[Editor’s note: Memoir transcription provided by donor.]
MY LIFE AS A CWAC
by Patricia Mary Jones Carter
It was the summer of 1941, Canada had been at war with Germany for almost two years, and still the Canadian Armed Forces did not welcome women into their ranks except as Nursing Sisters. The story may be apocryphal but Winston Churchill was credited with prompting the Canadian Government to use waiting women power by asking, after he had requested more troops and been told by Prime Minister Mackenzie King that no more were available, “What about your women?” And what about the women of Canada. Hundreds of them belonged to volunteer military groups and were already basically trained, waiting to be called. On August 13, 194l, the Canadian Women’s Army Auxiliary was established. Matron-in-Chief of the Canadian Army nursing Service, Elizabeth Smellie was appointed to recruit women staff officers. She chose Victoria’s Joan Kennedy, Controller of the British Columbia Women’s Service corps to be the officer administering the newly organized Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Corps.
A soldier’s daughter, I, Patricia (Pat) Mary Jones Carter, had been eager to serve my country and when a recruiting ad appeared in the local Halifax paper, immediately applied. Of course, I expected to be commissioned.
At 23, my life was pleasant living at home in Halifax with my parents and 14-year old brother; Johnnie; working as Secretary to the Manager of the Nova Scotia Savings and Loan; and dating Andy MacIntosh. Andy worked in his father’s underwear factory in Windsor, Ontario*. With his father retired and brother serving in the Royal Canadian Navy, Andy was considered to be performing an essential service and, therefore, could not enlist in the Armed Forces. A sore point with him.
Notification received to have a medical, so I waltzed in to Dr. Wiswell’s office. Had to wait three hours, but was pronounced physically fit.
Mrs. Morton, my friend Eldrid’s mother hosted a Trousseau Tea for her. Couldn’t believe Eldrid had pyjamas in her trousseau!!! Stayed overnight as I missed the ferry from Dartmouth to Halifax.
Andy picked me up at 9:30 and we partied at his friends, Bill and Nan Beckwith’s, until 4:30 a.m.!!!
Sailing all day at Chester with Andy, his dad and the Beckwiths. Dinner at the Quarterdeck. Evening at “Beckies”
September 22nd to 27th
With Dad at the wheel, my friend Renee (Matheson), Dad’s clerk, Lloyd, and I set out for Gaspe where Dad is to inspect the artillery installations. It was a lovely, sunny day and we drove through the prettiest part of Nova Scotia, the Wentworth Valley, the trees green and gold with patches of red.
We were a jolly crew, singing the nostalgic World War I songs—“Tipperary”, Pack up your Troubles”, “Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty”, Dad’s favourite, “There’s an Old Spinning Wheel in the Parlour”, “Roll out the Barrell” and “You are my Sunshine,.” loudly, if not tunefully. Dad told his corny jokes, Lloyd and Renee laughing uproariously, I looking pained.
Near Dorchester, Dad stopped at a Guest Home (there were few motels in 1941) Returned to the car frowning and said: “Don’t know what was wrong with that daft woman, I asked her if she had rooms for two men and two women and she slammed the door in my face!” Renee told him the woman probably thought it was two soldiers with a couple of loose women. At the Boyne Inn, Dad was more explicit, and we were given two rooms without question.
The next day, we stopped at Moncton where Dad demonstrated that the “Magnetic Hill” was an optical illusion just as he had when he, Mummy, Johnnie and I had stopped there the year before enroute to Quebec and Ontario.
Lunched at Perce overlooking the famed Perce Rock home to thousands of sea birds. The piping hot, creamy seafood chowder served with homemade bread was delicious. Couldn’t say the same for my first taste of goat’s milk cheese.
Dad had reserved a double log cabin adjacent to the Battery Park Hotel which stood on the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Up with the larks and while Dad and Lloyd set off on their tour of inspection, Renee and I walked Gaspe. It was a town where time had stood still several generations ago—roadside bake ovens, dog carts, wayside shrines and Jesus forever hanging on “The Cross” flanked by the two thieves in the cemetery. The people spoke French so Renee and were able to practise our High School French, not too successfully.
We left our rolls of black and white film with Father Berard at the Seminary to develop and print (there was no such facility in the town, actually very few shops.) The Officers’ Wives, who were staying at the hotel, invited us for tea on the verandah.
An enormous halibut had been caught this morning and was a feature of dinner. I don’t think the King dined as well as we did. After dinner, we danced in the lounge with the young officers in front of a large, log-burning fireplace.
