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Jane Wilkinson: The War Years

This is excerpts from a story written by Jane Wilkinson. It is submitted by Paul Desgroseiller of St. Anne's Hospital in Quebec.

Our High School was adjacent to the local armoury and parade square. When the Militia began practising bayonet drill and one of my fellow students said they should have a bottle of ketchup handy so things would be more realistic; it made me realize there was a war being waged. Up until this time, we, on the West Coast spoke of the war as "Phoney", since it had little effect on us. But with the advent of black out DRILLS and the cancellation of our high school graduation ceremonies and year books, it came home to us with a vengeance. Also most of our classmates where departing to enlist in the service; the Air Force being the most popular. Of course, the war came to us on the West Coast with a vengeance.

As I had four older half sisters whose father was killed in WWI and whose war medals and memorial plaque were always visible at home, it was natural we should all grow as a patriotic family. Consequently, my two brothers-in-law joined the Air Force, my sister joined the Army, my brother became an air raid warden, and I joined the Air Force. The war had become very real for us. The train trip to Manning Pool in Rockcliffe was memorial in that our co-recruits were mostly all G.D.'s (general duties) from Vancouver so we all became friends and went on at a later date to Mont-Joli together. Once we were issued our uniforms, we toured Ottawa and were fully impressed by its beautiful buildings and its variety of statues. On our last days at Rockcliff, once we were adept at marching and drilling, we were inspected by Princess Alice and we went on our first posting to Mont Joli. Now this was a Bombing and Gunnery station in eastern Québec, on the St-Lawrence River on the western edge of the Gaspé Peninsula. It was not considered an isolated station, but as far as I was concerned, it definitely was. Life on such a station was usually hum-drum. It could be exceptionally monotonous if we didn't make an effort to generate our own form of interests and excitement. Skiing, skating, badminton and bowling were part of the diversion of which we made use. Also the dances at Metis beach and in the station drill hall were greatly appreciated. All these times we were fully conscious of the fact that there was a war being waged. At home (Mont- Joli), we had our share of plane accidents with trainee casualties and injured pilots. Because the survival of air gunners on squadrons overseas was practically nil, it was decided bombing exercises were to be abolished and gunnery took its place. Yes it was devastating to think that more than 90% of a graduation class could go missing. It made us appreciate our trainees that much more. In the summer of '42, I was the duty clerk in the orderly room. One evening the phone rang. It was a reporter calling from Montréal for the English paper The Star. He was inquiring as to the rumour that there had been a sinking of a ship in the St-Lawrence off Mt-Joli. I referred him to the CO in the Officer's mess.

It sure gave me a scary feeling. Later we heard that Lord HaHa, the German propagandist with the beautiful Oxford accent, had broadcast from Berlin that a U-boat crew on the St-Lawrence had listened to dance music from the Boule Roche and Chez Donat Hotels at Metis beach and infiltrated the dance at the RCAF station at Mt-Joli in RCAF uniforms. Just to imagine dancing with Germans was unthinkable. As fratinizing between Air women and officer's was discouraged, many romances were nipped in the bud by sudden name postings. We all thought it was a low blow but I guess it was necessary for good discipline. Many a romance was cut short when overseas postings were listed, although involved airwomen were given preference if there was an overseas posting for female clerks. Despite the fact that our wages were low, we were expected to buy war bonds, and it was quite an event when Buzz Beurling came to our station dance promoting a War Bond Drive. Marc Kenney was another big name who brought his big band to our station as well as Glen Miller. It made for exciting times. Then there was the time the M.O. wanted to give me a week's sick leave after I had been hospitalized with suspected diphtheria, but I refused as I had no one with whom I could go away. He gave me the strangest look which I couldn't fathom until sometime later. He most likely thought there was a camp full of men who would be only too pleased to go away with me. Then there was the time the Adjutant offered me my Corporal's hooks and I refused as I didn't want the responsibility of making bed check. Again the look on his face was a sight to be seen.

Our main ambition was to go overseas and when the opportunity arose we jumped at it. We sailed on the Empress of Scotland (really the Empress of Japan but it was supposed to have been sunk). We zigged and zagged our way alone across the ocean. The most exciting happening was sighting an unidentified aircraft and one of the air women refusing to go on deck without her girdle as she wasn't going to be caught anywhere without her girdle. Our stint in London was most exciting and at times dangerous. The Buzz Bombs were a hazard not to be ignored as the sound of them putting across the sky caused your heart to thump. Waking up with a headache after sleeping with a steel helmet covering one's head was another result of the war. When one of the airmen received a letter from his wife treating the bombs as a joke, he was fit to be tied. They certainly were anything but a joke!

Air crews on leave in London were only too happy to return to the safety of their bombing stations. Only after the Horse Guard's Chapel in Whitehall took a direct hit while a church parade was in progress, did the authorities decide to cancel all such gatherings and encouraged personnel to spend weekends away from London.

As the war progressed, things settled down and we made the best of our stay by enjoying the diversions of the big city with its many theatres and clubs, etc.

Our return to Canada was eagerly anticipated and much appreciated as was our discharge and demobilization. But that is another story.

Jane Wilkinson, ex-R.C.A.F.
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