Portrait of LAW Phyllis Agnew (now Holmes) taken in 1943.Phyllis Holmes
Mrs. Phyllis Holmes stands beside her brother, both on leave in 1944, at their family home in Cardigan, Prince Edward Island.Phyllis Holmes
Mrs. Phyllis Holmes (on right) standing with her friend Rae at No. 1 Wireless School in Montreal, Quebec in February 1944.Phyllis Holmes
Royal Canadian Air Force, Women's Division personnel, including Phyllis Holmes, being inspected by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, London, England in 1944. Also in attendance that day were the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.Phyllis Holmes
Mrs. Phyllis Holmes poses with friends Lil, Rae and Shae outside Central Park in New York City, April 1944.Phyllis Holmes
"The V-2s were the worst of all because you’re walking down the street and a light would go over and the siren would go, and you couldn’t find a shelter."
I saw the different girls in uniform and I thought, oh, I’d love to do that. And about halfway through my [stenography] course [at Union Commerical College in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island], I talked to my parents and my mother gave me sound advice: get your diploma first. So I thought, by this time, I was getting onto 18, of course, and you had to be 18 to go in. So then I did. I got my diploma and then the manager from Eaton’s [department store] came over from New Brunswick to Charlottetown, where I was, and was recruiting for people to come over and work for Eaton’s. So I was one of the first ones to say I would go.
And so then I got a job at Eaton’s after I graduated; and I boarded at the YWCA [Young Women’s Christian Association] and all these girls would be coming in for their lunches, dressed in their air force [Royal Canadian Air Force, Women’s Division] uniforms. And, of course, that made me more and more want to go. So I kept talking to my parents about it and they were very much against, especially my father. In those days, of course, they thought, oh, women in the service, what next?
Anyway, I never gave up, so I had gone home for Christmas and then I came back; and I thought, no, I want to go so badly. So I wrote a note to my parents and told them I was going to phone them on Saturday night; and I really would love to go with their blessing. I would like to talk to them about it, but I was going anyway.
So, anyway, when I phoned them on Saturday night, they had talked about it, I guess, and decided, well, I was pretty determined, so they did agree. So then after that, once I got into uniform, there was nobody any prouder than my dad, and he told all his friends. I was posted to Toronto [RCAF Downsview] to the old Hagerval School for Girls that the air force had taken over and took a course on air force procedure. And then I was there about five or six weeks, I guess, and then was posted to No. 1 Wireless School in Montreal; and I was the stenographer for the equipment officer for the whole air force post there.
I was there about a year and a half, I guess, and I got posted overseas [to London, England]. I got over there four days before D-Day [the Allied Normandy landings of June 6, 1944] in June, June the second or something like that, yeah. And the first night we were in this apartment, we were getting undressed to go to bed; and my friend, all she had on was her tunic when the air raid siren went. We were on the third floor and we had to go down three flights of stairs to the… we were told, of course, all girls go down to the air raid shelters. And we went flying down there the three flights of stairs and we get down there, how we laughed after this, she was just standing there with her tunic on and nothing else. So we had a lot of laughs, of course, and a lot of scares.
And we were there, I was there through all the buzz bombs [V-1 flying bomb], the V-1s [Vergeltungswaffe 1], the V-2s [Vergeltungswaffe 2: long-range ballistic missile], and the blackouts of course. And the V-2s were the worst of all because you’re walking down the street and a light would go over and the siren would go, and you couldn’t find a shelter. They warned us just to lie flat on the street, until it went over because you never knew when the light went out, it was coming down. You didn’t know who was going to get it next.
I was a stenographer-typist and we spent our days, day after day after day, typing. They’d give us different sheets every morning and these were all the deaths of all the airmen overseas. The first time when I was typing the deaths and coming down the line and, of course, they were just all names to you and all of a sudden, one from our little, small village in Prince Edward Island [Cardigan] was on it and I hadn’t heard. And all that was, that was very emotional.
One very special thing we had was when the Queen [Elizabeth] inspected us at Buckingham Palace; and we were a week shining buttons and shoes and the hair off our neck, and you name it. And it was quite a thrill. Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were both there too, looking quite bored actually, but we were so thrilled. It was a real experience for us, of course.