Veteran Stories:
Joan Helen Fleming

  • Joan Fleming, March 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"My mother wasn’t very happy about it but my father was delighted. He was in the Army, he was the Officer in Command of the Windsor Barracks [Ontario] and had been in the First World War. So he was delighted I was going. He didn’t have any sons to send, so he was sending me."

Transcript

From about the time I was 16, in Canada, and 21, which is the age they’d send you overseas. I went over when I was 21 for well, just over one-and-a-half years.

My mother wasn’t very happy about it but my father was delighted. He was in the [Canadian] Army, he was the Officer in Command of the Windsor Barracks [Ontario] and had been in the First World War. So he was delighted I was going. He didn’t have any sons to send, so he was sending me.

We were in a grey uniform in those days before we went overseas. When we went overseas, we got khaki uniforms. And when you arrived in England, we were all made second lieutenants, [as volunteer members of the Canadian Red Cross Corps] so that we would have a bit of prestige. No money, but prestige.

Well, it was a war, there were bombings at night. There’d be alerts and we’d sort of stand at the window and see if we could see anything, and everything, get down in the basement, down to the basement. So we eventually all learned to go down to the basement.

And there was a Red Cross [Service] Club for junior officers, for senior officers and for nursing sisters, all run by the Red Cross. And that was it. We didn’t get paid. We were fed and we were given something like I think $15 a month to pay for transportation. Because if you were working in the centre of London, you had to go from, we lived in South Kensington, you had to use transportation of some kind. Until we got a bicycle and we got a bicycle, quite a few of us used to drive our bicycles downtown.

We ran an all-rank, all-nationality club. We got the Americans, we got everybody. It was just to entertain the men, to feed them, and have a place to meet. And they did have English cooks but they could get a meal there. See, for instance, the Americans, if you were an officer, a private couldn’t go into an Officers’ Mess. So their officers went to one club and the rest, you know, the others went to different clubs. But they all had to fly in the same plane together when they were working. So they didn’t like that, so they come to us, because we took all ranks.

We were given ration tickets for food and we would give it to our hostess and they would be delighted. But most of them like lived in the countryside and they had eggs and all kinds of things that we never saw in London. And they did very, you know, they really entertained us. Probably starved to death when we weren’t around, because they saved all our goodies for when somebody was, a Canadian was coming to visit them. The English people were very fond of Canadians. They certainly did a lot for us.

When we came back [to Canada], the girls that came back in the beginning, as soon as the war was over, they set up a club. And it was called the Overseas Club. And every year they had a meeting and they had it in a different place in Canada. And from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, you know, right across. And we had several in England and one in Scotland. And once a year, they had these meetings and whoever could come with their husbands, and their children, and their wives, or by themselves, or whatever they wanted, we did that until about 15 years ago.

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