Marie Young (2nd from right) stands with other women in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Women`s Division in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1944.Marie Young
Marie Young (née Ross) joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, Women's Division in 1943.Marie Young
First contingent of women in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Women's Division going to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, 1944.Marie Young
Marie Young (née Ross) in Fredericton, New Brunswick on July 27, 2010Historica Canada
"I really saw and felt the horrors of war at that moment. I can never forget that."
I decided to enlist because you might say I spent my teenage years knowing there was a war on and most of my friends, who were a bit older than I was, had already joined up and gone overseas, many of them. And I, after high school, I had gone to business college and was then working with what was Department of Lands and Mines, later Natural Resources, at that time. And I thought, well, there must be something more that I can do for the war effort. So I decided, along with a girlfriend of mine, to go to Moncton and find out about joining the RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force, Women’s Division].
Well, we were all tested to see what field we might be most suited for. And because I was an excellent typist with very few errors, they decided I would make a very good teletype operator.
Teletype is the, I guess the day before the computer - quite a few days before the computer mind you -because it was sending the messages. If you know what the, they sent messages by telegraph years ago and teletype operator was sending, we sent messages back and forth -everything from just normal messages of postings and so on to messages regarding flights. But a lot of this would have been coded. It was not something that everyone could read, mind you, and those were put through a special program where only a machine and a few people would be able to read them.
We also had to learn another code where we could type up messages at night and then they could be sent the next day very, very fast if they were pre-typed. But we had to learn the code because these were put on a tape and you had to read, it was similar to Braille, reading the tape. It was interesting in many ways.
I was stationed in Halifax at Eastern Air Command headquarters for a year. And I know there were many, we would not know what was in the message at the time we sent it or received it, but then we would find out when it was something to do with a ship, an accident, a bombing or something very traumatic that had happened. Yes, these things did happen on our shifts.
One thing that happened and this was at the end of the war, and I think one of the first ships to come into Halifax was the [SS] Ile de France. And we knew, because there were messages going through, that this ship was coming in early the next morning. And another girl and I went up and there was a lookout on the top of our building. I was back at Eastern Air Command headquarters by this time in Halifax. And we watched this ship come in and it was the most beautiful sight. We felt the war was over and this was a sign of peace and new life and so on, to see it come in.
And then I had time off and a couple days later, I went down to catch a train to come home for a weekend and when I got on the train, I didn’t know whether to turn left or right because you’d step on and you’re sort of, there’s a car to the left and one to the right. And I took the door to the left and I walked in and it was a car full of people who had been prisoners of war. And I got the shock of my life because I had never seen people who were so devastated and so thin and emaciated. But all these young men who had been young but they looked so old and so white. And so it was my, I guess, real taste of war. I really saw and felt the horrors of war at that moment. I can never forget that.