Veteran Stories:
Edna Maude Pratt (née Bryanton)

Air Force

  • Picture or corporal Edna Bryanton taken in Toronto in January 1942 while she was serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

    Edna Pratt
  • Edna Pratt (second from left) and her colleagues being reviewed by a UNRRA Officer. Circa 1945-1946.

    Edna Pratt
  • Edna Bryanton's Identification Card at the time she was serving as a Staff Officer in the British Occupation Zone in Northern Germany as a member of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). August 1945.

    Edna Pratt
  • Contingent of about 150 women personnel (Royal Canadian Air Force) upon completion of training at the Old Havergal Girls College on Church Street, Toronto. October 1941.

    Edna Pratt
  • Edna Pratt in Olds, Alberta, June 29th, 2010.

    Historica Canada
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"The air force was the junior service, but the first one to recruit women. And our motto was that “we serve, that men may fly.”"


In the spring of 1939, the King [George VI] and Queen [Elizabeth] miraculously did a trip to Canada to tour the country, which later we realized was, they knew the war was coming in Europe and this was a propaganda maneuver, which nobody suspected except the higher ups.

I went to see the King and Queen in Edmonton, in Red Deer [Alberta]. And then shortly after this, I received a document. I was in the nursing profession; and I received a document from Ottawa, asking me various questions; and if I would serve my country in the time of an emergency. Being single, and fancy free, I filled out all the questionnaire and sent back the information they wanted as to character and education, and all the rest. And volunteered; and said yes.

That was 1939. [In] typical government fashion, it was hurry up and wait. And nothing more was heard of this until September 1941, when I got a telegram from Ottawa asking me to report to the RCAF recruiting station in Calgary, Alberta for an interview.

I didn’t know what it was all about, but I reported and discovered that they were starting the women’s division of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Summer of 1939, 1940, when the idea came out that they were going to need women in the armed forces, canadian women in the armed forces, the various ladies groups, church groups, press and media took up the call and started [saying]: oh, no, no, you can’t do that, women don’t do this and women don’t do that; and why would you put women in uniform to follow the men? Anyway, ultimately, it was decided in Ottawa that yes, Canada would have women in the armed forces and the air force was the junior service, but the first one to recruit women. And our motto was that “we serve, that men may fly.”

And so they started to counteract the propaganda machine. The first 150 women that were chosen across Canada were chosen “rep by pop” [representation by population]. And they had a special train that started in B.C. and they recruited the, picked up the girls they had recruited from B.C., Alberta, all across Canada. It was called the “magic train” and the people that they had called in by these telegrams turned out to be the daughters of all the well-known people in each province.

As we progressed across Canada, every station we stopped at to pick up the Regina gals, there was the press and the flashlights popping, and all the rest. And so on across Canada. We arrived in Toronto [at RCAF Station Downsview] in the pouring rain and were ushered out of the car, and lined up or stumbled up and loaded onto buses, and taken to our so-called boot camp.

In the middle of December, we graduated 150 corporals, all in uniform in Toronto, flooding the street. We were saluting the corporals and we were saluting anybody in the other ranks; and we even the saluted the doorman of the Royal York Hotel. We didn’t know the difference.

We were soon sorted out by, not so much by who had got the highest marks in the course, but who knew who and who was who. So we ended up with 50 officers, 50 sergeants and 50 corporals. And then we started off from there to our various jobs that we were posted to as recruiting officers, medical officers, administrative personnel officers and drill training officers, or NCOs [non-commissioned officers]. Now, I went on the first group of air women to be deployed to a station, an active air force station in Canada. It was [RCAF Station] Summerside, Prince Edward Island.

Follow us