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Denied in 1945, female WWII vet finally gets membership to legion at age 96

It’s 76 years late, as far as Jean Morley MacLean is concerned, but the 96-year-old Second World War veteran says she’s 'honoured' to receive a lifetime membership to the Kingston Legion.

Jean Morley MacLean served as a cook with the Wrens in Halifax

WWII vet finally gets legion membership 76 years after being denied

9 months ago
2:04
'I never really expected to be able to get into the Legion, and I just wish it might have been sooner when I was more able to do things,' says Jean Morley MacLean. 2:04

It's 76 years late as far as Jean Morley MacLean is concerned, but the 96-year-old Second World War veteran says she's honoured to receive a lifetime membership to the legion in Kingston, P.E.I.

"I think it's wonderful," she said. "I just wish it might have been sooner when I was more able to do things.

"Well, you can't have everything."

MacLean served as a cook for the Women's Royal Naval Service — commonly known as Wrens — in Halifax from 1943 until the end of the war in 1945.

In Halifax, she met Harvey MacLean, a sailor from P.E.I. They married and moved back to the Island to raise a family.

Wanting to continue their service, they went to join the Kingston Legion Branch 30. 

Kingston Legion Branch 30 president, David Cosh, left, and service officer David Yeo present Jean Morley MacLean with an enduring membership last month. (Submitted by Kingston Legion)

Harvey was welcomed with open arms. Jean, however, was told women were not allowed to join. She could always join the ladies auxiliary, though, she was told.

"We were all anxious to do as much as we could, but I had to get over it," she said. "You like to help out any way you can."

That has been MacLean's attitude ever since she enlisted as an 18-year-old in Ontario, against her mother's wishes.

She wanted to work in signals, but they needed cooks, so off to the galley she went.

"It was something that had to be done, in the service. They had to eat or they wouldn't be doing what they were doing."

We did what we were told and heaven help you if you didn't.​​​​​— Jean Morley MacLean

In the military, she always did what she was told. Well, except for that one time she was caught in plainclothes — when she should have been in uniform — during a brief rendezvous with Harvey one night at HMCS Stadacona.

"Just as I came down the door to the visiting room, the officer of the day came through the door and caught me going in," she said.

For that, she was confined to barracks for two weeks.

"We did what we were told, and heaven help you if you didn't."

The military has taken steps to be more inclusive toward women since the days MacLean was peeling potatoes and serving meals to 800 members in the 1940s. 

Jean Morley MacLean and her husband, Harvey MacLean. Jean was confined to barracks as a punishment for meeting Harvey one night in the 1940s while wearing civilian clothes. Harvey died in 1994. (Submitted by Katherine Dewar)

And though legions have been accepting women for many years, David Yeo, service officer of the Kingston Legion, said it was important to make MacLean's membership official.

"It was a real thrill for me and the branch to have Jean finally get recognized for what she should have been recognized for in 1945, because Wrens freed up sailors to go to sea."

Legions have been accepting women for many years, but in 1945, Jean Morley MacLean was denied a membership after serving with the Wrens in Halifax during the Second World War. (Shane Ross/CBC)

While MacLean said that at her age, there's not much she can do to help, Yeo disagrees.

"One of Jean's greater gifts, besides being a super human being, is she's an excellent piano and organ player, so we could easily tap into that."

More from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Ross is a former newspaper and TV journalist in Halifax, Ottawa and Charlottetown. He joined CBC P.E.I.'s web team in 2016.

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