Veteran Stories:
Kate Hughes Clendenning

Army

  • Private Kate Hughes; taken during basic training in Kitchener, Ontario, 1944.

    Kate Hughes Clendenning
  • Photo of Kate Hughes during basic training in Kitchener, Ontario, 1944.

    Kate Hughes Clendenning
  • Photo of Kate Hughes taken in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The photo showed too much of the harbour so Kate didn't receive the photo until after the war with Japan ended.

    Kate Hughes Clendenning
  • Kate Hughes pictured in uniform during basic training in Kitchener, Ontario, 1944.

    Kate Hughes Clendenning
  • Photo of Kate's brother, James Roland Hughes, after his enlistment in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1944.

    Kate Hughes Clendenning
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"A knock came to the door and these two men stood there with a telegram, and they stood there while my father and mother read the telegram, they didn’t leave, they just stood there."

Transcript

So that was probably the saddest day in my life. I was living at home, it was a Sunday actually, when a knock came to the door and these two men stood there with a telegram, and they stood there while my father and mother read the telegram, they didn’t leave, they just stood there, I don’t know. And it was just the biggest shock to our family, you know. And then first he [her brother, Flight Sergeant Raymond Hughes, a Royal Canadian Air Force air gunner with Bomber Command] was reported missing, presumed dead. And he was not found until after the Allies invaded Europe. In the meantime, my oldest brother, John, had joined the [Royal Canadian] Air Force, after doing his basic training with the Army and he wanted to be in the aircrew, also, but he had a medical, and he had a slight curvature of the spine, they found. And so he could not go into aircrew.

But he thought he had been discharged from the Air Force, so he immediately went to the Army and got a discharge from them because of this slight curvature of the spine and he was over in Europe at the time of the invasion of Europe and he discovered that he had made up his mind, that he was going to find out where his brother was buried. This is why I like to tell the story of my brother there more than my own story, and he didn’t get permission from his officer in command. They said they would not report him as “without leave” but if he got caught, it was up to him, he would be in trouble on his own. And how we know this, he wrote this letter to my mom and dad which I still have and that he got to the, they had flooded Holland and he got through the dykes and whatnot and he found his brother’s grave. And then he wrote this letter to mother and dad which gave them a sense of peace, you know, because they didn’t where their son was or what happened to him, you know. You always feel being hurt.

At that time, I was now in the [Canadian Women's] Army [Corps] and I can remember where I was, I was standing by my bunk and I think it was Saskatoon, [Saskatchewan] where I was stationed at the moment. And mother’s letter arrived, saying that Raymond’s grave had been found by his brother. I can still remember that moment in my life. That was my brother John’s most important thing in our life, you know, to find his brother.

I was working in the offices of this grain elevator. My brothers were overseas and my sister joined the Army and I was feeling sort of lost I guess there and Maxine, my sister, suggested maybe why didn’t I join too, you know. And my mother and dad were very hesitant at the time because everybody was leaving them but because Maxine was working in Detroit, [Michigan], that she probably thought I’d be close to home too, so they knew that I had this desire to do something, so they let me go. And after I did my basic training at Kitchener, [Ontario], I was sent on a course to Saskatoon and from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, I went to Edmonton, Alberta. And from Edmonton, Alberta to Prince Rupert, B.C. [British Columbia] and then down to Vancouver, [British Columbia]. So that was my journey.

Through this course I took, I had to learn all the Army terminations, how to do things and all that, but the filing was the worst one because there was so many, which I never actually did.

And at that time, well of course, they had the fear of Japan and then the Aleutian Island[s] War was just before that. So when I was sent up to work in the office, the RCEME Corps, R-C-E-M-E, [Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers] they sent me up there, they sent me with full battledress, gas mask and helmet, the whole thing, you know. Which I never needed or used.

But the RCEME Corps, what they did, they serviced the gun stations along the coast and all the different things like that. Actually, I never knew too much what they were doing, it was all secret, so I just did my job and I never really questioned what was going on until after it was all over with.

I found out when I came home that my friends, the girls I knew, had married, they were in different lives, you know. And I decided to go up, back to business college, which I did in Chatham, [Ontario]. But the feeling was, I had a sense of feeling that there was only one thing that girls enjoyed in the Army was boys, and what goes with that? Which is not the truth. Because I found that military life was just the same as civilian life. You chum up with people that are your same kind of people, you know. I always thought more or less an innocent I think and I signed up with a lot of innocent young girls, so, I didn’t sign up with them but I mean, they became my buddies.

I feel it was a good experience in my life and I didn’t realise at the time, you know, just that when you think of five out of eight children were in the service, you know, it was quite something. It was hard on my mother and dad and my dad actually got sick over it, you know, because he was a gentle man. But my mother, she was stronger, and for an experience after my brother, got word that my brother had been killed overseas, you know. And we were supposed to go in mourning I guess or something and in our community, they had, it was called the Women’s Institute Hall and they had a dance every Friday night. And we, we went to these dances and the people thought it was awful, that my brother had been killed and yet, we were going to a dance. And my mother said it was, that we were alive and life goes on. We were young and we were supposed to enjoy life, we just could not do what our neighbours thought we should do I guess, I don’t know. Anyway, that was my story.

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