Veteran Stories:
Joan Longley


  • Photo of Joan Longley in 1943 at the Fred Ash Studio in England.

    Joan Longley
  • Photo of Joan Longley taken in 2010.

    Historica Canada
  • Photo of Joan Longley's Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) cap.

    Joan Longley
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"I worked in a military hospital and we opened with a convoy off the beaches at Dunkirk, which was pretty grim. Some of them had been there for two or three days, and that was not a good night."


I was in a reserved occupation. I worked in a military hospital and we opened with a convoy off the beaches at Dunkirk [British and other Allied soldiers evacuated from France between May 26 and June 3, 1940], which was pretty grim. Some of them had been there for two or three days, and that was not a good night. But that was before I was in the army [Auxiliary Territorial Service]. And this was a reserved occupation, but I stayed there for a couple years and then got into the army. But this convoy from Dunkirk, some of them had been laying there for two and three days, and just had field dressings slapped on their wounds. It was a really tragic night. But then they were all cheerful. They were all taken off the train on stretchers and taken to the hospital on stretchers; and the next morning, half of them were up, all bright and cheerful. It was amazing, incredible. I can remember one Scottish boy who was, I think he was just 18, the left side of his head had been run over by a tank. And he just had a field dressing on and when they took the field dressing off, his ear came with it. I can remember, I can sometimes still hear him screaming. Sad at that age. But then there were happy times. They were all cheerful, just glad to be back, and looked after. We learned the Morse Code, of course, because this is what we used for messages on the Fullerphone [portable Morse code transmitter-receiver that could not be "listened in" on]; and we learned how to take a wireless apart and repair it. We were very disappointed when we were sent out to discover that the men did that work, not the women. We’d taken all that time to learn it. It was, Strathpeffer was chosen because it was very isolated up in the north of Scotland. And the other people up there mostly were Canadian Forestry Corps, who were stripping the mountains because the wood was needed. The week before D-Day [the Allied Normandy landings of June 6, 1944], we were all confined to barracks. We weren’t allowed to phone home, write home or do anything. We knew something big was coming, but we didn’t know what it was until it had actually happened. But we were busy then, waiting with all the troop movements and everybody getting ready to go overseas. Ireland was split. Northern Ireland was in the war, southern Ireland was not. We sailed over to Belfast and then went down to Dublin by train. At the border, the train was stopped and everybody had to show identification. Well, the only identification I had was a British Army pass, which was not acceptable to southern Ireland because they were not in the war. They were neutral. So they took my husband off the train and grilled him for 10 minutes or so, and then… I was not in uniform, I was in civilian clothes, but that was my identification. They finally decided that we could go through, so I did get a honeymoon after all. And, of course, southern Ireland was just an eye opener. There was no rationing or anything there; it was incredible. You got a whole week’s meat ration when you went to a restaurant.
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