Logan MacLean · Reporter | Posted: Nov. 10, 2021, 4:20 p.m. | Updated: Nov. 11, 2021, 7:48 a.m. | 7 Min Read
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — Margaret Martin (Dumont) couldn’t wait to get overseas. Born in Charlottetown in 1922, she’d been involved with the Red Cross since she was a teenager.
And when she was old enough to sign up for military service, she shipped off to London — during the Blitz.
The accommodations where she was supposed to stay when she got there were unavailable. The roof had been blown off during a bombing raid the night before.
Later, staying at the Onslow House Annex, she got to work. Red Cross members were assigned various duties: kitchen; answering phones from 6 p.m. to midnight; air raid and fire-watch duties.
She had to stay by the phone all night. When there was an air raid, she got a message in Morse Code from Dover, telling her the planes were on the way.about:blank
She would then go through the residence, waking everyone and making sure they all got to safety in the basement.
“Then I had to get back to the phone and listen for the message that would come from Dover, giving us the ‘all-clear’,” she recalls.
This is one of 19 stories of P.E.I. women detailed in Katherine Dewar’s new book, We’ll Meet Again: Prince Edward Island Women of the Second World War.
Dewar launched the book last month at Trinity United Church in Charlottetown, where five of the women profiled were in attendance.
“We’re going to focus on honouring these women,” she told The Guardian in an interview before the launch.
The launch featured readings from the chapters about the women in attendance, along with a slideshow explaining things like hometown, military branch, rank and where they were stationed.
“The stories are so different, so varied in experience, so amazing,” Dewar said during the launch, noting most nurses who went overseas were there for about five years.
“They served in North Africa. They served in South Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, Holland, Belgium, Germany.”
P.E.I. had the highest enlistment rate for women of any province, with at least 715 serving during the Second World War out of a total of over 50,000 from across Canada, Dewar said.
At a glance
The following are some facts about women in the military during the two world wars:
- Prince Edward Island women were only allowed to serve as nurses during the First World War.
- As the Second World War dragged on, Canada was considering conscription, but pressure from the British convinced the government to allow women to relieve men in the military.
- Over 50,000 Canadian women served during the Second World War.
- At least 715 of them came from P.E.I.
And the roles they had varied as much as the places they were stationed.
“There were women in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Nursing Corps and the Red Cross,” she said.
Dewar decided to write the book after a difficult realization.
She kept seeing women who’d served coming up in obituaries and thought if she didn’t write the book about their service, maybe no one would.
“Once my second book on Georgina Pope was finished, I then looked at finding these ladies. And I found 19 who were still alive,” she said.
She recorded interviews with 11 of them and conducted non-taped interviews with others.
Finding the women
While her interviews with the women were essential for the detailed profiles in her book, the research went beyond kitchen table conversations.
Newspaper searches, community histories at the provincial library, Legion magazines, word of mouth, a Google search for military nurses in Canada, inter-library loans, a cross-Canada library search for books, websites like Veterans Affairs and Archives Canada and a researcher in Ottawa named Jane Dyment — that’s how Dewar came up with the number of 715, though there may be more, she said in the pre-launch interview.
“And then at the end when I was working on the appendix, my friend Jean MacKay … got interested in these women, and she and I spent the whole fall roaming around cemeteries, looking for headstones, looking for war memorials.”
We’ll Meet Again: Prince Edward Island Women of the Second World War is available at the Bookmark in Charlottetown and through Island Studies Press.
Logan MacLean is a reporter with the SaltWire Network in Prince Edward Island.