We set out for home very early Friday morning. The highlight of the return trip was lunch at Marshlands Inn, Sackville, New Brunswick. As we walked in the door, we felt as though we had wandered back in time to the Victorian era and were being entertained in the home of the gentry—handsome, mahogany furniture, the tables centred with fresh flower arrangements from the gardens and set with linen, Spode dinnerware and sterling silver. The food all home made—Roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, garden fresh vegetables, pickles, rolls, lemon pie. A fitting end to a wondrous trip.
Arrived home around 9:00 p.m. to a waiting Andy. We spent the evening at “Beckies”. Andy proposed. When I arrived home, Mummy came into my room as she always did, I told her Andy and I had “an understanding.” She asked: “Have you told him you are enlisting in the Army?” I said: “No, not yet.” Mummy went on to say, “You know if you don’t join up, you could have that grey, squirrel coat you’ve been wanting and Andy.” Although she had never said, I wondered if she would have preferred me not to enlist.
Friday, October 3
A young R.C.A.M.C. doctor and nurse gave me …missing text here, untranslatable formating… back together again, but in spite of thousands of dollars being spent on exploration, only a a few artifacts have been found.
Monday, October 6
Handed in my resignation to-day to the Nova Scotian Savings and Loan, cannot say with any regrets. We all make errors in judgement and my biggest to-date was to leave my job as Secretary to sweet Mr. Parkes (Manager of the T. Eaton Co. Ltd. in Halifax).
ELDRID MORTON MARRIES LARRY KUCHER
Tuesday, October 7
At an evening wedding in Dartmouth, Eldrid and Larry were married. She is so slim and was able to wear her Aunt’s wedding gown with lace veil and carried American Beauty Roses. She was so beautiful with her dark, curly hair and shining brown eyes. Can never understand why she envies my fair hair. She says: “Blondes have more fun.” Larry was handsome in uniform but who looks at the groom.
I wore my pale blue, corded silk floor length dress with a matching long-sleeved jacket. Peg loaned me her Marie Antoinette style sweet-pea bridesmaid’s hat. I felt quite “swish.”
The reception was held in the Morton’s home and I helped pass the tiny sandwiches and sweets. Eldrid’s “Going Away” outfit was a brown suit worn with her mother’s squirrel neckpiece. I caught the bouquet but by the time the other girls each took a rose, I was left standing with a tea strainer, one broken rose and the bow. (The next morning Mrs. Morton phoned and asked if I would return the bow for Eldrid’s wedding book.)
We followed the bride and groom as they set off in the Morton’s car for the Cornwallis Inn in Kentville. On their return, Larry returns to sea. It will be a lonely, worrisome time for Eldrid.
Good old Pump drove Renee and me home around the Basin. Wonder if there will ever be a bridge across the harbour? What a convenience it would be for people living in Dartmouth and working in Halifax.
Saturday, October 11th to 13th
Andy, Bill, Nan and I drove to the senior Beckwith’s summer home at Hampton. Dressed in Mackinaws, we strolled the shores of the Bay of Fundy, huge waves rolling in. Stayed up ‘til after midnight playing “Poorhouse Poker”. I won 27 cents. Was quite amused that Mrs. Beckwith put Andy at the opposite end of the house to me. In fact, he would have had to walk through their bedroom to get to mine. Guess she must have a good memory.
All slept in after our late night. Picked apples. Thanksgiving dinner, turkey with all the trimmings. Walked along the coast all afternoon. “Poorhouse Poker” again and I won 50 cents. Much laughing, Bill’s parents are such fun. Bed at l:30 a.m.
Trekked through the woods to-day. Got lost and didn’t arrive back at the cottage until 2:30, time to blast off for home.
MY ARMY LIFE BEGINS
Friday, October 17
My first day actually in the Army and I’ve been posted to District Depot No. 6 as Lieutenant-Colonel Guildford’s (the Officer Commanding) and Dr. Chipman’s (Adjutant) Secretary, although all office workers are “Clerks.”
The Depot comprising H-huts is located on the old Air Field within walking distance of home. There will not be time to go home at noon, but we will not eat in the men’s mess, rather the Colonel has set aside a small room as our dining room and food will be delivered to us there.
