Remembrance Day

Eileen George

I remember Eileen (Nash) George...

I have many happy memories of my Auntie Yang (her little sister, my mum, couldn't say Eileen). A lot of those memories involved sitting around the table after dinner, drinking tea and talking. When my little sister and younger cousins escaped the table to play, and my older cousins disappeared to be with their respective boy friends, I would sit with Mum, Nana, and Auntie Yang and listen.

I don't remember exactly when I first heard about my aunt being in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), but over time I gathered bits and pieces of her experience. She was a driver mechanic, just like Princess Elizabeth. In fact, in uniform my aunt and the then princess looked a lot alike.

Elizabeth drove a lorry. My aunt drove an ambulance.
Princess Elizabeth

Live patients went in head first; dead went feet first. Or maybe it was the other way around. I'm not sure now. What I remember, what I empathized with so strongly was her descriptions of the smell and the sounds and the knowledge that some of the men who entered the ambulance breathing, wouldn't arrive alive.

Patients and bodies delivered, the women would hose out and service their vehicles and go back for more. Again and again.

My aunt had a mental breakdown from that experience. Now we would call it post traumatic stress. She continued her trade as a driver mechanic, but she switched to driving officers.

After the war, Auntie Yang was one of the few and far between not immediately demobilized. She went on to do officers training. However, the climate had changed and women were expected to go back to doing "woman's jobs". Auntie Yang felt that if she was going to be a clerk, she might as well be one with civilian wages.

Bruce, Alison, Pvt K.
I had a similar experience when I was in Katimavik and did the military option. For three months we trained at CFB/BFC Valcartier - home of the Vingt-deux (22nd Regiment). I experienced some of the camaraderie and the sense of belonging that Auntie Yang talked about in her happier stories. If I could have joined up and continued my training in the infantry or even transport, I might have considered it. At the time, women were still either clerks or nurses and I had a taste for neither.

Instead, I went back to university. Because of my aunt, and the help she gave me tracking down other women veterans, I did my undergraduate thesis on Women in the Allied Armed Forces in WWII. I didn't get a brilliant final mark, but my research was highly praised.

 In addition to the usual readings, I interviewed a dozen women who served in the woman's auxiliaries of the British, Canadian and US armed forces. For some, it was a great adventure. For others, it was a patriotic duty. Their stories all shared the common thread of connection with most of the other women they served with, and exasperation at the lack of respect they received from most of the men. In fact, one of the reasons I didn't get as high a mark as I could have, was that I wrote more about the women than the historical context.

My aunt is gone. Probably most of the women I interviewed have passed on by now to -- since most were older than Auntie Yang. But they are remembered. Especially today.