admitted he had the same trouble with Q's and K's. They left shaking their heads and the two wireless operators smiling at each other. No ship on that convoy was torpedoed so I guess no harm was done.
Enclosed is a picture of a German Submarine surrendering in Conception Bay, Newfoundland. A Sergeant got hold of a Jeep and we went out to see it. We spent the war worrying about German submarines. I’m the one with the "x" over my head. You can't recognize me but then we had trouble recognizing the submarine!
THE BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC
The bloody and prolonged Battle of the Atlantic, 1939-45, was fought for control of the maritime trade routes upon which Britain depended for vital supplies from all over the world. From the start of the war, the German navy sought with every means at its disposal to destroy enough merchant shipping to force Britain out of the conflict.
The conflict passed through a number of phases. Convoys were effective but Britain was short of escort ships and coastal aircraft, forcing merchantmen to sail without protection. As to the Canadian force, we were very ill prepared. A story from Wren basic training: To better secure ships crossing the Atlantic, ships' carpenters fashioned from wood and painted black look-alike guns such as would be found on the deck of a well equipped ship, in the hope that enemy aircraft flying overhead would be deluded. Men were sent to sea with that as their protection. In 1939, 79 allied and neutral ships were destroyed by mines while U-boats sank 114 merchantmen.
The fall of France and Norway in 1940 meant that U-boats could be transferred and all shipping south of Iceland was threatened. Losses continued on both sides at an appalling level. In October a convoy of 130 ships lost 121.
By this time another phase of the struggle had surfaced. Breaking of coded messages and the introduction of radar added another dimension. Naval warfare of unprecedented scale and violence developed - it now consisted of a battle of ships and aircraft, of seamanship, radar, and wireless information in cipher - each reading the others' ciphers with devastating consequences. Added to this was the work of the weather stations. Greenland was an important location, especially during 1942 and '43. The German meteorological code was extremely difficult to break. Hundreds of men froze to death.
The sinking of the Bismarck, May 26/27, 1941, was important. It was understood to be the largest, most dangerous, most modern ship of war. A highly skilled man, dying of cancer but propped up by pillows on his deathbed, decoded the coded messages as to its whereabouts and its plan of attack.
But the losses went on - 1942, 8 million tons of shipping were lost. By 1943 Germany had 400 submarines in the Atlantic compared to 57 at the outbreak of the war. The Allies must have felt defeat stared them in the face. The turning point was May 1943, the month of the thunderbolt. Admiralty, which was largely responsible for victory in the Atlantic, would never state directly how it was achieved.
Reading accounts of the battles, I was distressed by the fact that sources detailed the tonnage losses, the ships lost, but nowhere the lives lost. Those who survived agreed the life of the seaman was highly dangerous - rarely any warning- just a violent shuddering explosion, often fatal to engine room staff, the rapid tilting of decks as the icy water came, sometimes oil covered and on fire. The agony of the seamen having to disregard the floundering of a companion in the icy waters. Always the emphasis was on the safe arrival of the convoy, which came before the rescue of an individual.
It called to mind the remarks of a Manitoba father who said, following the loss of his son at sea, that when he bade farewell to his son in his naval uniform, he realized that maybe he wouldn't return but he never thought his son's last resting place would be at the bottom of the Atlantic.
One bit of reading: A sailor relating his war experiences during 1939-45 stated that for all the difficulties, they (he and his comrades) didn't hate the Germans, rather they were upset, they cursed them, but not hate. Maybe we, in memory of those who lost their lives, and in dedication to their sacrifice, should adopt the same attitude - let hatred disappear; understanding must be our focus.
Editor's Note: Frances Mills - Ex WRCNS Lieutenant, decorated - Member of the British Empire.
Frances Mills was involved with WRENS who were entrusted in carrying out duties on the East Coast by taking charge of a station operating Loran equipment. Their main responsibility was sending a beam out on which equipped ships and aircraft could take location. The WREN Newsletter, Anniversary Issue August 29, 1948, provides a humorous and interesting account by a fellow WREN, of the preparations for the tea, which followed the official ceremony when Frances Mills was decorated. As the Viscount of Alexander would attend, it was a memorable day for the members of the Ex-WRENS' Association, MMCS "Chippawa Division".
J. SELINA QUIGLEY (nee JONES)
I got married to George Quigley of Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan on October 9, 1945 at Kingsland, Hollyhead, North Wales. My maiden name was Jane Selina Jones.
On May 31, 1945 a soldier called at our house and my mother answered the door. She told him she was sorry but she had no more room. Then he took a letter out of his pocket and it was from my brother who was in the army. Mother hurried upstairs and woke my Dad to show him the letter - leaving the poor guy standing outside! When she came back downstairs she apologized and invited him in. Mother used to take soldiers’ wives in when their husbands were billeted at the hotels near our home. My cousin in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan was writing to George and also to my brother. They seemed to follow each other with the army, so George had written to my brother for our address.
I was working in a factory down town so when I came home I was surprised to see a soldier there. After supper I took him out to see the town and then took a couple of days off to visit my relatives. It turned out to be a trip to buy my engagement ring. It really was “love at first sight”. We had to leave the ring at the jewelers to have it made bigger so we didn’t tell my folks that we were getting engaged. A few days later a registered letter arrived and of course Mom brought it to me at work and I had to open it right away - it was the ring and I had to tell them then. George and I officially got engaged on my birthday, June 9, 1945 and we were married in October that same year. My first son was born on September 25, 1946 in the same house in which I was born.
