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A World War II Memroy - Fran Pengelly WD
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​​Reflections on my life as a W.D. in the R.C.A.F.
by Frances (McDowell) Pengelly

I was 15 years old when World War II broke out. I was going to high school in Delburne, Alberta a small town in central Alberta. I was the eldest child in the family living on a farm just outside the village with my parents, 2 sisters and one brother.

One of the things we as a family did was to turn on Winston Churchill's broadcast each day to hear about the progress of the war. Anyone whoever listened to this broadcast could never forget it, Sir Winston had a very compelling voice and you just couldn't turn the program off. This of course was on radio as there was no
television at that time.

I was pretty young and as soon as Canada entered the war some of the young men in our area enlisted, this was a much talked about event as we personally either knew these young men or knew someone who did know them. It was a very exciting time for us young people. I'm sure very few of these young men ever thought about the consequences of war it was just the exciting thing to do. As time went on and the war grew to have tragic overtures I'm sure people thought more about it but in the beginning it was just something to do.

It wasn't long until some of our high school classmates were enlisting. Some were very disappointed if they were rejected, some accepted d this but others felt very differently. We had one young man commit suicide as he felt so strongly about being rejected, this was a boy I could remember all through my years at our school.

I can remember when the first boys from our area were sent overseas and also when the first casualties were reported back to our district.

I was quite upset when my boyfriend David Pengelly enlisted in the Air Force but he was 19 years of age and excited to join. Dave had been gone six months or so and I got a job in the local Bank of Montreal as a clerk keeping track of the ledgers and doing small jobs. I was a good math student and really loved the work. I moved from my parents’ home to a small apartment of my own in the Village.

I'm sure my bosses weren't very happy with me but I didn't ask permission before I applied to join the Air Force. Propaganda definitely played a part on my enlisting. In November the recruiting officers were back in town and as of November 19, 1942 I was on leave from the R.C.A.F.(W.D.) until December 14, 1942 when I was officially given the number W3***** with the rank of A.W. 2 (air woman second class). I reported to Ottawa where I was outfitted with clothing and took my basic training. That was my first Christmas away from home but I was so busy I didn't mind. We learned to march while here, the biggest problems were sore feet from not being accustomed to those heavy shoes so blisters were the order of the day. I had no trouble marching as I was always a good walker. We girls took 27 inch strides but we had a terrible time when we would be on parade with the men, they took a 30 inch stride and it always made us look stupid when we couldn't keep up with them. I'm not sure how long I was at Ottawa but think it was until sometime in February. We were assigned to different occupations at this basic training camp.

I was posted to Trenton, Ontario to become a clerk accountant because of my training in the bank. We were there for the accounting course, I think about 3 months when we got our first postings. We spent time in regular classrooms but we also spent considerable time in the drill hall becoming proficient marchers. We were also given time off and there were good facilities for amusements, bowling, cards, table tennis to name a few. I'm sure there were some station dances but I don't remember them. There would be concerts at times and we were all required to attend church parades, these of course you were given the choice of religious ceremony depending on your affiliation. At the end of our training we were required to write an exam and if you were successful you were given the next posting. I was sent to No.1 'Y' Depot in Halifax, N.S. This was the embarkation depot where all the air force personnel reported before going overseas. There were two sections in the accounting department, one was Pay Accounts and I believe the other was more or less keeping track  of inventory. I was always in pay accounts, we kept track of the pay ledgers and on pay parades checked off the names of the airmen and women who were being paid. The individuals would
line up and as they approached us would give their rank, name and number so we could check their name off to be sure they were receiving the correct pay envelope. The Senior Accounting Officer would have the money on hand and if the names and numbers corresponded with our records the money would be counted out and handed over to the recipient. Since I was a payroll clerk as such I got to see anyone from Delburne or elsewhere when we gave them their last pay packet  before they left for overseas,

Halifax was very interesting, this was the first time I had been near the sea and I loved it. The street cars in Halifax were very interesting to ride on, we'd nearly have a fit going down some of the steep hills we were sure the street cars were going to go flying off course. Service personnel would sing all the wartime songs as you travelled to and from the downtown area. The ships in the harbour were fascinating to a prairie girl and I walked many miles sight-seeing. There was lots to do on the airbase,

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Canadian Womens Auxiliary Air Force (WD) on parade at Havergale College, Toronto - front row Flying Officer Kathleen Walker Canadian (Commander CWAAF), HRH Princes Allice, Squadron Leader Hedges (Commanding Officer). Seniour Staff Offcer Elizabeth Bather (RAF) November 1941 durings meetings to set up the RCAF CWAAF. 

 I went to several dances but it was all jitter-bugging and I had never learned so was mainly a spectator. I was in Halifax for ten months and then was posted to No.1 G.R.S. (General Reconnaissance School) at Summerside, P.E.I. In the beginning of my Air Force career I made no close friends as we were busy with course work etc. but when I moved to Summerside life was quite different.

This was an active flying base so we had planes flying in and out above us all the time. You soon got used to the noise and sometimes wouldn't even bother to look up. I lived in quite a large barrack block, the barracks were in the usual 'T' formation, near the front there was generally a Corporal or Sergeant in charge of the barracks.
On our side there would have been at least 60 girls, there were double bunks with an open isle between. I generally chose an upper bunk, my best friend was below me.


