"And then they, the government decided to enlist air women, this was a new thing. And so I rushed to the whatever office they had open there and decided I wanted to sign up."
Well, I’m Johanna Raymond. And I was born in Winnipeg and from there I guess I lived there until I was maybe four or five years old. But the whole family had whooping cough so we all drifted except for my father because it was Depression time. He had to stay with his job. So my mother took us out and we didn’t come back for two years. Arrived back in Winnipeg the day war was declared [in September, 1939]. I remember it because I was seven by then (laughs) and I thought what is this war. But anyway that changed everything. We moved to Thunder Bay, that was Fort William at the time, and stayed there until after the war.
My mother worked in a, first a bomb making plant and then that was changed to aircraft, Curtiss aircraft [the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company]. So she became an inspector there. So after the war my father was also in the air force, that’s why I was attracted to it. And he, he was a war time veteran, he didn’t stay in, he wasn’t a career officer. So when he came back we drifted out to Victoria because he had to find work. We stayed in Victoria for a while, I graduated from high school there and went into a bank for two years, Bank of Montreal, Yates and Douglas. I think I was 16 when I started (laughs). And then they, the government decided to enlist air women, this was a new thing. And so I rushed to the whatever office they had open there and decided I wanted to sign up. I had a father who’d served, I had an uncle who was a career officer in the air force and I had another uncle who was in the navy during World War I. So I had that maybe in my blood.
Well, when I enlisted I was asked what would you like to do and they gave me a list. And I looked over the list and I thought I’d like to be a radar mechanic (laughs). And so they had already with some intelligence tests and aptitude tests had determined that I had a mechanical aptitude. So I thought why not. Well, they said we don’t need anymore we’ve got plenty. But how about being a fighter control operator so I said what is it. And they made it sound very glamorous of course. So I said okay. That was really all we could be because at that point in Course 6 all the other jobs had been picked (laughs). So then I had to go to training for that but that was the next step after basic training.
Well, we had to learn about the DEW Line [Distant Early Warning Line, a system of radar stations in the far northern Artic region of Canada] and we had to learn what they did up there. And we had to learn how to spot on a radar things that were suspicious. But our basic job was to stand at a big map in a control room of some sort with cue sticks like you play pool with that had little clips on them and you picked up arrows. And if there was an OFU that was passing through the north they would get the coordinates down from the DEW Line and we would plot them on this map. And sitting up on a dais were four official looking officers who would give the command to scramble if necessary. But it was so boring because often there was nothing on the DEW Line at all. Nobody was sneaking around up there, they didn’t have to scramble anybody.
We were working three day shifts and they were 24 hours, it was all in 24 hour thing. So we did three days, three evenings, three days off. Three evenings, three nights, three days off. I couldn’t handle the constant change so I broke out in a nervous rash and they said you don’t cope well with shift work. I said no (laughs). So they said we’ll give you a day job, what would you like to do. I said I’ll, I’m a stenographer or typist, basic by my training. So I was put into an office at air defence command headquarters, cleared to top secret and serving a squadron leader who worked directly with NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint organization of Canada and the United States that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and defense for the two countries]. I was much happier and able, it was a day shift job, you know, nine to five. So that was basically typing and, you know, just doing like a secretarial type of job and delivering top secret documents from one top secret office to another top secret office type of thing. And I remember the most notable incident that I remember about my work there was one day there was a, I had to type a letter, a long letter. Cause in those days sometimes the letters were on 8½ x 14, none of this 8½ x 11. And type, type, type, type and make no errors because the squadron leader was standing behind me and there was an airplane all warmed up at the end of the runway and we were right at the end of the runway so it was easy to hear.
So I was supernaturally (laughs) controlled because I made no errors and he was standing with the envelope ready to put it in and put the steel on it because it was top secret. That, I remember that because it was, it was whatever it was it was something I don’t, wouldn’t even remember what was on it, I was just the typist I didn’t really understand it mostly. But off he ran with this envelope, jumped on the airplane and off they went to Colorado which is where NORAD was.
I knew that it was top secret but I didn’t understand basically what was being done. I didn’t have really much idea of what was going on as far as the Korean War itself was concerned or I didn’t really—I mean, I knew they were important but I didn’t, I thought nobody could ever get anything out of me because I can’t remember it (laughs). So, but it took six months for them to clear me to top secret.
[On women in the Air Force] I think so, I think it was like before that, I guess, during the war they were an auxiliary weren’t they, where here we were part of the armed forces. And that was also something I thought about that it was a new thing. But I didn’t know that eventually they’d start flying airplanes and getting into combat. So I guess you’d say I feel like a pioneer in the women’s actual [Royal Canadian] Air Force.