Veteran Stories:
Margaret Haliburton

  • Telegraphists of the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service.


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"In fact, when we twenty-five girls arrived, the Captain somehow or other hadn’t seemed to be informed"


My name is Margaret Haliburton – my single name was Los – and I was a WREN in the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service. I was what they called a HF/DF Operator – that's a high-frequency direction finding operator. I always say, I think I'm the only girl whose mother told her to join up, and that wasn't because she wanted to get rid of me, but she was a very adventurous woman. She was born in 1879, and by the turn of the century she had traveled all across Canada, the majority of it by horseback. She said to me one day that she just didn't understand what was the matter with her daughter; that if she'd had a chance, she would have joined up the very first day. Well, here she was, old enough to be my grandmother and not terribly well. I just looked at her, and she said, "Well…" and so the next day I went and joined up. I had my basic training at Conestoga – all the WRENS did – and when I got there, they were doing a publicity film, and there I was in my civilian clothes with my baggage in my hand, and these beautiful girls all fitted out wonderfully in these marvelous uniforms, marching precision, marching up and down and being photographed. I thought this was wonderful, and wished that I'd been included in this affair. The next day, I was to get my kit – my uniform – and be fitted out and everything. There were a few steps down into a terrace, and then you went into the kitting office. When I came out they were photographing – I could see in the distance the photographers photographing these girls – and of course I'm watching them and not watching myself. My hands are piled high with clothing, boxes and folded clothes, and I tripped on the stairs and fell flat on my face. The crew came running over to help me, I thought, but no, they were photographing this stuff gathered around the ground. Then they came and asked me if I was alright and I said yes, and they said, "Would you do it again? We didn't get it on film." It took me about two seconds to agree. So my whole movie career consists of this little tiny figure in the background making a fool of herself. After we finished our training course, where you learn the marching and lots of other things (I only had two days, but I already could march), I went to St. Hyacinthe in Quebec where there was a huge communications school, and I was there for nine months, learning to be a communications officer – a high frequency direction finding officer, which meant we tracked the German submarines around the Atlantic. St. Hyacinth's was at that time just being built up. In fact, when we twenty-five girls arrived, the Captain somehow or other hadn't seemed to be informed. We were told afterwards that he had just put his head down, and nobody ever knew if he was laughing or crying, because to quote him: "Here I am with a camp being built, and I have hundreds of sailors living in very poor conditions in tents and improper toilet facilities. What am I going to do with twenty-five girls?"
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