Bits and pieces

My mother was asked if her RCAF uniform could be used in a display in connection with the upcoming publication of a book by PEI historian Katherine Dewar about PEI women who served in the Second World War. Katherine and Lois Brown, who was with the Canadian Women’s Army Corp in the Second World War and is a lively 97-year-old, came up last week to take the bits and pieces my mother has.

My mother’s air force blue uniform is nearly complete, except for stockings and shoes, which she used after the war and wore completely out. Her khaki uniform has always been a bit of a mystery to me. She always called it her summer uniform, but I believe it was what she was wearing when she ended her service on January 9, 1945, as her last meal card and clearance certificate (incorrectly dated as 1944) are still in the inside jacket pocket. As she ended her military career in Halifax, in January, it would have been far from summer weather! I hope to get more information from PEI Regiment Museum curator Greg Gallant about that uniform.

I also gathered up various pins that were scattered around the house in different little boxes. She would have received or bought most of them during the war, the General Service Badge would have been worn after the war (probably by my father, but not sure), and another is one of many pins she’s been sent periodically by this or that group honouring different battles and anniversaries.

RCAF (WD) poster

I imagine Katherine’s book will touch on the fact that women who had served weren’t regarded as real veterans immediately after the war. Women had been recruited to supporting roles to free up men to assume combat roles, so their service wasn’t considered to be the same.

While both of my parents were in the RCAF during the Second World War, neither of them served in Europe, spending their time in Canada or Newfoundland, which was considered an overseas posting as a British colony. My father was always viewed as being the “real” veteran in our family, even though his role as an RCAF mechanic put him in no greater danger than my mother. They were both involved in the background of the Battle of the Atlantic during their time in Newfoundland, he at Gander and she at Torbay, and I’m sure both of those stations were on the German hit list for a possible invasion of North America, which thankfully never happened.

My father mistakenly wore my mother’s medals all his life, and it was only after his death, when I was asked to help with an award nomination for my mother, that I found out she had been given an extra medal (The Defence Medal) because of the length of time she had spent in Newfoundland, and my father’s time there hadn’t qualified.

I don’t believe for a second that my father even knew what he had done. I suppose when the medals arrived in the mail (ex-service members applied to get them after the war and they were mailed in a little box, no dramatic presentation by a senior officer as portrayed in movies), he just assumed the three were for him as he served for nearly 5 years and my mother for less than 2.

So my mother had worn my father’s two medals, never knowing the difference. When I brought this error to her attention, I didn’t think she would bother to start wearing her real ones, but she did, and still proudly wears them to Remembrance Day services and other official events. And now, because she is one of the few veterans left, people sometimes thank her for her service.

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