Veteran Stories:
Jeanne Elizabeth Sullivan

Air Force

  • Group photo of Royal Canadian Air Force, Women's Division personnel in Trenton, Ontario, December 1946. LAW Jeanne Sullivan is in the second row, seventh from the right.

    Jeanne Sullivan
  • Group portrait of a Royal Canadian Air Force, Women's Division basic training course in Rockliffe, Ontario, December 10, 1943. AW1 Jeanne Sullivan is in the second row, twenty-sixth from the right.

    Jeanne Sullivan
  • Portrait of Jeanne Sullivan, Royal Canadian Air Force, Women's Division in uniform.

    Jeanne Sullivan
  • Jeanne Sullivan's service medals: Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; War Medal (1939-45).

    Jeanne Sullivan
  • Jeanne Sullivan in Chilliwack, British Columbia, October 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"We weren’t accepted by most males, mostly nasty jokes. We were also ignored by a lot of the public."

Transcript

I joined the Women’s Division of the RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force] on the 16 October, 1943, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, after graduating from the Maritime Business College. At the recruiting centre, we were fingerprinted, complete physical, a lot of needles, pictures taken and sworn in. In November, we received word that we were to board the train for [RCAF Station] Rockcliffe, Ontario, just outside of Ottawa, where we were to take our basic training.

The goodbyes were full of tears as it was the first time I would be going so far out from home. During the long train trip, I think it was three days, we had lunches and got to know our comrades, where we were from, etc. One of our workers on the train was a very large Black man and he must have seen how scared and sad we all were, so he started to sing to us. I have never heard such a beautiful voice since in all my life.

Finally, we arrived in Ottawa and were picked up by open truck. It was so terribly cold. We reported to No. 7 Manning Depot at Rockcliffe. We were immediately escorted to supply section to pick up our pillows and pillowcases, sheets, blankets, and then onto our barracks, where we were allotted our bunks. And that night, after lights out, which was always at 10:00, I think it must have been about an hour later when everyone was asleep, including myself, I fell out of my bunk, jumped right up and got back in bed. I don’t think I was really awake. I must have been really tired after the long train trip. And I didn’t even end up with a bruise.

After we were shown our barracks and picked up our bedding, we were again escorted to the mess hall. Coming from a very poor family, I couldn’t believe all the food we could get, plus all the milk or tea we wanted, any kind of dessert. I really couldn’t believe all the stuff. Our motto was: we serve that men may fly. Our pay in 1943 was $1.05 a day. Our hair had to be two inches above our collar; and every day, we had to polish our shoes and shine our buttons. We weren’t accepted by most males, mostly nasty jokes. We were also ignored by a lot of the public.

After six weeks of basic training, we all got our postings. And on the 17 March, 1944, mine was to [RCAF Station] Mountain View. I was put to work in the pay office, which I loved. At noon, we’d go to the mess hall and then back to work. Don’t be late. After work, off to mess hall again for supper. I was still amazed at all the food. Then on the 10 February, 1944, I was sent to No. 2 CTS [Composite Training School] in Toronto on Jarvis Street for a refresher course in stenography.

While we were also billeted on Jarvis Street, we were not allowed to go out alone. We had to go in groups or with a buddy as, apparently, it was well known in that area of high trafficking prostitution and pimps. After graduating from the course, I was sent back to Mountain View to an orderly room in No. 5 Hangar, the only female there. The aircrafts were so noisy, revving up, taking off and repairs in the hangar, but one really gets used to it. We had to know aircraft recognition, which I found very interesting.

We had sports day and it was fun. I ran in the relay race, broad jump, three-legged race, swimming, skating, etc. I joined the precision squadron, but sprained my ankle after one and a half weeks. I had to give it up. It was very strenuous, but really, I enjoyed it. I also joined the rifle club and got to be a pretty good shot. We had five mile route marches with full kit, which was quite heavy. We had drill at least once a week.

At Hallowe'en, we would dress in costumes as they held a dance for us. I took my PT [physical training] shorts and made them ragged at the edges. My friends at workshop made a sword. I made a black eye patch with a cardboard, drew a crossbow and skull for my head, then turned my rubber boots down. We had such a wonderful time.

My first boyfriend was Frank from Manitoba. We went for hikes, snitching apples, swimming and just enjoying each other. After about a month of being together, Frank showed me a lovely ring and asked me to marry him. But I was only 18 and knew I didn’t want to marry at that time. I felt bad for him.

We received ration chits when we went on leave and I would save mine and send them on to my mother, as the sugar, etc., was rationed, so she could do her canning of fruits and pickles. Each year, I was allowed six weeks of farm leave to go home and help with the harvest as my two brothers were in the service and away overseas.

While stationed at Mountain View, a group of us, five, had the use of a Beechcraft [3 NMT Expeditor (Beech 18)] plane [light commercial transport aircraft]. Our job was to go to the different stations in Quebec and Ontario, demobilizing our men that were coming home from overseas. I loved the flying we did and the work on the records of our repats [repatriated soldiers].

Interview date: 19 October 2010

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