Now that I look back our friends were mostly the ones that were very close to you in the barrack block, a lot of them in the accounting section but we also had vehicle drivers, cooks, domestic duty girls etc. The nurses all had senior rank so they were in the Officers’ Quarters. The ablutions were in the cross-section of the 'T', we all did our own laundry except the majority of us sent our shirt collars to the Chinese laundry. Our shirts had detachable collars so these came back white, white and stiff as a board. We had many a sore, raw neck but they did look nice. As I recall we were given a small clothing allowance to buy our own undies but everything else was supplied. This may be a good time to explain our pay, we were given 90 cents a day but of course this was in addition to room and board. This actually was considered excellent pay, an example of pay before I joined the bank was helping at a farm home. I would walk 3 miles to get there and would work 8 or 9 hours and would only receive 75 cents for the day’s work. I can't remember what I received at the bank. After a period of time in the Air Force or after satisfactory work we were given an extra 5 cents per day. Reclassification to
another rank gave you more money.


I sat near the counter at work and nearly always waited on anyone who came to make enquiries. Wing Commander Scott was in charge of our Department, Flight Sergeant Pullam was my immediate boss. There was a Sergeant and 2 Corporals in our office, these were all men and there would have been approximately10 or 12 of us girls. The D.R.O.'s were the daily news postings that we received each day and from these we changed the pay amounts, reclassification etc. to the records for which we were responsible, I always enjoyed my work.
One of the highlights for me was going for a plane ride, arrangements were made for anyone that was on the air-base to have one free ride if we so chose. One of our male Corporals, Cpl. Glenn Johnston (a very nice older, married gentleman) and I went on the same plane. The pilot flew us to Charlottetown and back, I sat next to the pilot and this crazy guy decided I should see the steeple on the church in the small village of Kensington. He dove down and me with my weak stomach, my stomach came up and I knew I was going to be sick. I quick opened the window and stuck my head outside, it was raining but that didn't stop me from being sick. The rule in the air force was that if you were sick you washed the aircraft, fortunately the rain washed everything off so I was saved the chore of cleaning the plane. My treat of a special ride didn't sit too well but I was glad I went. I know I spent several hours in a link trainer but I have no idea why unless it was just to give us an idea of what real flying was like.


There was no segregation between the men and girls in the mess  half and we were treated as equals in all circumstances. I can't remember anyone discriminating between us. The Officers had their own area for eating and sleeping and of course the order of the day was to always salute an officer wherever you met them providing you were both wearing your hat. We wore uniforms whenever we were on duty, when in the barracks we were free to wear whatever we chose unless there was to be an inspection. We spent hours polishing badges, shoes etc. and our bunks had to be properly made up at all times. A lot of girls (and men) had difficulty tying their tie so if they got it correct they generally just tied a slip knot and put it around their neck and pulled the knot so they didn't have to start from scratch. We had ironing boards in barracks but very seldom used them, our uniforms held their press very well so they must have been made out of quite good material.

One day my girlfriend Peggy MacEachern and I hitch-hiked to Charlottetown a distance of less than 100 miles. It took us all day, we rode in wagons, old vehicles, anything that moved. We came back by bus, there were just so few vehicles in P.E.I. at the time. I think we stayed at the Y.W.C.A. and we definitely toured the Parliament buildings.

Periodically we were given a 48-hour pass, I was too far from home to ever get home but some of the girls that lived closer would get home. We had one barrack mate that would bring back cooked lobsters, I had never been exposed to such a thing but it was interesting. She would bring these back and we would hammer them with some tool to break them open and then the feast would begin. I wasn't a very good participant until I acquired a taste for them but now I enjoy.

The town of Summerside was about six miles away but there was good bus service from the base. Sometimes we would go into town but most often we were content to stay on the base. We had badminton, bowling, pool and various other activities. There were always picture shows and a few dances.

The only other thing of note while I was stationed in Summerside was in the winter of 1944, we had terrific snow storms and the snow banks reached up to the telephone wires. We were just a bunch of kids and had lots of fun climbing the big snowbanks and sliding down. I don't know what we used for clothes as we pretty well only had our uniforms. We must have had a few civilian articles of clothing.

Dave came back to Canada in May of 1944 and we met in Moncton and were there for 'D-day, June 6, 1944, when the allies invaded Europe so we listened for war news. I booked into the 'Y' and got a room at the hotel for Dave. We had corresponded all the time Dave was away and sometimes we wrote nice letters and sometimes we found things to quarrel about but eventually things worked out and we took up our relationship as it had been before enlisting. We spent most of the time in Moncton sitting through picture shows at the theaters. At this time we decided we would get married in September at Summerside.

Dave went on to Debert, Nova Scotia for his new posting and instructing on Mosquitoes and I went back to Summerside. Back in those days one had to have permission to marry if you weren't 21 years of age. I had been away from home for over 2 years but the law still applied. Can't you hear what young people today would say about that. My Flight Sergeant said he would forge my Dad's signature but I just couldn't cheat so wired my Dad for permission. The Women's Division Commanding Officer helped by taking charge of and getting the hall and the goodies for the reception. I booked the minister and the church and Dave didn't meet Rev. Jarvie until he came over the day before the wedding. Sgt. Hap Pullam gave me away, F.O. Alexander Gibbard, Dave's friend was to be best man but he got posted back overseas just before the wedding so one of my co-workers, Cpl. Jeffrey filled in. I changed my name from McDowell to Pengelly and life continued as before.

A posting came through for me to go overseas that fall. They asked me if I wished to go and of course I was gung ho so I went to Lachine, Quebec in preparation to going overseas. Dave was furious, he would ask to go back overseas if I went, not very fair as he had been over and why shouldn't I go. Anyway it was taken out of our hands, about that time the war had progressed and was winding down so the Air Force decided married women would be discharged. This was later rescinded and married women could stay in but by that time I had already received my discharge. I reported to Halifax where I received my discharge papers on February 2, 1945.