My name is Bernice "Okie" Horn, and I enlisted in the C.W.A.C. at London, Ontario, in June 43 as Bernice Magness, W1880. I hailed from Sand Springs, Oklahoma.
Basic training took place at Kitchener, Ontario, where the men's World War I barracks had been brought back to life with a new world of young women following orders, queuing up for mess hall and/or church parades, doing route marches, and always remembering the large new sign on the barracks wall that read: "Get the 'Yes-Ma'am' habit." And we did.
One of the nicest changes taken place at the camp in 43 was the installation of a source of hot water for our barracks. In order to have this wonderful convenience, the one selected for duty went out into the night with a couple of coal buckets, filled them with coal, and climbed down a very steep ladder to fire the furnace in a new, small, cellar-like room dug out beneath our huts.
I was seventeen years old at the time, when I'd completed my twelve-year education the year before in Sand Springs. Like many women enlistees from the States, I was too young for service in my own country. But there must have been an angel watching over me because I was in the right place at the right time. The recently formed, and much later to become famous, C.W.A.C. Pipe Band made its initial appearance at Kitchener while I was in training, and Pipe Major of Victoria, BC, seemed pleased to learn that I had been a high school percussionist - snare drum, that is - with seven years experience, and I could read music. I had never seen or heard of pipe bands.
The band's first six-month tour of Canada was beginning. To me, bagpipes looked like somebody's idea of a joke, and all their tunes sounded the same. But the drumming was different and fast, and I loved it. Before long, I could distinguish the pipe tunes and was the leading side drummer. I taught the other drummers as best I could, and other experienced pipers were helping the novice pipers.
This first tour took us as far east as PEI, and as far west as Courtney on Vancouver Island. My eighteenth birthday was quietly celebrated in Victoria. I was, and am, very proud to be the only American in the famous C.W.A.C. pipe band.
As related in the transcripts by tenor drummer Jessica "Andy" Anderson-Clayton - her last name is Clayton now - our second tour of Canada was a nine-month itinerary, covering almost any community where we could arrive on a train or pile out of the back of an army truck. The wonderful, patriotic and caring people we met while traveling across Canada are beyond sufficient words of thanks. The teas, the luncheons, the hospitality, and sometimes billets in their homes, gave our girls an education and appreciation for a way of life and loyalty that couldn't have been learned elsewhere.
Our participation in the U.S. seventh war-bond drive was one of the many highlights our band enjoyed, followed by the orders to sail to the U.K. aboard the beautiful Isle de France. Aldershot, England gave us our first glimpse of many Canadian soldiers in this sector, who were as happy to see us, as we were to see them. It had been many years since they'd talked to women from home, and they were very protective of us.
The welcome we enjoyed in England was a prelude to the tears of enthusiastic greeting received in Holland from our troops and the wonderful, caring people of the Netherlands who had endured so many hardships during the war. Thanks again to our heroic boys and our friends in Apeldoorn, especially for their TLC [Tank Landing Craft].
As I wind up I might mention that our pipe band played the traditional tunes very well, but precision marching was its forte. Sometimes the concerts had to be performed on a stage and space for marching was lacking, but it was customary to parade, so to speak. We were frequently asked why a pipe band marched as it played, and the delightful answer always was and ever shall be: "Because a moving target is harder to hit."
Cheers to all. We will never forget. Thank you.