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Second World War veterans part of 1941 call by government for women to enlist

In front, from left, Mary (Mayme) MacSween, Christine Aucoin and Sarah Belle (Sadie) Morrison, all Second World War veterans, in the foyer of Taigh Na Mara long-term care facility in Glace Bay with their children on Oct. 29. The three women, who are all residents of the nursing home, served different roles during the war and were part of the influx of women who joined up after the Canadian government made it legal for them to enlist in 1941. With them are, back row from left, MacSween's daughter, Anne MacDougall; Aucoin's daughter, Patrice MacVicar and son Brian Aucoin;, and Morrison's son, Alex Morrison. NIKKI SULLIVAN/CAPE BRETON POST
In front, from left, Mary (Mayme) MacSween, Christine Aucoin and Sarah Belle (Sadie) Morrison, all Second World War veterans, in the foyer of Taigh Na Mara long-term care facility in Glace Bay with their children on Oct. 29. The three women, who are all residents of the nursing home, served different roles during the war and were part of the influx of women who joined up after the Canadian government made it legal for them to enlist in 1941. With them are, back row from left, MacSween's daughter, Anne MacDougall; Aucoin's daughter, Patrice MacVicar and son Brian Aucoin;, and Morrison's son, Alex Morrison. NIKKI SULLIVAN/CAPE BRETON POST - Nikki Sullivan
GLACE BAY, N.S. —

Christine Aucoin can remember her first night on base in Mont Joli, Que.,  when she was part of the Royal Canadian Air Force women's division during the Second World War. 

Christine Aucoin, from Reserve Mines, in her Canadian Air Force uniform during the Second World War. Before 1941, women weren't allowed to serve but an Order of Canada issued in Ottawa that year made it possible. Women replaced men in non-combative positions, allowing more males to be sent overseas. Women were supposed to be 21, at least five-feet tall, not overweight or underweight, single with no children and able to pass a trades test. Aucoin, who was 18 when she enlisted, wasn't married and was the only one in her group of 30 to pass the test.
Christine Aucoin, from Reserve Mines, in her Canadian Air Force uniform during the Second World War. Before 1941, women weren't allowed to serve but an Order of Canada issued in Ottawa that year made it possible. Women replaced men in non-combative positions, allowing more males to be sent overseas. Women were supposed to be 21, at least five-feet tall, not overweight or underweight, single with no children and able to pass a trades test. Aucoin, who was 18 when she enlisted, wasn't married and was the only one in her group of 30 to pass the test.

“It was just new. I didn't know it yet,” said Aucoin. “He said he would teach me and we won the competition that night.”   

A resident of Taigh Na Mara long-term care facility in Glace Bay, 94-year-old Aucoin has many fond memories of her time working in airplane assembly factories in Ontario and Quebec. There was the night she and three other soldiers stationed at Mont Joli decided to see where a bridge across the St. Lawrence River would take them, only to stumble on a dance hosted by the Salvation Army.

Or how the boy she left in Cape Breton, because things were getting too “serious”, enlisted after she did, and tracked her down even though he was immediately deployed overseas. When Charles Aucoin did find her, they resumed their relationship, writing letters to keep in touch and married within a couple of months of being discharged in 1946.

But it wasn’t all dances, adventures and love stories. Aucoin was stationed at Mont Joli during the Battle of St. Lawrence, which took place over three periods of time during from 1942-1944.

“You wouldn’t think the war could touch you in Canada... but the Germans had us surrounded,” she said, referring to the German submarines that periodically infested the waters of the St. Lawrence River during the war. “They told us all to stay inside. We couldn’t leave or do anything. That was something.”

Aucoin enlisted in 1943, when she was only 18 — three years shy of the age requirement for women. Inspired by an ad she saw calling for women to join the war effort, so more Canadian men could be sent to battle, the Reserve Mines native also didn't meet the five-feet height requirement or the "normal" weight stipulation. However, she was the only one in her group of 30 who passed the trades aptitude test.

“I was too small, too short and too young, but they took me anyway,” she said.

