"And I think everyone who wasn’t on duty that day -it was a grey, overcast Sunday - and everyone went down to the harbour to see this U-boat being brought in."
You got a long list of paper and it says, you are instructed to report to the barracks at the above address. Well, that was in June at [HMCS] Hunter [Windsor, Ontario], and then you are required to go for training as a probationary “Wren” [member of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service] in ‘C’ category for July 1944. And the rate of pay for probationary Wrens was $1.05 and after basic training, pay will increase to $1.10. And because I had experience at the job for which I applied for, in library service, my pay was $1.35 after the probationary stuff. But in six months, it went up to $1.45 and when I got a promotion in 1945, I ended up getting $1.60 a month, before I was discharged.
At [HMCS Conestoga] Galt [Ontario], we had to bring enough civilian clothes for one week: we were supposed to take a coat and a suit and two pajamas or nightdresses and I was looking at an old paper that said, two pairs of bloomers, closed at the knee. One pair of walking shoes and a shoe cleaning kit, a plastic drinking glass and a sewing kit, bedroom slippers, a dressing gown, a hat, toiletries including soap, clothespins and especially name tapes. And laundry bags and some white ankle socks. And when you got to Galt, you were outfitted with your uniform within about a week and you had to take a lot of shots, I can’t remember what they were all for, I guess that was in case some of the Wrens, about a thousand of them went overseas during the wartime but you had to have a lot of shots when you went to Galt.
And we did a lot of marching and we had schoolwork. I have a whole notebook about all the things you had to learn about the Navy. And we did a lot of scrubbing floors and keeping the barracks clean and learning how to have a kit muster [inspection], when you had all your kit laid out on the bed and in the order that it was supposed to be. And you didn’t know where you were going to be drafted until the end of the probationary period. And mine came in August. Some of the girls went out ahead but then they must have known where they were going. I still stayed working at Conestoga, regular marching and all that stuff until August, about August the 13th, and I was drafted to Shelburne, Nova Scotia to the base there.
HMCS Shelburne [Nova Scotia] was one of the largest and busiest refitting bases of the Canadian Navy and the only one that was manned by Navy personnel. And since I wasn’t with a draft of other girls, I went down on the train by myself and was met by a truck I think it was at Shelburne and taken out to the base. Shelburne is a small town, I believe it still is about two, three thousand people and the base was about a mile from town with a lot of barracks and workshops. Because since it was such a busy base, there were about 2,000 men stationed there which would include crews coming off the ships while they were being repaired and refitted. And the library was just a room in one of the barrack buildings. Because the sailors were all workmen with trades - or most of them were workmen with trades except the crews that were staying at Shelburne while their ship was being refitted - electricians, plumbers, shipwrights, any kind of work that a man would do on the ship, the men were interested and came into the library for books on their trade, besides anybody picking up a book if they wanted to do any reading.
Captains or First Lieutenants from the ships that were going back out to sea always came into the library to pick out boxes of books to take on the ship with them for seagoing duties. The library room was quite busy because newspapers were sent from most places in Canada free of charge every day. I had to pick up a lot of newspapers and spread them out and of course, the sailors would come in to see if we had their hometown paper or to read the, close to their hometown paper.
The Wrens had their own barracks and they had their mess hall. Of course, there were sports, there were movies several nights a week in the drill shed, there was a dance once a week in the drill shed. And because there were only about probably about fifty or so women working there - now, there were also civilian women working on the base and in some of the offices - but I think there must have been about 50 Wrens. I thought there were more but I’ve been talking to someone in Ottawa and they said, no, they didn’t think there was that many.
And the big highlight of, the one thing that I do remember was at the end of the war [May 1945], U-boat 889 surrendered and was brought into Shelburne for the formal surrender [to] the Canadian warships. When the war was over, the U-boats had to surrender and the ones that were still out in the Atlantic near the East Coast, either surrendered in the United States or to Newfoundland and this one was sent to Shelburne. And I think everyone who wasn’t on duty that day -it was a grey, overcast Sunday - and everyone went down to the harbour to see this U-boat being brought in.