Marguerite Marie “Marge” Plante left Alberta to join the Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force, serving as a timekeeper and typist during the Second World War. Read and listen she describes her enlistment, the death of her brother in Italy, interacting with prisoners of war, and the V-E Day celebrations.
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"I said, what the heck’s going on here. And sounds of horns of the cars were blowing, people were running up and down the street. There was just a, it was just like a zoo. And, oh, my girlfriend says, the war is over."
I’m Margaret Murray Plante, maiden name is Margaret Marie, St. Germain. And I was born in Peace River, Alberta, August the 28th, 1922. I went from Edmonton to [Royal Canadian Air Force Station] Rockcliffe, Ontario, for basic training. There were a lot of girls on that train that night we left Edmonton. And my girlfriend was a day late, so she didn’t come with me, so I was all alone on that train, not knowing anybody. And as the train went through the Prairies, I looked and you know, it was all strange for me. I’d never even seen a city. And I got awful terribly melancholy looking at the prairies and not a tree and then the sun was setting and it was getting winter. And I said to myself, what have I got myself into and where am I going. And I was so lonesome right then and there that I sat there and I cried, on the train. And they gave me a posting to No. 3 Flying Instructor School, [at RCAF Station] Arnprior, Ontario. Of course, I didn’t know from Adam where that was.
I went to the admin building the next morning and I went to see the WD [Women’s Division] officer and she took that she wanted to know about me. She said, tomorrow morning at 0800 hours, she said, you report to Flight ‘D’, as a timekeeper. And I said, what’s that? And she said, that’s chalking up the Flying Off./pilot’s [Flying Officer/Pilot’s] time. She says, you’ll be working in hangars. And I opened the door to get in and on both sides of the walls, there’s all, there’s sitting all these men. Oh, I was so embarrassed. I was so shy and so backwards, you know, way back from the bush. Anyway, I looked at them, they start whistling at me and oh, then that was even worse.
And so February 1944, I was posted overseas. And the girls didn’t have to go over if they didn’t want to. So I went to the WD officer and I told her, I said, I don’t think I want to go overseas because my brother’s over there; he was with the 1st Canadian [Infantry] Division, he went over in 1939 with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment. And he told me not to come to England, they’re bombing the heck out of England. And he said, it’s not very nice over here, he said, I’m about 80 miles, 85 miles from London. And he said, I man this [anti-]aircraft gun all the time, he said, and the planes are flying. He said, I watch the dogfights quite often. So he said, you stay in Canada, he said, don’t come over here, he said, it’s dangerous to come over the waters, lots of U-boats [German submarines] in the water. So I said, I don’t mind dying, I’m not afraid of dying but I don’t want to drown. She said, that’s alright. She said, there’ll be other girls that will take your place. And there were, there were other girls that wanted to go overseas. But I kind of regretted it, you know, in a way, after it was all over. I could have seen my brother, because he was never to come home, he was killed in the Italian campaign on December the 12th [14th] 1944.
(Courtesy of The Memory Project/Margaret Marie "Marge" Plante)
We were all posted to Lachine, Quebec. That was a lot of typing to be done there: rows and rows and rows of paper, of names of men that are coming back from overseas to be discharged and you know, that was numbers and rank and name and how much money they had coming. And you know, the first ones we’d done was, there were about 1,500 prisoners of war that came back, that spent their whole doggone years in the air force as prisoners of war, shot down over enemy territory and other places. And actually, we did go and meet those boys when they came into the drill hall. They were in very, a disarray a lot of them, just got out of the hospitals in England and they hadn’t heard the latest tune and they hadn’t been eating very well. And so we bombarded them with a lot of hors d’oeuvres and fancy foods and went around giving them all this. And a lot of them got sick over it. And then our commanding officer, he was Commanding Officer Dawes - it was Dawes Brewery. He was our commanding officer at Lachine. And he gave them all cases of free beer to these fellows. And they weren’t used to that beer either. So some of them got very sick.
The other batch of prisoners that came in, they didn’t do that then. They didn’t give them any beer and they just gave them ordinary sandwiches, nothing fancy. I was handing food to one of these fellows and he grabbed the whole tray and he just sat down there and cried. He cried and cried and cried and I’d say he was a man about, oh, maybe 25, 26 years old by now. Definitely something wrong with him. So we had some orderlies and different, from the medical corps there. So I got one of them, I said, this fellow over here, I said, is in very very bad shape. I said, he cries and cries and cries, I think he’s, there’s something wrong with him. So they went over and they took him out of the drill hall and to a hospital I guess.
Then May 1945, my girlfriend and I were down, we went to see this movie, Rhapsody in Blue, it was a very new movie, a premiere showing and it was one down at the big theatre down in St. Catharines. So we had the day, I don’t know, that must have been on a Saturday, I don’t know what May the 5th [8th] 194 was. But it was VE-Day (Victory in Europe). So when we came out of that show, it was a matinee, there was papers flying all over. I said, what the heck’s going on here. And sounds of horns of the cars were blowing, people were running up and down the street. There was just a, it was just like a zoo. And, oh, my girlfriend says, the war is over. I said, well, we’d better get back to our station. We were 10 miles from Lachine, we had to take a bus. But we couldn’t get the buses, cars were stalled, everything was stalled. So we ran to the corner, someone grabbed my hat, took my hat, I had no hat. And then someone else cut my girlfriend’s tie, and she had quite a wrestle with them, he cut her tie. I said, we’d better get out of here, they’re going to take our uniforms.
So that night, the commanding officer had a great big victory dance. At that dance, I had a black dress, a little black dress with little puffed sleeves and it had a gold belt at the waistline. And I had about a, 2.5 inch heel-pumps to wear with that. And we had nylons. They were so sheer and you had to have that seam straight. I always wore a girdle, you were never allowed to wear petticoats, you know. You weren’t allowed to wear slips with your uniform. So you had a garter belt issued to you, you know, a garter belt. I always got a girdle if I could get one.
So I had the nylons, a set of pearls, artificial pearls that I wore with that. I oh, we had a good time. That was the best dance I ever went to. The war was over.
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