Although Aucoin had to wait until 1943 to serve her country, the push to get women to enlist started in 1941 after an Order of Canada was issued that allowed them too do so.

Christine Aucoin, centre, poses for a photo with two other members of the Women's Division of the Royal Canadian Air Forces who were stationed with her during the last two years of the Second World War. CONTRIBUTED
Christine Aucoin, centre, poses for a photo with two other members of the Women's Division of the Royal Canadian Air Forces who were stationed with her during the last two years of the Second World War. CONTRIBUTED

Sarah Belle (Sadie) Morrison and Mary (Mayme) MacSween, who also live in Taigh Na Mara, joined up that first year and stayed until the war ended in 1945.

Morrison, now 97, was 19 when she enlisted in the Canadian Women's Army Corp. where she worked her way up to corporal. Working in office administration, Morrison was first stationed in the Annapolis Valley, then relocated to Halifax.

“I thought I could do some good (and help the war effort),” she said, then laughed. “They gave me some stripes so I guess I must have done some good.”

Another appeal of enlisting was the pay — Morrison knew she could "do good" while earning a decent wage, something that also appealed to 95-year-old MacSween.

MacSween was only 17 when she enlisted and worked general service as a floater on base, working in whatever area was needed. Mostly MacSween worked in the dry canteen because although she lied about her age, everyone knew she was too young to serve alcohol. After training in Peterborough, the Port Morien-born-and-Donkin-raised woman worked primarily on bases in Ontario and Gander, NL.

“She was the second-oldest of 13 children. And she’d send most of her paycheque home to her mother to help take care of her family,” explained her daughter, Anne MacDougall.

MacSween calls her time in the air force as the “best” years of her life.

“Because I was single. I had my pick ... And I chased them all,” she said, jokingly, as her daughter, her fellow women war veterans and their families laughed.

While all the women were happy when the war ended in 1945, Aucoin does have one regret — she never made it overseas to fight in Europe.

Aucoin had offered to “go anywhere” they needed her to go and had finished training, waiting to be deployed when news came that the war was over.

“They even game me a medal because I would go anywhere they needed me,” she said, pointing it out on her army uniform she wore for the interview, obviously proud of her time served during the Second World War.

MacSween is the last surviving female Second World War veteran who is a member of Donkin Legion branch 5. Morrison and Aucoin are the last two surviving female Second World War veterans who are members of Glace Bay Legion branch 3.

nicole.sullivan@cbpost.com

Sarah Belle (Sadie) Morrison  

Maiden name: Newman

Age: 97 

Served: Canadian Women's Army Core 

From: 1941 – 1945 (discharged 1946) 

Enlisted: Age 17, in Sydney  

Worked: Office administration 

Locations: Valley, Halifax 

Born: Florence 

Raised family: Caledonia 

Husband: John J. Morrison (Glace Bay) 

Children: Three  

Member: Glace Bay Legion branch 3  

*One of two last surviving female World War II veteran members 

Mary (Mayme) MacSween 

Maiden name: MacKenzie

Age: 95 

Served: Royal Canadian Air Force Women's Division

From:  1941 – 1945 (discharged 1946) 

Enlisted: Age 17, Sydney 

Worked: Floater – put where needed on base 

Locations: Peterborough (On.), Dartmouth, Gander (Nl.)

Born: Port Morien  

Raised family: Donkin 

Husband: Peter MacSween (Donkin) 

Children: Three 

Member: Donkin Legion branch 5 

*Last surviving female World War II veteran member 

Christine Aucoin  

Maiden name: Aucoin

Age: 94  

Served: Royal Canadian Air Force Women's Division

From: 1943 – 1945 (discharged 1946) 

Enlisted: Age 18, Ottawa  

Worked: Factory, assembling planes 

Locations: Mont Joli, Toronto, Peterborough 

Born: Reserve Mine 

Raised family in: Reserve Mines 

Husband: Charles John Aucoin (Cheticamp) 

Children: Six 

Member:  Glace Bay Legion branch 3 

*One of two last surviving female World War II veteran members.

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