"Well, about 50 fellows graduated every month and [...] it was quite emotional when they stepped up to get their wings pinned on because we knew that in a month or two, we’d start seeing their names in the casualty list."
Oh, I was a stenographer of course, that’s how I happened to be in administration and took a lot of orderly room work, keeping track of all these hoards of people who were in. Well, 50 pilots graduated every month, and they were the graduates and we were backup staff of every description and big equipment section and large mess halls and so on. It was a whole size city out there, that was in those days.
Well, about 50 fellows graduated every month and by the time we were our guys actually and it was quite emotional when they stepped up to get their wings pinned on because we knew that in a month or two, we’d start seeing their names in the casualty list. And we had a couple of crashes at [Royal Canadian Air Force Base] Uplands too while we were there and one thing that does stick out in my memory, I’d been down to the Ottawa Red Cross place and donated a pint and a half of blood and we had a crash and we could see the planes out there in the field burning and then we got an urgent call from Ottawa Hospital that they wanted all the blood that they’d used on these victims replaced as quickly as possible. And they put out a call for everybody that could donate blood. I didn’t like to say, well, I’d just been, so I went down and they took another pint and a half. And I thought, oh, nothing to this and I stood up and I hit the floor with a, actually bounced off the floor practically, I passed out. And I remember the circle of anxious eyes looking down on me as they gradually fanned me back to breathing again.
We were not forced to go overseas but we were given the opportunity to go and an awful bunch of us went. And I think we were given shore home leave before we went, I was able to come back home here to Courtenay [Canada] and then we went to Halifax [Nova Scotia]. It was a cold, chilly day and we were loaded onto this huge [RMS] Mauretania vessel and almost the first announcement I think I said in there was that nobody better fall overboard because there was between 6,500 and 8,000 people onboard and they weren’t going to turn the ship around to risk all those lives to pick us up.
So anyway, it was quite an emotional thing because us ladies, we were allowed on deck. You see, Canada, as I think I said in there, a thin blue line on the horizon and you wonder, well, you know it’s somebody on that boat and quite a few probably won’t be coming back. And that’s sort of causes you to reflect. Anyway, we were stationed there on the south coast [of England] and then we were allotted to various postings in Britain, mostly in Yorkshire and in London, London in particular. And we come up the last, it would be, we had a full year of bombing [by the German air force] in 1944 and then started in the beginning of 1945 when the bombing was starting to thin out and we realized that by about March or April, that the war must be coming to an end because the bombings were getting quite rare. And as I say, we were stationed all over London so that one bomb wouldn’t take out the whole of RCAF headquarters.
As the bombings were, well, we were never, none of our group actually was hit or hurt and I wasn’t hurt myself but it was the loss of sleep that got to us. And then they asked us to get out of London on the weekends, to catch some rest because the bombing quite often would start almost as soon as it got dark at night and then it would just go on for several hours. And it ground you down a bit. And we survived and on May the 7th and 8th, the war ended and actually, as we stood in our little apartment at South Kensington, it’s just like a great earthquake roar, the whole of London came at us, that was May the 7th, 1945 and May the 8th, 1945. And London just went absolutely wild and at Buckingham Palace, I think I mentioned, Buckingham Palace and below [Prime Minister Winston] Churchill’s residence at Downing Street, you could have just hiked around on top of the sea of heads, they were jammed in so tight. And Churchill had been up at the, I think it was May the 8th I guess, he’d been up at the palace obviously celebrating and he came out on the balcony at number 10 Downing Street and he had some of his ministers with him. And he leaned over and he said to this enormous crowd: ‘This is your day.’ And he’d obviously been up at the palace imbibing a little bit.