"I was in England when the war started, of course. I tried to join the British services, but I worked for county council, which was considered a reserved occupation"
My mother and I had gone to England in Christmas 1937, so I was in England when the war started, of course. I tried to join the British services, but I worked for county council, which was considered a reserved occupation [jobs deemed essential services], so I couldn’t. But when they recruited in November 1943 for Canadians, I joined up then in the Canadian air force [Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division].
I was at Canadian headquarters in London, at Lincoln’s Inn Field. And I worked for the director of medical services. He stayed at headquarters. He had doctors all over our units. See, we only had two units, Lincolnton Field, the headquarters, and [No.] 6 [RCAF] Group in Northern England. Amongst 6 Group, there were all sorts of individual units and they all had medical offices, of course. And we didn’t actually have our own hospitals, we sent people to the Canadian army hospitals when the time arose.
We didn’t have barracks. We were billeted out. And I was billeted to my mother. I mean, we lived in a boarding house because, of course, we didn’t have our own home. And that was fortunate, in a way. In another way, it would have been nice to be on a station, which is completely life, but you can’t have it both ways, can you? The joy of being in London was that the time we were there, we saw 80 shows both of us, in that time, which you wouldn’t do when you were on a station. On the other hand, you don’t have the station life.
She worked for MI5 [(British) Military Intelligence, Section 5]. Of course, she had top secret clearance and so she’d come home and say, oh, I can’t tell you that. And then, oh, you’ll never, oh no, I’d better not say that. She worked on the Irish mail. There were a lot of Germans in southern Ireland, in Dublin, and so the mail from there was full of blackouts [redacted sections]. And so she dealt with that, which she enjoyed. And which I never heard much about, never ever, ever, for her life, she never said anything about them.
Oh, it was agony because I loved England. And when I was on the ship, we came back on the [SS] Île de France [transport vessel], and I looked overboard and I thought, do I want to jump over? On the other hand, I can’t swim, [laughs] so maybe I’d better not jump over. It was really a pull. I mention that in the book because I loved England so much. And I love Canada and I loved Corby, I loved my boss. So I mean, I liked working for him; and my mother wanted to come back. She’d never lost her, we rented our house there all the time, all through the war, we had somebody just … And we never made any money on it, but it paid for itself, so we still had it. And she really wanted to come back. And so we came back.
She couldn’t come back because I was on a troop ship and she wasn’t, of course, a war bride. But she really wanted to come back, so she haunted Canada House [High Commission of Canada in London]until she was practically a fixture there, looking for… So finally, I can tell you a funny story about that. Finally, the transport officer looked around and he said, well, Mrs. Turpin, there’s a way you could come back. You can marry the sergeant over there and you’d be a war bride. She said, I looked at him and his face was just white, the sergeant. Of course this was his officer telling him, if he had to… And she said, I really lost it, he looked absolutely petrified. [laughs] Anyway, she did come back and she didn’t do too badly. She finally got a passage on the [RMS] QE I, the first Queen Elizabeth. And it was for us a lot of money, 90 pounds, which then was a lot of money for us anyway. But she’d made 20 pounds in horse racing on the way back, [laughs] so that did it.