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An excerpt from "Women Overseas Memoirs of the Canadian Red Cross Corps"

This story is submitted by Susan Ruttan of the Bureau of Pensions Advocates in Victoria. It is excerpts from her mother's memoirs of when she was stationed overseas with the Red Cross. This story has been published in a book entitled "Women Overseas - Memoirs of the Canadian Red Cross Corps". We have been given permission to use this story from the editor, Frances Martin Day, and the publisher, Rondale Press.

"In August of 1943 word came that I could be in the next draft to go overseas in the voluntary Canadian Red Cross Corps.

September of 1943 became an exciting month – getting uniforms tailored, packing a trunk of essentials, preparing for a sudden call. This call came later in the month and Sheila Leather and I departed from Hamilton. We were joined in Toronto by a few others, then more in Montreal, and one more in St. John, N.B. We were a varied and happy group, getting to know each other and anticipating our adventure. The Red Cross ladies of St. John were very hospitable, and we were advised to have Wills made out and a very kind lawyer, Mr. Ritchie, did this for several of us free of charge. When and where we would be sailing was a deep, dark secret. There was a very small ship we could see sitting out in the harbour – perhaps this was the tug that would take us out to a ship somewhere.

We were finally aboard the 'tug,' a small Norwegian vessel named Mosdale and learned that Capt. Sunde and his pretty Canadian wife, Fern, who was the wireless Officer, and crew had attended a ceremony in Cardiff, Wales – a couple of weeks before – where King Haakon of Norway had decorated them for having taken over 50 trips across the Atlantic carrying more than 60,000 tons of food to Britain, all without benefit of convoy. This would be one more trip carrying us nine girls and two men from Time and Life magazines. We found out later that the crew almost mutinied before sailing as most, if not all, Mosdale's sister ships had been torpedoed. They sailed alone as they couldn't keep up with a convoy.

At the time we were on the High Seas, Churchill made one of his famous speeches – 'There is a convoy on the Atlantic at the present time being attacked by U-boats.' As a matter of fact, I think I felt like death anyway, being seasick as soon as the little ship was underway. We had to sleep in our clothes and have our life jackets and kit at hand in case we were hit as we were told we would have no more than a minute to get up on deck for the lifeboats.

We zig-zagged across to Liverpool in thirteen days, at time near the Azores I think as it was so pleasantly warm, and then by train to London. We were met at a station in London that had obviously suffered considerable bomb damage, and taken to Maple Leaf Club #2 on Cromwell Road where we were greeted, given a cup of tea and advised of the Rules & Regulations, some of which that we were not to marry for at least six months, and we were not to get pregnant!

The next morning we were taken to our headquarters, at that time on Berkley Square, and greeted officially, then taken to offices to get our individual ration coupons and unemployment insurance records. We were then FREE – for ten glorious days.

Back in London, leave over, it was time to get to work. A list was posted and I was down to be at Maple Leaf Club #1 on Moreton Street down the Vauxhall Bridge Road from Victoria Station, to do General Duties. This was our first introduction to Miss Duff, a Scottish lady in navy blue uniform of the British Red Cross, attached to our Canadian Corps to oversee the personnel of the Maple Leaf Clubs.

The job at Maple Leaf #1 was very active indeed, as it was a popular place for Canadian boys of the Army, Air Force and Navy when they came to London on leave. In fact it became almost home to some of the boys, some we got to know very well. It was apparently a treat to hear our Canadian voices, especially for those boys who had been in England for years. We laughed and joked with many and tried to cheer up those who were lonesome.

The Club was filled to the roof during the fall of '43 and spring of '44. Sometimes we had to make up extra beds on the floor of their lounge and writing room. We worked long hours – serving meals, scrubbing tables, making beds, manning the telephone and reception desk, and generally making ourselves useful, while at the same time talking and laughing with the boys, and listening to often horrendous stories particularly from navy and air force boys.

Most of the boys were great fellows and we certainly had lots of fun. We got to know some, especially air force boys who were crew in bombing raids over Germany, as they had more frequent leaves and we were saddened all too often when we heard of boys who were missing.

The hours we were on duty were long – before 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., with a couple of hours off in the afternoons. Sometimes we had more hours off in the afternoons, then worked 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. We had one day off a week, and usually we were off the day before by 4 p.m. Despite the lengthy working hours, we all managed to have delightful dates and many adventures with old friends who unexpectedly came to town. The air raids were frequent at this time, usually at night, but this didn't deter us from getting out and about whenever we could. Every day was different, and I met many interesting people. We soon learned the importance of leaving where ever we were in time to catch a tube as they closed down by midnight, and taxis were almost impossible to find, especially when an air raid was on.

The tube stations were an unforgettable sight. There were bunks stacked against the walls occupied by families, and the overflow made up beds on the platforms between the bunks and the trains. We had to step gingerly over sleeping bodies to reach the doors of the trains. I think they felt safer than in air raid shelters, or perhaps they liked the companionship, confusion and noise.

When the bombing raids were in or near our area we were urged to go to the basement so we could be away from flying glass. One night I watched for a while from a little balcony (I wasn't too keen on being in the basement), it was quite a show with the search lights scanning the skies and many planes overhead, and I saw one plane come down in flames into the Thames only a few blocks away – hopefully it was one of theirs! Then a flare floated down in front of me – a bomb usually followed a flare, but that night it didn't – I was lucky. Some of our windows were broken that night though. Another night a barrage balloon was hit and came down in front of the Club. A spectacular sight was another night that huge flames lit up the sky – we found out later it was a paint factory.

Christmas time came and the Club was overflowing as usual. We managed to find a lovely Christmas tree and we got the boys to help us put it up in the dining room and decorate it with strings of popcorn and cranberries and whatever we could scrounge, mostly out of parcels from home – bows and ribbons, and we sang the good old Christmas carols with the boys. On Christmas Eve I went with Ted C. to a beautiful dance at his Mess near Epsom Downs. He took me to the home of friends of his where I dressed for the dance, and later had a couple of hours' sleep before being picked up by an Army vehicle and taken back in the cold and frosty morning to the Club in time to serve breakfast to the boys. Later on that day we served a traditional Christmas dinner with turkey and plum pudding and tables decorated gaily with a Christmas stocking for each of our guests containing socks, cigarettes, candies and oranges. And after that, the tables were re-set and we girls sat down and the boys served us. It was great fun!"

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