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The War Effort at Home

This is submitted by Beverly Greig of Victoria. This is a story from her mother, Gladys Muriel (Berg) Greig.

"On July 13, 1942, in Sussex, New Brunswick, Gladys Muriel Berg married William George Greig. Three weeks later Bill went overseas. He was a Corporal in the Royal Canadian Army Service Corp, acting as a motorcycle escort for the supply trucks going to the front.

I returned to Toronto to look for work. There was a call for people to help with the war effort. I spent the war years working at the Bata Shoe Factory in Batawa, Ontario. The Canadian Government brought Thomas Bata and 15 of his top men and their families to Canada. They operated a munitions plant that finished primers for a 75 pound shell.

I worked in the primer department for the duration of the war. My first job was wrapping the primers after they had been inspected by the Government Bond. These women were the wives of air force men from the air force training centre in Trenton. The primers were wrapped in paper, boxed, then sent on to another plant. Wrapping primers all day was pretty boring, so I asked to be put on the machines.

I worked on two different machines, the lathe and the milling machine. I really enjoyed working on the machines, especially the lathe. The lathe was used to cut the base of the primer to a specified thickness. It then went on to the milling machine which cut two small notches in the edges of the middle of the base.

My memory is a little fuzzy, but I think there were three, eight hour shifts. I worked the swing shift, from 4 p.m. to midnight.

There was a two-storey staff house built on the factory property. I shared a second floor room with another young woman. There were two single beds, a small writing table and chair and two clothes closets. A mirror hung on the door of each closet. I have a picture of myself in a new dress, sitting on my bed. In 1949 I used the skirt from that dress to cover a basinet for my daughter, Brenda.

For a small room and board charge your room was cleaned and you were given clean bed linen and towels every week. You also received a meal ticket. A laundry room, to do personal laundry, was located at the end of the hall. The staff house was a five minute walk from the factory where the cafeteria was located on the second floor. We ate all of our meals there. The meal ticket was punched each time it was used.

From the time I was 16 I had worked for teachers and doctors taking care of their houses and children. This was the first time I had been on my own and only responsible for myself. I have a picture dated June 1943, Swing Shift, Bata Shoe Company of Canada. There are 48 women and three men in the photo.

The government had also built low rental homes in the area which were quite nice. A hall was built where United Church services were held on Sundays. There was a Catholic church as well. There was a bus available to take us to Trenton where we did our shopping.

We were so far removed from the war, except for our husbands and brothers being away, many people had never lived so well. We had just come through the dirty thirties. Most of the people from the western provinces and the prairies would never have been from coast to coast except to train at military bases.

When the war was over I stayed on at the Bata Shoe Factory. I worked in the shoe department cutting upper. Bill came home just after Christmas in 1945. When I got word he was on his way home I packed my trunk and took a train back to Ketchen, Saskatchewan. I got home one day before he did. Our family was lucky – my husband and my three brothers all made it back.

My brother, Doug, who is two years younger than me, was in the Medical Corp. After the war he went to medical school in Saskatoon. I think the government gave them one year's education for each year they served. He became a surgeon and also did cancer research.

I don't remember how much I was paid but it was enough to live on. The army sent part of Bill's pay to me each month, which I was able to save. By the time he came home I had saved between $700 and $800. It was enough to provide us with a fresh start.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been very good to us over the years. We purchased our first home in Victoria through VLA (Veterans Land Administration). Bill's disability pension and the other benefits he received over the years as his health failed were greatly appreciated. My husband died October 29, 1995, at the age of 76. I will be 80 years old on my next birthday in December."

Gladys Muriel (Berg) Greig
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