"And I had a great big lathe and I was making one of the barrels. And it was really exciting. I felt I was really doing something."
The war was progressing and casualties were mounting. And they had opened the service of the three services to the women in 1941 very reluctantly. It was only because of the casualties that they really did it because many, many women were pounding on the doors of government saying, why are you not utilizing our services ̶ they do overseas. And so, finally, they did in 1941.
And I had worked. I came from Northern Ontario. My eldest brother joined up in 1940 and that year, I had completed my commercial course in high school, a three year course; and he came looking for people to take courses. I joined up for the drafting. And that’s how I ended up down in Hamilton at the GE [General Electric] factory and they were making Bofor guns [anti-aircraft weapon]. And I had a great big lathe and I was making one of the barrels. And it was really exciting. I felt I was really doing something. Actually, it was amazing to meet people there that came from all across the country, from St. Albert’s and from Newfoundland. They came to Ottawa or they came to work in the factories and that’s how actually I met up with five girls from St. Albert’s out in BC; and became friends with them in Hamilton.
And I got tired of working in the factory when I saw that you could join the service. My second brother, or actually, I had three brothers, the eldest was the one that joined up in 1940; the second brother couldn’t because of health concerns; and the younger brother, which, who was just two years older than me was away at the time working for the McIntyre Mine up in Labrador. And anyway, I decided that I was tired of working in the factory; and I wanted to join the service and see what happens.
And so I went to Toronto and joined up. And about 30 of us ended up on the orderly room course. We had all had commercial of some sort, but we had to know about the military system of doing things and forms, and such. So after basic training, we stayed in Kitchener to take the orderly room course, which was given at the high school in Kitchener [Canadian Women’s Army Corps Basic Training Centre]. Others went on to become mechanics, to drive trucks. Some were sent to other bases to be orderly room workers. So by the end of our course, they decided where we were going to go. And fortunately, they let us pick. They said, now, these are the places that want you to go and work for them; and I had lived here in Ottawa way, way back. My mother had quite a few relatives down this way and so I said, well, I’d like to go to Ottawa and the closest I could come to being a wireless operator was working with the director to signals [Royal Canadian Corps of Signals] here at headquarters.
It was a very exciting time with people coming and going, and coming from all over. And meeting up with people you would never have met. It was also very sad because they were leaving; they were moved around too and some you heard from, and some you never did again. And you lost track of them. I often wondered what happened to friends that went overseas and just, did he survive? I wasn’t the next of kin, so I wouldn’t have known. And so we all went in different directions.
I did meet up with one friend that I had gone with for quite some time; and he’d gone overseas. And we kept in touch for quite some time. And then we lost track. And I went over for the 50th anniversary of the Holland [liberation] and I had my signals badge on my blazer and I was with, I belonged to the Armed Forces Pensioners’ Association and my president was signals, and so I was with him. And we were standing sort of at the side where we were all supposed to congregate. And anyway, he had his maroon beret on, but he had the signal crest on, and any time you saw someone with a crest like yours, you invariably went over and said hi, you know, where are you from?
Anyway, we ended up about six people. And I saw these two men coming. One was quite an elderly veteran and one was pretty spry. And anyway, they came into the circle and they were talking back and forth; and I thought, gee, he looks familiar, now, where could I have seen him? He was tall, lanky, wore glasses, sandy hair; and looking at him, finally, I looked down at his name tag and it said George Crawford. And I said, oh, for gee, George. And I said, it’s Helen. And he’s looking at me and saying, Helen, hmm. You know, I mean, he, he just didn’t … And I said, Helen Villeneuve, from Ottawa. And he said, oh for … So here we are dancing around, hugging each other. He was the only one that I ever met up with again.