To-date, we have no official uniforms; we are identified by a red arm emblazoned with the letters C.W.A.C. Those of us who have families in Halifax are allowed to live out; the others are billeted at the Y.W.C.A. Our pay is two-thirds that of the men, but none of us are complaining, we are just satisfied to be able to serve our Country.
Monday, October 20
The first nine women to enlist were interviewed by Matron Smellie, a charming woman who was interested in why we had chosen to serve in the Army.
Tuesday, October 21
It was apparent we civilians needed military indoctrination. To-day, a hastily put together Basic Training Course started at Glacis Barracks. The curriculum includes a smattering of military law, gas masks and foot drill, map reading, first aid and most important of all, how to differentiate between a corporal and a colonel—and how to salute the latter!
Dressed in our civilian clothes and shoes, we were a motley looking crew as we “marched” around the Parade Square. A permanent force male sergeant bellowing orders, obviously despaired of making soldiers of us.
We will be lunching in the Men’s Mess. To-day, well-done roast beef and overcooked vegetables. Pie not bad.
Tuesday, October 21
Our dress shoes were definitely not made for marching, so this morning we were loaded into an army truck and transported to Wallace’s (the best shoe shop in Halifax). Here our feet were x-rayed; we were shod and issued with khaki lisle stockings. They were so ugly.
Wednesday, October 22
At 9:00 a.m., we were marched to the Quarter Master Stores to be fitted for uniforms. Such excitement. A young corporal, under the watchful eye of the quarter master (both males) measured us around the neck, the waist, and the bosom, up one arm and down the other. Then—we were issued with khaki coveralls, soldier’s for the use of, size small. The crotch came down to our knees and both arms and legs had to be rolled up several widths. Now, as we waddle around the parade square, we resemble nine, overfed brown bears.
Oh my aching feet!!!
Friday, October 31
Handed out candy kisses to the neighbourhood kids, then dressed in my white Grecian style evening dress, pinned Andy’s roses on my shoulder straps and Nan, Billy, Andy and I took in The Gyro Ball. Practically wore out my black velvet sandals dancing cheek to cheek with Andy, joining in the Conga and twirling to the Hokey Pokey. Breakfast at “Normans” (a restaurant) then home around 5:30 a.m.
Saturday, November 1st and 2nd
With Nan and Bill, Andy and I watched the Dalhousie-Acadia football final. Back to Beckies for supper and evening.
Andy came into the house and we had long, long talk. Told him I had joined the C.W.A.C. He turned white, was silent for what seemed ages, then said: “You can have the Army or me, Pat.” He kissed me, and left. I wept as I told my mother, who only said: “It must be very difficult for him not to be able to join up.”
Wondered if Andy would turn up to-day. He did, we had tea with Nan and Bill, then all came to my house for one of my mother’s famous roast beef dinners with Yorkshire pudding and for dessert, butterscotch pie. Andy shot movies of us all.
Monday, November 3
A new instructor, Sergeant Mulligan, who believes in P.T. and drill. Was particularly critical of me and I when we had been dismissed, I went over and asked him “Why?” His answer: “You are a Master Gunner’s daughter and should be able to take it.”
Roast beef dinner again. When the orderly officer asked us if we had any complaints, we “Mooed” in unison. We were promptly marched before the officer commanding who informed us that the correct response when asked, “any complaints” was “No…Sir!”
November 8th and 9th
Spent a quiet evening at home with Andy. The next day listened to recordings at Stricklands, dinner with Andy’s dad at “Hillside Hall. No mention was made of my enlisting.
Monday, November 17
Posted back to the Depot. Half hour drill every morning at Glacis Barracks, what a drag!
Andy did not turn up last weekend, neither did he call. Heard via the grapevine he spent the weekend with Nan and Bill at Hampton.
Saturday, November 22
Phoned Andy. Discovered he meant what he said. Romance definitely off.
Friday, December 5
Took the Oath of Allegiance to King George VI. Now I am in the Army for the duration, unless I get pregnant!
Saturday, December 6
Inoculation and immunization. I reassured the other 8 girls, that there was nothing to fear and went first. Stepped up, the needle was inserted and I promptly passed out hitting my head on the metal sheeting at the base of the pot bellied stove. Came to with not one, but three doctors, bending over me. “Have you ever had asthma?” they asked. I responded, “No, but my mother has,” and promptly passed out again. I was transported home in an Army ambulance.
