Veronica Foster, an employee of the John Inglis Co., Ltd. Bren gun plant, known as "The Bren Gun Girl," poses with a finished Bren gun at the John Inglis Co. plant. Toronto, Ontario, May 1941.National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque / Library and Archives Canada / e000760403. Restrictions on use: nil. Copyright: Expired.
"The machine, you know, the twirl, caught her. It was a lot of accidents there, like I got my thumb taken right off on a machine. A lot of fun. We had a lot of fun, didn't we?"
Isabel - There was no work, but I had a brother-in-law, J.J. McLaughlin, worked with the Bren [light machine] gun, he worked at John Inglis, and he's the one that said, “Isabel, you better leave your two brothers to your other sisters and come to Toronto.” And that's how I joined. I lived with them off Oakwood Avenue in Toronto with my sister and three of her little girls. She had three little girls. And I stayed with them for a whole year until I met a lot of girls. And then we went, one girl was from New Brunswick, Cecile Arsenault, and she was French, and we got a room on Spencer Avenue, near King Street in Toronto. She died a few years ago, yeah. And then I met a lot of girls from John Inglis. We were happy. We were very happy at John Inglis. Very happy.
Margaret – I grew up in Toronto. Then when I went to work, I had been in Britain for a summer. And I had seen the beginning of the war, when it was starting, because we had 24 hours to get out of Glasgow [Scotland], because they expected the war to start in 1938. So when I come back home, we had been exposed to a lot of the troops moving into England, and different things, because we spent the summer and come home at the end of September . And I was 15, and my mother and my sister and I had gone for the summer. And, so we witnessed that history of Neville Chamberlain* running back and forth to Germany to appease the Germans, to try and prolong the war so that Britain could be prepared. So it was quite an interesting time. And then when we got home, there was an ad in the paper to go to John Inglis, they were looking for girls and so I thought that would be good because my brothers had both signed up to go to Britain and were in the army.
Well, it was sort of overwhelming because they didn't say what when they hired you, they didn't tell you what you were going to do or anything. They just sat, sent you to a bench with a group of people and said, “This is what you're going to do.” And, and of course, I wasn't very good at it, I'll tell you. Once they decided to put me in the stores, because I really didn't like it.
Isabel – But they put me on machinery, the first machine I had was for the Colt Browning [machine gun]and it was a machine, you had to wear thick gloves and the slivers went right through your, your gloves. It was bad. Oh yeah, they put me on all kinds of machines. And in those days, Mr. Ellis asked me, “What did you wear?” I said, “We wore zippered jumpsuit.” I've got pictures of them. And then we had to wear a big hat. You know, white hat, to cover our hair. And one time, I was near the machine, and another lady was doing something on the drill or something. She put a little bit of hair on her, and she was scalped. I didn't see it, but I saw it after. You had to put all your hair right into the bandana or whatever it was.
The machine, you know, the twirl, caught her. It was a lot of accidents there, like I got my thumb taken right off on a machine. A lot of fun. We had a lot of fun, didn't we?
I still worked, but they, that's how I met Margaret, because I couldn't go on a machine no more, they made me a chaser. And a chaser is a lady that goes to the store where Margaret was, that's how I met her, and we took the machinery to the men, where they had the big machines.
*British Prime Minister, 28 May 1937 – 10 May 1940