George served with the Canadian Army and was stationed in Holland. On one occasion his ship was torpedoed and everyone had to abandon ship. George was an excellent swimmer so he survived until they were picked up.
My son and I left my home in North Wales on August 21st, 1947. George had returned to Canada but I didn’t leave earlier because my father was very ill with cancer - he died that June and was buried on my birthday, June 9th. My mother came to Southampton, England with us where we caught the boat that took us to Canada. I still remember my mother standing beside the boat - she had just lost her husband and now she was losing her daughter and grandson to a new land. I never saw her again. The boat ride was enjoyable - the water was calm. In Halifax, Nova Scotia we boarded a train for Winnipeg, Manitoba. On the train one bride was crying because she wanted to go back. She had a little boy and she wouldn’t go and eat so the Steward convinced her to go while he looked after her baby.
George met me in Winnipeg and we stayed the night at a hotel. The next day we proceeded to Ashville, Manitoba, and my new home on the farm. It was hard to get used to as there was no electricity. We had “outdoor plumbing”, a wood stove in the kitchen and a tin heater in the front room. It was so cold in the wintertime that we couldn’t sleep upstairs so we made a bedroom in part of the front room. We had cattle; pigs, chickens and I raised turkeys and geese. When my husband went to work at threshing time, I had to learn to milk the cows - I made it! Then it was our turn to have the threshers and my husband told me I had to give them eggs, bacon, sausage and fried potatoes for breakfast. Where I came from we didn’t fry potatoes for breakfast, so I sure learned a lot. Our neighbours were very friendly.
In 1949 tragedy struck - we lost our three year old son in a fire when a barrel of gasoline accidentally ignited. I found this tragic loss very hard to accept. Our daughter was 14 months old at the time. We had three more girls and another son after that. Two of my daughters are currently in the Armed Forces. On November 8, 1974, I lost my husband to cancer. George was well liked and respected in the community. Then on December 27, 1975, I lost my home in a fire that was caused by what was thought to be a faulty Selkirk chimney. I lost absolutely everything. It was very hard starting over again.
I have been home to Wales three times to see my brother, sisters and friends. Out of five brothers and sisters, I have only one brother still living - he is 80 years old and I’m 77. I lost one brother during the war when his ship was torpedoed.
Like many of the war brides in this area, I belong to the War Brides Association in Brandon. I left the farm and now live in the town of Gilbert Plains, Manitoba.
PRIVATE MARY GREY EYES
A hundred and fourteen Canadian girls -- CWACs -- are working in a Canadian static base laundry. They wash, iron and fold to -- to music -- washing for the troops, all in time, two hours.
They work in steam and they work all night. Most of them had not been inside a laundry when they were drafted to this country 18 months ago.
Perhaps the one who has seen the greatest change in her life is Private Grey Eyes -- and that’s really her name.
She is a full-blooded Indian from the Muskeg Lake Indian Reserve, Saskatchewan, and works with the laundry unit as a cook. Her tribal chieftain blessed her when she left the Reserve for war service. Now she can speak English fluently and is studying literature.
Note: Mary Grey Eyes was the first native to join the CWAC in Canada. She is now Mary Reid.
IRENE MCLEAN (nee CARTER)
In May 1942, a bill was passed through Parliament giving the Royal Canadian Navy permission to recruit women into the service.
In September 1940 I went to Ottawa, on vacation. I was planning to call in at the Naval Service Headquarters (NSHQ) to try to find out if they were going to recruit women into the Naval Service. When I did go to the NSHQ and asked to see the Captain, I was told that I couldn’t see him without an appointment. The receptionist suggested that I tell her what my business was, and she would direct me to the appropriate department. I told her that it was “personal” and important that I see the Captain. I was asked to wait and presently an officer came. He told me the Captain was at a meeting but that he was the Captain’s right-hand man (Jimmy-the-one).
I told him why I had come and that I was a Commercial Morse Code Operator with Canadian National Telegraphs. The reason I wanted to get into the Navy was that there had been many articles in our papers about what a great job the women Morse Operators were doing in the Intelligence Department of the Royal Navy. I wanted to be part of it.
The Officer told me that they certainly were planning to recruit women but still had many problems to work out. He was interested in knowing how many female Morse Operators there were in commercial jobs, etc. Certainly there were not many. He promised to keep in touch - but didn’t.
In September 1941, I again went to Ottawa and NSHQ. This time I had an appointment and did get in to see the Captain. He told me then that they had to await passage of a bill through Parliament before they could do any recruiting of females. He asked me to spread the word to any female Morse Operators with whom I might be in touch. I did know of a few young girls who were practicing Morse to replace male operators, and told them about the WRENS.
After the September 1941 visit, NSHQ did keep in touch with me. The day that the bill was passed through parliament, I received a long distance call from the Officer and a dozen red roses from the Captain.
It seemed a long wait from May to October 1942, when we were finally on our way to Galt, Ontario for our basic training.
Editors Note: Irene McLean (nee Carter) Chief Petty Officer was awarded the British Empire Medal.
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