The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 25 no 2, August 2013. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
Gwen Thompson: The War Years
... in her own words, as recorded by Mary Holmes:
My sister, Hazel, and I enlisted in the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) on October 1, 1943. We were already living in Ottawa, working and sharing a rented house with our other sisters on Eccles Drive, near Somerset and Booth Streets. Our sisters had married and moved out leaving Hazel and I on our own in the house which was too big and too expensive for us to keep. Hazel had a friend in the Navy who suggested that we join up. I went to the recruiting office to find out some more information and was so impressed with the corporal that I met that we decided to join the Air Force.
We were sent to Rockcliffe Air Force Base for basic training where we learned to do drills. Learning to do an "about turn" was a challenge. From there, I was posted to Toronto to take a course as a tradesman. Hazel stayed at RCAF Rockcliffe and was posted to Uplands RCAF Station. After the course, I came back to Ottawa and moved into the Princess Alice Barracks. They were 800 air women living in these Barracks from all over Canada, and we travelled to work by bus. I was posted to work in No. 5 Records Building as a mechanical auditor and along with four or five other air women, we worked on IBM machines. (# 5 temporary building was on Preston Street at Carling Avenue, one of 18 built in Ottawa to house the tens of thousands of civil servants necessary to support the War effort.)
There were big reproducing machines, sorters, key punch collators and many keypunch machines. They took up the space of a large house. It was all very intimidating for a group of young women. We had never seen these machines before and were very nervous however, we persevered, and learned to operate them. My favourite was the tabulator. You had to learn all the other jobs before you were allowed to work at tabulating.
I stayed working at Records until my discharge as corporal on June 19, 1946, in Vancouver. By this time, Hazel was married and had taken her discharge, as she was required to do.
Our parents were very proud of us. They welcomed many of our fellow workers to our family home in Cantley. On arriving by train at Kirk's Ferry, we often had to ski to our parents' farm from the train station, crossing the Gatineau River, along River Road, across many properties to our neighbours, the Fleming's, and finally through our back field to the house. This was quite an experience for the people coming from the city. After a day on the farm, we would ski back to the train or sometimes my father would take out the sleigh and load us all on for the trip.
We appreciate Gwen welcoming Mary Holmes and Reta (Barton) Milks, Board members of Cantley 1889, into her home and treating them to her story as a young girl growing up in Cantley and later as a young woman enlisting in the RCAF.