By Frank Tibbo
When Margaret, Violet, Muriel, Vivia, and Barbara Hellard were brought to Canada from England in 1929, little did they dream that in just a few years, they would all be in uniform serving their new country. The Hellards were from Dover. Mr. Hellard, a merchant seaman, had visited Canada a few years before. He liked it and decided to leave the white cliffs of Dover for the rolling plains of Alberta.
When war came, Mr. Hellard volunteered – again. He had already served in the first war. Not only that, his five children all volunteered as well. Margaret, Violet, Muriel and her twin Vivia joined the W.D.s (Women's Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force) while the youngest sister Barbara joined the C.W.A.C. (Canadian Women's Army Corps).
The following article called "Memories," was written by Margaret (Harvey) and
should be interesting to our readers because she served in Gander from 1943-45.
May 5, 1942, a day to remember, a momentous time in my life, the day when I along with eleven other girls took our solemn pledge of allegiance to King and country and were sworn in as members of the "W. D.". I, along with many other Canadian women swept up by a flare of emotional patriotism, was proud to be a member of the Women's Division of the R.C.A.F., and eager to be a part of the war effort. The aim of the W.D. was to release men for active duty.
My group of twelve left Vancouver on a train bound for Ottawa, and hence to Rockcliffe, Ontario where number 7 Manning Depot was located. En route we came to know each other quite well, we shared the same feelings of elation and anticipation, but I don't think any of us were prepared for the hectic pace of basic training.
Upon arrival at the Ottawa station we were met by a smartly attired corporal in Air Force Blue, neat as a pin from the top of her hat, from which her Air Force badge shone like a newly minted coin, to the sturdy black oxfords polished to a gleaming lustre. Compared to her we were a motley group, in various styles of clothing and footwear. I thought I looked quite chic in a navy and white cartwheel hat, a navy coat and high heeled pumps.
The corporal briskly formed us into some semblance of a marching group, and despite the fact that we all seemed to have two left feet, managed to all point in the same direction and arrived at our next mode of transportation, a truck, which would take us to our journey's end. All semblance of dignity vanished as I climbed aboard on silly high heels, hanging on to my cartwheel hat. We were unloaded at the guard gate where airmen on duty eyed us with barely concealed mirth.
No. 7 Manning Depot, Rockcliffe, was not completely finished, the barracks, mess hall and canteen were completed but the walkways were a sea of mud with planks used as temporary sidewalks. My squadron was the second squadron to receive their basic training at Rockcliffe. Prior to that, training was done at No. 6 Manning Depot, Toronto. We were issued bedrolls – sheets, blankets and a pillow. We all seemed to get a hat to fit, grey stockings, and black sturdy shoes. But as we were all shapes and sizes, our tunics, skirts, great coats and rain coats came at intervals. Being one of the extra-large gals, I waited impatiently for my complete outfit, and was delighted when the day finally came that I could don a full uniform.
The days were filled with lectures, route marches, drill sessions and physical training. For the latter we were issued with a khaki coverall which we promptly dubbed "Teddy Bear Suits". Evenings were spent shining brass buttons and polishing shoes for the stringent daily inspections. When night came, we fell into our bunks completely exhausted, every bone in our body aching, nursing the blisters on our heels from unaccustomed marching in heavy shoes.
I enjoyed the route marches and drills and remember one special occasion when we proudly marched on Parliament Hill for Princess Alice of Athlone to inspect our ranks.
Basic training completed, we all received our postings to further training in the occupations for which we were chosen. I went to the school of cookery located in the Guelph Agriculture College, a beautiful campus which had been acquisitioned by the government for wartime use. We were trained in the culinary arts by dieticians’ as future chefs. My field was in hospital food preparation and how to prepare special diets.
We were billeted in the clubhouse of nearby Cutten Fields, which had been converted into barracks. I remember sitting on the edge of the golf course to study during the evenings. The main college dormitories were occupied by airmen training to be wireless air gunners, and the mess hall at meal hours reverberated with the sound of impromptu Morse Code "practice sessions" being tapped out on cutlery.
Postings took me to Jarvis, Hagersville and Brantford – all southern Ontario air training stations under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
Two years were spent in Gander, Newfoundland, which during the war years, was considered overseas because Newfoundland was not a part of Canada. It was an operational base with a Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron 10BR, 125 Fighter Squadron and a Canso Squadron at nearby Botwood. The R.A.F. operated a Ferry Squadron, the United States Air Force occupied a base under the lend lease plan, and each night hundreds of aircraft departed for Europe to assist the Allies in their fight against the Nazis.
My experiences in Gander were both joyous and sad, friendships were formed and thrive to this day even though we are scattered worldwide. We were like one big family, and I am sure all who served there, be they officers, N.C.O.'s, airwomen or airmen, have fond memories of "The Gander". I departed Gander a few days after VJ Day, my final posting was St. Hubert, Quebec and in March, 1946, I was discharged as Lachine, Quebec.
Many years have passed, but I still keep in touch with some of my air force friends and we all share the feeling of camaraderie and nostalgia.
Mrs. Margaret Harvey returned to Gander and lived in Golden Legion Manor. Mrs. Harvey met her husband, the late Vance Harvey, in Gander. (Mr. Harvey had returned from a tour of duty overseas with the R.C.A.F.) Another Gander connection is the fact that Mrs. Harvey's daughter, Janice (Al) Newhook, who flew with Eastern Provincial Airways, met her husband in Gander.
Mrs. Harvey remembered, quite well, the rigours of life in war-time Gander, where letters were censored, and if you could were caught with a camera, confiscation of the camera would be followed by a severe reprimand. She was with the medical division and worked in the Gander R.C.A.F. hospital (later named the Frederick Banting Memorial Hospital), and lived in Building 110. She said, "We had a ball in Gander; of course, women were so scarce that if you had buck teeth and bowed legs you'd be popular." The R.C.A.F. physicians in the hospital in those years were W/C Marshall, S/L Bright, S/L Williams, F/L Bird and F/L O'Gryzlo. When Margaret Hellard was stationed in Gander, she served under two base commanders: the first was Group Captain Annis who was followed by Wing Commander Clements.
Contributed by F. Tibbo