Veteran Stories:
Rena Chaplin (née Sickles)

Air Force

  • Rena Chaplin on her Wedding day, November 17, 1945. She married Francis Chaplin, who was in the RCAF overseas.

    Rena Chaplin
  • Visit to training Squadron to Niagara Falls, Ontario, May 10, 1942. Rena Sickles (Chaplin), on bottom, was too thin for a uniform and shoes, so she was waiting for them.

    Rena Chaplin
  • Account staff at Fingal, Ontario, in March 1943. Rena Sickles (Chaplin) is in second row from the right.

    Rena Chaplin
  • Rena Chaplin engaged to Francis Chaplin on May 19, 1944, who was overseas at the time. He had sent the money to his father to buy the ring.

    Rena Chaplin
  • Rena Sickles (Chaplin) en uniforme.

    Rena Chaplin
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"As we got to know what was going on, we tried to avoid it because we knew that so many of them within a few months, they would be overseas and they would be killed."

Transcript

On May the 1st, 1942, I went from Montreal to Toronto and into Manning Depot, which was situated in the Old Haverdale College in Toronto, which at that point was not a very good district for young ladies to be in. However, we were very closely guarded and I was put in a squadron and I was very tall and skinny at the time. And to my disappointment, although I got through all the beginning problems with all the injections and everything that we had and I didn’t pass out or anything, however, when it came to get my uniform, I was so thin and even my feet were narrow and everyone, all the others in the squadron, got their uniform and I had to wait. Everything had to be made for me, which was a very big disappointment because I had to wait a couple of weeks longer. And we had a trip out to Niagara Falls and there was me in civilian clothes and the other girls were in their uniforms, very proud. However, I did finally get my uniform. Another thing that was, on the other hand, was rather sad because we’d get to know the young men, they were actually boys really, in the training. And they were going to be gunners, air gunners, and bombardiers. At first, we were very proud when we would be assigned to be on there, the day they graduated. As we got to know what was going on, we tried to avoid it because we knew that so many of them within a few months, they would be overseas and they would be killed. To my great dismay, and astonishment, I’ve never got over it and it’s in my story, I think it was a big mistake. I was assigned to a rooming house at a lady that offered rooms to make a little money, nearby, to accept boarders, and unfortunately, I was put in a room with a girl from Toronto who was, and I don’t want to sound supersilious, but she was a, what we call “GD”, she was general duties. She was very inexperienced, she didn’t have a trade, and we were in this room, we had a double bed between us, we had to sleep together. And even though I had two sisters and we had gone through the Depression, we always had our own beds. Maybe my elder sister and I, we’d share a room but I never shared a bed with anybody. And I found that very hard, it was very difficult to get to sleep. I was, as I had mentioned, a very thin girl and she was a very heavy girl. I like, used to have fairly long hair, you know, down to my shoulders and you had to have your hair off all the time. And I was always getting in trouble. We’d have inspection and they’d inspect us every day and once the WD [Women's Division] officer in charge of the [RCAF Station] Fingal she said, “Sickles,” she said, “You’re going to have to the afternoon off tomorrow, you’re going to take the bus 14 miles into St. Thomas, Ontario, the nearest town. And you’re going to get that hair cut, whether you want to or not.” She said, “I don’t care, I know you pin it up but by halfway through the day, it falls down and she said, you have to.” So I had to have my hair cut. That’s one of the things that people don’t realize that our lives were upside down. Not just away from our families and that, but the things that we had to do, you know, even to the effect that when we’re on the duty watch, which was, we had watches of 14 days, when the Sunday came up, so many of us had to go to church. It wasn’t a voluntary thing, we had to attend service. We could attend Catholic or Protestant. If we were Jewish, they didn’t have a church, they wouldn’t have to, but with us, we’d have to. But that didn’t bother me any, I was used to going to church. But there were a lot of things in the service that people didn’t know. And also, getting to live in a room with, we had our barracks at [RCAF Station] Fingal, for instance, we had 120 girls in a barrack block and there were 60 of us in one great big room with double bunks, all close together and that. You had to learn how to get on with people. This is one thing that I think was great.
Follow us