Veteran Stories:
Edith Tompkins

Army

  • University of Western Ontario science professors Keith Watson, George Sinner and Jack Alipine, 1943.

  • Science Building at the University of Western Ontario. Edith studied chemistry at UWO and then worked at Dominion Industries in Brownsburg, QC, testing tracer bullets for metal thickness and the flashpoint of gunpowder.

  • Edith's War Emergency Training Certificate. With this, Edith could apply to any of the companies needing trained lab workers.

  • St. John's Ambulance First Aid Certificate, issued 1943. Working in war plants and particularly those with explosives, it was considered necessary for Edith and her colleagues to be prepared to give first aid.

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"The rule that impressed me the most was that there was to be absolutely no running inside the confines of the plant. Guards patrolling with guns could shoot at the legs of anyone who refused to comply."

Transcript

I'm Edith Tompkins, who now lives in Lion's Head in Ontario.

When war was declared in 1939, I was entering the third year of secondary school. Each summer we worked in the market gardens near Thedford, Ontario. As the war continued, and more men joined the forces, women and young folks took on more responsibility for food production. Our evenings were often spent knitting. The Red Cross supplied the wool, and we knitted socks, mitts, scarves, sweaters and hats for the Air Force, Navy and the Army.

When I finished high school in 1942, the government was sponsoring a six-month lab technician's course at the University of Western Ontario. Doc Lunton headed this course for twenty-five women, who would be prepared to work in labs in war plants. I entered the class, and after graduation went to Brownsburg, Quebec, where there was a Defense Industries Ltd. plant. This plant made tracer bullets and other small ammunition.

We worked ten hour days, and then ten hour nights. The work consisted of taking samples of powders at every stage, and casings that were being made. Taking them back to the lab and testing them. We did chemical tests and sensitivity tests on the powders, and we used micrometers to check the thickness of the metal, especially of the primers. Results had to be within strict limits.

Workers came from many provinces, and there were barracks for sleeping, a large dining hall, and a recreation hall. The plant itself was surrounded by high fences, and a guardhouse was inside the entrance gates. Anyone coming to and from work could be sent to the guardhouse to be searched to make sure that nothing was carried in or out that might cause a problem. Safety was an important issue, so each group of new employees received lectures. The rule that impressed me the most was that there was to be absolutely no running inside the confines of the plant. Guards patrolling with guns could shoot at the legs of anyone who refused to comply. Actually, our safety record was spectacular, as we received prizes twice because our plant had the most accident-free days of all the D.I.L. plants.

I returned home in the summer of 1945 thankful the war was over, and that I had saved up some money to begin university.

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