Not Just Men in Uniform By Alison Bruce

Sgt Frank Nash, my grandfather
I grew up on stories about my family's experiences during World War II. Since politics and religion was banned at the dining room table, family history was one of the go-to topics.

My mother's stories tended to take a humorous turn -- like when her skirt flipped up when she was practice rescuing a downed fighter pilot. Why The Observer Corps felt that skirts were a good idea for the women who volunteered is beyond me. My mother, and many of her compatriots, made the matter worse by altering the knee-hiding A-line into a knee-showing pencil skirt.

Nana's stories were more about rationing and how she got around it (at least with butter). She did work as a telephone operator, but she didn't say much about that. She also skimmed over stories involving her sisters and their families staying with them. Those tales I heard from Mum and Aunty Yang.

Aunty Yang NOT in uniform.
When I was older, Aunty Yang also told me about her service in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service). I suppose I heard about the rats in the barn they were billeted in as a child, but the experiences she had as an ambulance driver were not suitable for children.

Later, when I was in university, Aunty Yang helped me connect with some of her old ATS friends, so I could interview them for my undergraduate thesis. I also interviewed former member of CWAC (Canadian Women's Army), RCWNS (Royal Canadian Women's Naval Service) and RCAF Women's Division. I even did a mail in interview with an American WAC. No one's story was as visceral as my aunt's.

Seaman Nelson Bruce
My fathers stories of his life in the Navy were also on the light side. He talked about being seasick and misadventures on shore leave. He never spoke of the danger of serving on a minesweeper in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. That I learned through research. However, some day I will find a place for his story about drinking too much beer before going to see Macbeth.

He and his pals had front row seats for the play. All that was between them and the actors was the orchestra pit, which had been filled in with artificial plants. Not wanting to leave before the play was done, my father discretely (or so he says) relieved himself on a nearby faux philodendron... it being the closest pot to piss in.

Aside from the obvious attraction of a man in uniform, my real interest in military history and culture stems from those stories told at the dining room table.

RCMP on Parliament Hill
My interest in police uniformed men and women grew partly out of my interest in mysteries but also because I got to be a character reference for an RCMP candidate.

My mother was the designated reference. The candidate was one of her former Girl Guides. She was a few years older than I was, so I didn't know her well, but when you're the Guide Captain's daughter, you learn all the dirt... or lack thereof... on everyone.

Mum was out when the two plainclothes RCMP constables came to the door. They decided to interview me instead of coming back. This was pretty exciting even though I was more into science fiction than mysteries at the time. I suppose it was a foreshadowing of my future that I asked almost as many questions as they did.


Popular Posts