Laurie Drain (née Theobald), furthest to the left, and friends during basic training in Rockliffe, Ontario, July, 1943. They are in summer dress and caps that resembled those worn by the WAAF (U.K). Later, summer khaki uniforms and a new style of cap were issued. Laurie Drain is still in touch with two of the women she trained with.Laurie Drain
Laurie Drain (née Theobald), in full uniform, including the updated cap, in the summer of 1944.Laurie Drain
"I got a job escorting children back to England, those children who had been sent by their families to Canada early in the war. [...] and they were crying and nightmares [...]"
I had been thinking of joining some of the forces. I was working as a coder and I did decoding and deciphering with the [Royal Canadian] Navy. I worked as a civilian with the navy in Quebec City. The thing was then that the nice girls didn’t join any of the services. That was the general feeling. They said that if I joined the Wrens [the slang term for the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS), derived from the acronym WRNS, for the British Women’s Royal Naval Service], I could get a commission and I thought, oh no, I don’t want to join the service. But then I met Gordon [Drain; her husband-to-be] in the [Royal] Air Force and that changed my attitude (laughs). And I did not go to the navy but I joined the RCAF, WDs [Royal Canadian Air Force, Women’s Division], with the hopes of going overseas.
After the basic training, we were separated into different categories and I ended up in clerk operations, filter they called it. That was filter and fighter. And filter was, oh, it was the first, well, we sat around a big table with a map on it; huge. And we were connected with technicians at various radar stations along the west coast, because I was sent out to Victoria [British Columbia]. And they would plot the aircraft and then send us the coordinates and we put that on the table. And then that way we could trace the path of the aircraft, so that’s what we did. It was supposed to be secret. We were underground, well, we weren’t really underground, we were in the basement of a huge building, called the Belmont Building in downtown Victoria but I think everybody in Victoria knew what we were doing.
Well, ours wasn’t very, it was certainly not on the scale of Britain. But, yes, we felt we were doing a good job. We were on the outlook for submarines and, of course, Japanese aircraft. Fortunately, none; I think at one time they spotted a Japanese submarine, but aircraft, we weren’t bothered at all. The west coast to Canada was very fortunate in that sense.
Well, this is the joke on me. I was very keen, I’ll just polish my buttons and my shoes and my uniform and I was a very keen airwoman. And when I was sent out to Victoria - this is a joke on me – they sent me to look for some “prop wash.” Well, do you know what that is, prop wash? I thought it was something that they cleaned the propellers with, so they sent me from pillar to post and they’d say, “no, we don’t have any here but go here, go there.” And of course, it was a joke. Prop wash is when the propellers go around and there are air currents, that’s the prop wash (laughs). Well, I spent a whole day running from pillar to post, trying to find this prop wash (laughs). Oh dear. What a thing to remember, but I was so humiliated when I learned what it was (laughs). And stupid. Because I should have known. Oh yes, I should have known prop wash. But as I said, I was gung-ho. If my sergeant said go and find some prop wash, that’s what I was going to do (laughs).
I joined up in 1943 and then was discharged in 1945, because Gordon, my husband, was being sent back from the Far East. He had been in the Far East and he was being sent back to Britain. And of course, the war was winding down then and it was easy to get what they called a compassionate discharge. And so I went to [RCAF] Rockcliffe [just outside Ottawa, Ontario] and was discharged. And I think probably my experience in the air force with aircraft and so on helped because I got a job escorting children back to England, those children who had been sent by their families to Canada early in the war. And they were billeted with various families in Canada and then they were sent back. As I say, the war was winding down, so they were sending them back to Britain to their families. And I, along with several other people, went as their escort. Some of them, who got to love their foster parents as you might call them in Canada, and were going back to people they didn’t know, even though they were their true parents, their real parents, and they were crying and nightmares and you know, it was very difficult for both those kids who had come over at three and four and now were going back five years later, four years later, to people they didn’t know.
And some of the kids were a lot older, some of them were older than I was and had become engaged to Canadians, but had to go back anyway to England. And then find their own way back to Canada later on. So they were unhappy too. There was 18 of us to a cabin and one of the, an older woman was with us and I don’t know why she was with us, what her story was, but she used to go to bed every night in the cabin fully dressed, even with her glasses on in case we were torpedoed. She wanted to make sure she was dressed and had her glasses on. I’ll never forget that.
It never occurred to me to ask her what her story was but I guess we were pretty busy because we were up early and shepherding these kids to meals and bath time and then also listening to them and trying to encourage them, that everything was going to be okay. We understood that it was tough but everything would be okay in the end because their parents loved them and were looking forward to seeing them again.
My job was done. And I did have a family. My father had immigrated to Canada before the First World War, so I did have relatives in England and I had visited them pre-war too. So it wasn’t like going to a strange home, I went to my aunt’s. And then we were married from there: had to wait three weeks for the banns to be read.