"We were sent up to Toronto to take training as dental assistants. And because dentists were army, we were housed with army girls."
My name is Janet Hester Watt. And I was born in a little place called Onoway, Alberta, which is about 30 miles west of Edmonton. And grew up in Edmonton. We moved from a farm when I was about a year and a half old, so I grew up in Edmonton, and went to school there, and my first job was in Edmonton. And then we went to Vancouver in 1943. When I joined the Navy, I joined when I was in Vancouver.
My little story is that I ran away to sea. This is just my little joke. The company that I worked for always gave us a half day at Christmas time to go Christmas shopping. And the shipper and I had had a little difference of opinion that morning and I was correct and he wouldn’t admit it and so I was so angry; instead of going Christmas shopping, I went down and I joined up. But anyway, both my brothers and my one sister were already in the [Royal Canadian] Navy and so I wanted to go, but somehow or other, I never could seem to get myself going until finally that day, and I joined. So that made it then, we were the, the group that I was with, we were the last draft of Wrens [slang term derived from WRNS, the British Women's Royal Naval Service] to be trained at Galt [Ontario - HMCS Conestoga]. And that was in February of 1945.
Out of the group, I don’t know who all, like how many were in that last class, but of 75 of us, and we were sent up to Toronto to take training as dental assistants. And because dentists were army, we were housed with army girls at Harbord and St. George [Streets] and every day we were paraded to the dental clinic to take our instruction on being dental assistants. We were there, I think it was a month, and then when we were finished, we were sent around various places across Canada. And 18 of us went to Cornwall [Ontario], that’s the group that I was with.
It was difficult being ordered about. Like when you’re on basic training, you’re told, you’re not ever, they don’t ask you to do anything, you’re told. And I found that a little hard to adjust to for the first week. And after a while, you get used to it. And it, you’re so interested in what’s going on and getting back around to your classes back and forth that you just begin to adjust. And when we were at Galt, I was in a dormitory and I can’t remember how many were in that group, but we had double deck bunks. And first day we arrived, we had to shovel snow. And then we went for shots, both arms. And next day, our arms were so stiff, both from the shoveling the snow and sore from the shots. Now that was quite an experience, but we survived.
It was interesting in the fact that when we were taking training as dental assistants, we, we made history. Because this was sort of the first part of integration, the army and the navy working together like this. And we had a write-up in the Toronto Telegram, I have a copy of the paper. And telling about our, we were, each day we were paraded from, it was Trinity Barracks and was at Harbord and St. George. And we were paraded to the dental clinic. We had a little army sergeant, her name was Eileen Clulo. She was about 5’10’’ and she always recalled the first day that she had us there as group, and nobody warned her that the navy did everything on the double. And so she called for our marker and this girl dashed out as the marker and then called for the rest of us. Well, then we all fell in. She said she almost turned and ran because this thundering group coming across the parade square. But anyway, she stood her ground and got used to us and she was a very nice little person.
And when we left in I think it was April of 1945 to go to our various assignments, we didn’t see her again until, let me see, I can’t remember the day, but it was a few years ago, I’m going to say in the 1990s. A group of us Wrens had gone up to St. Hilda’s seniors’ residence place, retirement place, to have a tour. So our tour guide said that there was an army woman in there and here, stepped off the elevator was this little woman and I thought, goodness, could it possibly be. She had a book in her hand and she says, “You know, I was once in charge of 75 Wrens.” So I said, “Are you Sergeant Clulo?” And it was. So to have not seen her since 1945, that was quite a reunion we had, so kept in touch with her and then she passed away just a few years ago.
A dental officer came in from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and I was assigned to him. He arrived about noon and the dentist, everything was geared for field work. So they had these two great huge, sort of a trunk, two trunks, that were, contained all the dental equipment. Part of it had like the chair that you had to assemble and the drill that was operated by a foot, like a treadle sewing machine. And then the other had the instruments, the sterilizing and that sort of thing. So we had to assemble that. And when I put the chair together, there was one piece missing so the officer in the next cubicle was away on leave, so we just borrowed his chair. And our first patient, the chair collapsed. And I’m always thankful it was not the chair that I put together. So it was quite an experience for this young man. I don’t think he’d ever been to a dentist before, he was terrified of everything. And so we never saw him again. A tooth had to be extracted and he was given a chit to come back, a few days to have the suture removed. We never saw him again. So I can certainly understand that.