Veteran Stories:
Jean Ida MacDonald

Navy

  • Recruitment poster for the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS), England 1943.

    Jean MacDonald
  • Jean MacDonald was in Germany for the Occupation of Germany and attended this Christmas party for blind German children at the Warrant Officers Mess, 1945.

    Jean MacDonald
  • Painting of Jean MacDonald in her Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) uniform done by Canadian artist Dodie Lewis, 1945.

    Jean MacDonald
  • Jean MacDonald's badge worn when she was in the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) during the war.

    Jean MacDonald
  • Jean MacDonald's Certificate of Service in the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS).

    Jean MacDonald
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"We didn’t have very much and the Germans had less. But we saved our chocolate ration, I can’t remember, I think it was one chocolate bar a week or something like that. We saved them and we managed to get a present for each child."

Transcript

My goal was really to go to England because everybody was, in my era, wanted to go to England because that’s where the action was, we thought. So from Washington [DC], I enlisted in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, with the goal of getting overseas. In Washington, I worked at the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a coder in naval signals; and the other Wrens I worked with came from Argentina and Brazil, and islands like Jamaica in the Caribbean. None of us seemed to be from England, but we were all British because in those days, the British Empire, all members of the British Empire were British subjects. So I went to England with about 13 other Wrens. We were going home to England. Only two of us had ever been there before. We arrived in England on Guy Fawkes Night [November 5]. It was the first Guy Fawkes they’d had since the war began. So we arrived in Chatham, Kent one evening and there was a party going on on the lawn; and the Wrens and the sailors were letting off fireworks. We were indoors and one of the sailors thought it would be funny to throw a firework in the room we were in and watched us. There were 13 of us I believe, we were so frightened. I wasn’t frightened, but everyone else ran down to the other end of the room and I ran down with them. And then they were looking in the window and laughing at us; and a sailor opened the door and threw another firework at us and we all ran up to the other room, the other end of the room. They did that three times. Finally, a Wren on duty got a Wren officer who came in and told us that she’d put a stop to it; and now she was going to serve sandwiches and tea and we could settle down, and she would show us where we were going to spend the night. So that was our introduction to England. Well, it was interesting. I was a coder working on the Enigma machine, but I didn’t realize that it was so secretive. I just was a cog in the wheel. Of course, I didn’t work at Bletchley Park where the real code breakers were. But I did find out after the war, I was working on the Enigma. I met a girl from Alberta who was in the Canadian Red Cross. She said, I’m going to Germany for a year with the Control Commission [Allied Control Council oversaw the control of defeated countries] and that gave me the idea to go to Germany too, and see Europe before I came home because I’d only been in Scotland and England. So I went with Peggy, with the Allied Control Commission. I made inquiries, they took me on and we were sent to first Kiel, up in Schleswig-Holstein, and then down to Hanover. And it was hard to describe it. The cities were all rubble and there was very little electricity, sometimes only for two or three hours at night. It was very cold, there was little heating. But I stayed for a year in Kiel and in Hanover. And then I returned to Canada. Well, I was in a mess as a sergeant’s, warrant officer’s and sergeant’s mess in Hanover. And somebody got the idea that we should have a Christmas party for the German children, blind German children that were in an orphanage nearby. We didn’t have very much and the Germans had less. But we saved our chocolate ration, I can’t remember, I think it was one chocolate bar a week or something like that. We saved them and we managed to get a present for each child. We had a little tea party. There were, I think, about 30 children and they were blind. We had sandwiches and cocoa, and a present. We had a Father Christmas, a German gentleman. And then the blind children put on a little concert for us. They sang and tried to entertain, entertained us. And then we had the sandwiches and gave them each a chocolate bar and a gift. And it was very touching.
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