"When I first went away, I was a bit lonesome until I got my uniform and then I was fine after that."
Well, I’m Donna Robertson; and I was just completing high school [in 1944], and I decided that I would like to go in the service, so I joined the [Royal Canadian] Navy [Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service] before I even finished high school and then they called me to come in to go to Galt, Ontario [HMCS Conestoga], right after I had written by final papers. So that was it; and that was the first time I had ever been away from Saint John [New Brunswick], I believe.
I was happy to join the navy; and I didn’t have any trade or anything because I had just finished high school. So they asked me what I would like to do and they gave me some different things that I could do. And so I said, "well, I’d like to be a messenger" ̶ that was one of the options they gave me. And so that’s what I did and I did some office work while I was in Ottawa.
We used to carry files around from one office to another and from the, usually it was the officer’s office that we’d have to pick up files and take to another officer’s office. Sometimes, we had to go out of the building. I worked at Naval Service Headquarters in Ottawa and sometimes we’d have to go to maybe the Air Force building or the Army building to take files to them.
Well, there used to be a great big bus pick us up in the morning out at [HMCS Carleton] Dow’s Lake where we lived and take us up to Naval Service Headquarters and we’d travel along the Rideau Canal. It was called a big blockbuster bus, it was navy blue colour; and it would take us to work in the morning and then it would pick us up at dinnertime, take us back to have dinner at our barracks. And then we’d go back again to work and [it] doesn’t seem reasonable, does it, but we travelled along the Rideau Canal four times a day, and it was a pretty view too.
I used to like to go out on the water there at Dow’s Lake and one time, another Wren [slang term for a member of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, derived from the acronym - WRNS - of the British Women's Royal Naval Service] and myself and two sailors went out in a canoe. There was a great big block out in the water that I don’t know why it was there, but the two sailors, for some reason, they got out and stayed on that. Well, the other Wren and I paddled into shore; and the other Wren got out and went up to the canteen, so I thought, well, I’ll go by myself and I was at one end of the canoe and I had never paddled a canoe before, so I gave a great big pull on the paddle on one side the canoe just rolled right on over (laughs). And so, of course, I was soaking wet and it was right at the start of where you could cross over the Rideau Canal and there was a couple of soldiers were crossing over and they come down; and I swam into the side and they helped me out and I took off my Burberry that I had on and got back in and got the canoe, and brought it over to the side. They helped me empty the water out and so I got back in, went back and picked the other Wren up and went and picked the sailors up.
And then another time, I was out in a little dinghy that they used to rent there, along with another Wren, and there was somebody in swimming there and a lady started calling for help. Apparently, she must have been drowning; and so we got her into the dinghy; and they gave us a dollar or something for it, 50 cents or a dollar. We thought we were rich (laughs). I always remember those things.
Where I grew up was right beside the water and so that’s why I was happy when we were stationed at Dow’s Lake, because some of the Wrens were stationed over town. And there was two or three different places they were stationed, but I was stationed at Dow’s Lake which I was very thankful for. This little sailboat that I called the dinghy that we picked up the woman in, my dad had a sailboat at home, so being by the water seemed more like home.
I was, when I first went away, I was a bit lonesome until I got my uniform and then I was fine after that (laughs).