Sunday, December 7
We were all sitting in the living room—Dad fiddling with the dials of the big, upright radio; Mummy and I knitting squares for afghans for Bundles for Britain and Johnnie lying on the floor reading the funny papers. Suddenly, Dad sat up straight and said “Listen!” Over the airwaves came the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour with great loss of life and ships. We were all stunned. Then Dad stood up and said: “Now the Americans will have to come into the War.” At this time, the United States is assisting in many ways, e.g. Lend Lease, and their young men are flocking to Canada and Britain to enlist, but the British Empire was standing alone against the well-trained, armed might of Germany. The entrance of the United States into the War would indeed be welcome, ‘tho we deplored the reason.
Monday, December 8
The United States and Canada declared war on Japan.
Saturday, December 20
To-day, No. 6 Detachment Royal Canadian Army Service Corps invited the 15 CWACs to Christmas dinner, the original 9 sitting at the same table. It was a veritable feast.
Crème of Tomato Soup
Roast Turkey, Savory Dressing, Cranberry Sauce
Creamed Potatoes, Turnips, String Beans, Carrots, Green Peas
Celery, Lettuce Tomatoes, Pickled Onions
Apple Pie, Fruit Cake, Plain Cake, Ice Cream
Plum Pudding with Brandy Sauce
Tea Milk Coffee
Nuts, Oranges, Bananas, Mixed Candy, Soft Drinks, Bottled Beer
Afterwards, we sang carols, but had to go back to work in the afternoon. Would much rather have slept! Imagine those who imbibed the beer did!
Sunday, December 21
Dad and Johnnie set off with a little axe to fell the Christmas fir tree. As usual it was a pitiful specimen and as usual Dad said it would be fine once trimmed.
Monday, December 22
The black people arrived to-day in their ox-pulled wagons. As usual, Mummie bought a full, branched fir tree from them and gave them Dad’s tree to haul away. This evening, as the three of us decorated the tree with the bells, balls, Santas, cranberry and popcorn strings strung the previous week by the whole family, tinsel, etc., etc., Dad remarked: “See, Doll, I told you it would like fine once decorated.”
Life was quieter for me without a special man in my life. However, old friend Jack Smith, now a Flight-Lieutenant in the R.C.A.F. arrived home on leave and turned up on our doorstep, as was his wont, a couple of days before Christmas. He took me last minute shopping the day before Christmas and drove me to deliver gifts Christmas Eve. He was as comfortable as an old shoe and his mother and father always greeted me with open arms. They wanted me for a daughter-in-law.
Up before anyone else on the street. Housecoated and slippered, we sat cross-legged under the tree (except for Dad who sat in his favourite arm chair) sipping on cups of piping hot cocoa while we opened our gifts. Santa had been very generous to me: housecoat from Dad, identification bracelet from Mummy, forget-me-not brooch from Johnnie, pyjamas from Annette, sterling silver Enchantress sugar spoon from Lindy, etc., etc.
Late in the afternoon, after pulling crackers and donning silly hats, we sat down to mother’s traditional Christmas dinner:
Roast Turkey, sage dressing, brown gravy,
Cranberry Sauce, Chestnut dressing, bread sauce,
Mashed potatoes, Green peas, creamed onions, carrots,
Plum pudding with pouring cream.
After dinner, our neighbours and good friends, the Clarkes with their teen-aged daughter, Phyllis; l0 year old son, John, and a friend from Mr. Clarke’s ship, Bill, arrived to share mince tarts sticky raisins, nuts, my mother’s famous Christmas cake marzipan iced and tea. Jack Smith also dropped in during the evening. Played games like Monopoly that all could share in. Mummy read our tea cups.
Christmas was not so jolly for all Canadians for on Christmas Day the British in Hong Kong surrendered. By this time, 290 Canadian soldiers had been killed and 493 has been wounded. (Many more later died in Japanese prison camps.)
New Year’s Eve 1941
A first, no date for New Year’s Eve. Joined my parents at the Clarke’s with Johnnie, their children and Bill dancing, singing, eating and playing games. Joined hands at midnight to sing “Auld Lang syne” and wondered where we would all be next December 31st. Our host disappeared around midnight, reappeared at the had of the stairs wearing pyjamas. He called down: “Don’t know about you clots, but I’m going to bed.” We laughed and toddled off home.
[* Possible transcription issue: The reference to “Windsor, Ontario” in paragraph three seems unlikely compared to the much nearer Windsor, Nova Scotia, which was also the location of the Nova Scotia Underwear Company (renamed Nova Scotia Textiles in 1921).]