She was one of over 20,000 Canadian women who signed up to help during the Second World War.
“They used to say they hired the girls to relieve the men for active service, and that's what I did,” said Alene Quick, about her two years in the Canadian Women's Auxiliary Corps (CWAC).
“I worked so men could go overseas.”
Quick, who was born in the east end of Hamilton in 1924, was one of nearly 22,000 Canadian women who joined the CWAC after its creation in 1941 and played a role in Canada's wartime efforts during the Second World War. Many women performed clerical duties both in Canada and overseas.
The 88-year-old Quick joined up on a lark. It was November 1942. Quick, who was then working at Procter and Gamble, was just 18 years old.
“I was downtown shopping with my girlfriend and we saw the ad and we thought 'wouldn't that be a great job?' and I went in and signed up.”
Her girlfriend would have second thoughts and bow out, but Quick held firm — even in the face of her disapproving father.
“He said, 'you can't go.' And I said, 'yes, I can, I'm 18,'” she said.
When asked why she joined, she said, “I just wanted to have some adventure.”
Quick didn't get the adventure her teenage imagination had cooked up, though. Her duties were mainly clerical.
“I thought I was signing up to travel around and see the country and maybe I thought they'd send me overseas. I didn't realize that you had to be 21 for them to send you overseas, so I worked in Canada,” she explained.
At first, she was bored stiff. Then she got a better posting: she was made an inspector in the Ordnance Camps. She spent the better part of her service going from training camp to training camp in Ontario and sometimes in Quebec in the role.
“There were three girls. We were the only female inspection crew in Canada so we would go around and take inventory. If the troops were going overseas we'd go around and check that they had enough stuff.”
It may not sound exciting, but Quick said the camaraderie among the women and the soldiers was high and made for a lively time.
“We were playing catch with a hand grenade one time — it wasn't a live one. Someone said, 'you know last month we by mistake got some that were live?' And I thought 'Oh, my god!'”
“We had so many good times.”
So many, in fact, that Quick still keeps in touch with a few women she served with more than 60 years ago.
That's not to say the young woman didn't wonder what she was doing counting Sten guns in North Bay, Ont. every once in a while, however.
“Towards the end of the war I was getting to the point where I didn't want to be there anymore,” she confided.
“I was up in North Bay taking inventory and I was sitting by the lake around midnight and I thought to myself 'what the hell am I doing here? I should be home having a good time! And I'm sitting here all by myself looking at a lake!'” she said, laughing.
One exchange during the war stands out in her mind and perhaps offers a reflection of the high spirits that dominated the era even under the most painful conditions. “One time we were handing out donuts to returning troops as they got off the train,” she said, “and one came over to me.”
“He said, 'Were you the one that relieved me for active service?'”
Quick laughs at the recollection.
“I said, I guess so.”
“Another soldier said: I've never kissed a Sergeant. And I said 'you're not going to now either!' I was so proud of my stripes,” said Quick, who attained the rank of Sergeant in the CWAC.
But though she wore a uniform and did her part for the war, Quick doesn't think about her service during Remembrance Day activities. Instead, she thinks about those young men she knew who went overseas.
“I think of the ones I went to school with that went overseas. One of them lost his leg, another died in combat. I don't compare my service to anything heroic.”
But when she finally left in 1946, she admitted she missed her uniform.
“I used to get so many colds in my throat because I was used to wearing a tie,” she joked.