PEI

P.E.I. historian's new book aims to preserve the 'amazing stories' of WW II women

P.E.I. author Katherine Dewar has been spending her time collecting the stories of women who served during wartime.

'Some of these stories are very, very sad, too'

Author Katherine Dewar and Jean MacLean look through a photo album to stir memories. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

A P.E.I. author has been collecting the untold stories of Canadian women who served in the Second World War.

Katherine Dewar began working on her latest book about two years ago. While the book is still a work in progress, Dewar hopes it will preserve the legacies of the many women who were part of the war effort. 

"They've got absolutely amazing stories, these women, and they're all so brave, they're all so laid-back," Dewar said.

"I guess I know why they lived to 95 and 97. Nothing seemed to bother them. They took it in stride."

The stories include women rescued from the Mediterranean Sea after their ship was sunk by torpedoes and women who served on the battlefields of Europe.

Katherine Dewar dressed in replica of the dress uniform of First World War Canadian nurses at the book signing for her book Those Splendid Girls. (Submitted by Katherine Dewar)

Among the stories Dewar has collected is that of Jean MacLean, who served in the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS or commonly referred to as "Wrens") in Halifax.

MacLean, now 95, told Dewar she liked the camaraderie with her fellow Wrens. There were some women whose mothers had done everything for them, even washing their stockings. MacLean said the war taught them to be self-sufficient. 

MacLean said her time in the military made her become used to what was available. She said they were given orders and did what they were told. When the war ended and women returned to civilian life, MacLean said it impacted how they were able live their lives. 

"They were just so used to someone telling them what to do," MacLean said.

After meeting her husband while stationed in Halifax, MacLean moved to the island in 1945. 

"I wasn't used to anything with boats or fishing, or anything like that," said MacLean, who grew up in Ontario and has lived in Meadowbank, P.E.I., since leaving the war.

Her Wrens uniform is on display in a museum in Kensington, P.E.I.

This photo shows MacLean in her uniform. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

Dewar said the stories in her book have a common theme of women who weren't afraid of adventure and didn't seem to be rattled by what was going on around them. 

One Island woman told her about living in military barracks where 60 women shared one bathroom. She said the woman told her she thought it was "paradise" because it had running water, power, a telephone and a washing machine.  

"She had come from rural P.E.I. where they never had any of those things, so she thought life was good," Dewar said. 

When she began her research, Dewar was in contact with 17 women ranging in age between 95 and 104. While working on the book, she said nine have died. 

Jean and husband Harvey on their wedding day in Halifax. (Submitted by Katherine Dewar)

Of 11 women she interviewed, she said four had boyfriends that were killed during wartime. 

"Some of these stories are very, very sad, too," Dewar said. 

She hopes to have the book ready for publishing sometime in 2020. 

Dewar has written other books, including Those Splendid Girls and Called to Serve: Georgina Pope, Canadian Military Nursing Heroine. 

With files from Isabella Zavarise

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