Wren telegraphist Alice Wilson.Alice Wilson
Barracks at which Alice Wilson received her training, Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, 1942.Alice Wilson
Alice Wilson (circled) with other Wrens.Alice Wilson
Alice Wilson and her husband Angus Wilson at the National War Memorial. Ottawa, Ontario, May 2005.Alice Wilson
A recent picture of Alice Wilson, a Wren badge from her uniform, and her medals, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and the War Medal (1939-1945).Alice Wilson
"So I quickly tore up her letters in case somebody found it because we weren’t to tell anybody what we did and of course, I hadn’t, not even my parents or my brothers and sisters."
I guess I was in Grade 13 when the war broke out and as soon as I finished high school, I joined up. I thought that sounded like the best bet for me. I liked the idea of the naval service.
Well, I enlisted at HMCS York in Toronto, that was the closest one to where - I came from Guelph and that was the closest place. When I decided to go in the navy, I was sent to Saint-Hyacinthe in Quebec for my training in wireless. Well, it was very different. I found it was a very – the camaraderie was very good and also by deciding to take the wireless, I wanted to take something where I could have a course and have extensive training, really. You know, I could have joined as anything and I knew I had decided I wanted to take what would give me the most training.
Well, I went to Coverdale naval station outside of Moncton, New Brunswick. Well, that’s where I practiced my trade of listening for U-boats. Well, we intercepted communications in German U-boats and took bearings on their location and on their transmissions. Their messages only lasted about 30 seconds so you had to be quick to get them.
Oh, well there, well, we had what we called Operations where we worked to begin with and then we were sent out to shacks, they called them shacks. So nobody knew, nobody could see them. We were up high on a hill at Coverdale and then when we were sent out to these shacks to do our work, nobody could see what we were doing, we’d worked all night long. Well, we used to work, well, 12 hour shifts. Actually, our work was top secret, we couldn’t tell anybody what we did. I couldn’t tell anybody at home what I did. I wasn’t allowed to. And in fact, this friend in Guelph sent me a Christmas card and said – I thought she was being facetious that she said, “Don’t sink too many submarines.” So I quickly tore up her letters in case somebody found it because we weren’t to tell anybody what we did and of course, I hadn’t, not even my parents or my brothers and sisters.
Oh well, I was a wireless telegrapher and when the war with Germany was over, I stayed in and I took the – well, the Germans used Morse Code. And so I stayed in and the war with Japan was on so I stayed in for that. And the Japanese code was, we had to do it on typewriters because it was so long, the code, it was the Germans plus a few more characters. So actually, I was in New York on leave when the war with Germany ended and I went there and for two weeks’ holiday.
And we had our very dowdy uniforms, our black stockings and black Oxfords and the Americans had these beautiful all summery outfits, they had like cotton dresses and shoes with pumps and nylons stockings and so they were very much more fashionable than we were.