Veteran Stories:
Ann Plunkett O'Brian

Navy

  • 1st Edition Army/Air Map of Rome, Italy, circa 1944

  • W.R.C.N.S. (Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service) Reunion Programme, Toronto 1985

  • 'Oh! It's a Lovely War' Sheet Music, circa New York 1922

  • Ann Plunkett O'Brian in uniform as a WREN, circa 1943.

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"It was simply wonderful. And the people that we met came from all over Canada""

Transcript

My name is Anne Plunkett-O'Brian. But when I was 18 years old in 1944, I joined the [Royal Canadian] Navy. And they said, "Because you've got your Senior Matric" - which nobody does any more - "you will be a signaller," and I said that was fine. I had no idea what that meant. So I went to St. Hyacinth in Quebec after basic training in Galt, Ontario, where we did nothing but scrum and march and have needles stick in our arms. So, St. Hyacinth - HMCS St. Hyancinth - was the largest signals base in the British Empire. Hands up all those who remember it, the British Empire. So from October until early spring of 1945, we had a leading hand called Blocksam, who taught us how to copy Morse code. And we did that all day long, seven days a week. And I think I got a dollar a day. In the spring, we were stationed in Victoria, British Columbia, at HMCS Naden. We worked watches out in the country at a place called Gordon Head in front of great big radio receivers and we worked for the Americans. There were stations on the west coast. Four American and us. Now, what you did was wear earphones and you copied Morse code, which was then sent by teletype to Washington to be decoded. We had Japanese typewriters so that when you heard an A, which in Morse code was 'di-da' and you hit what would ordinarily be an A on a typewriter, it came out 'Ca.' We had no idea what we were copying. We did that until after the bombs were dropped and then they closed the station and all went home and that was the end of it. I remember I got a hundred dollar bill when I left. And I thought that was incredible 'cause I'd never seen a hundred dollar bill before. And then I went to the University of Toronto and then I got married to a man who had flown two Spitfires. Jumped out of two Spitfires actually. And lived happily ever after. Now, thing about it was that people say, "It must have been awful." Well, it was fun. I mean you're only 18 years old and somebody's looking after you because they're clothing you, they're feeding you, they're doing everything for you and all you had to do was go in a truck every day out to Gordon Head. It was all fun. It was simply wonderful. And the people that we met came from all over Canada. And this was an experience. I mean, I had been nowhere. I was born in Toronto, I grew up in Toronto and I'd been nowhere. I'd been to Buffalo and Montreal and that was it. So this was not only a great experience, it was a great leveller because I'd lived a rather precious life and suddenly you were thrown in with people from everywhere. From all walks of life. And that was the thing that was probably the best lesson. At St. Hy, which was the training base, slept in a room with 49 people. And I really feel, quite strongly, that there isn't a girl alive who would do what we did for as little money and working all those long hours. But they didn't seem to realize that it was such fun and you really thought that you were doing something. Well, you were doing something for the war effort.
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