FROM THE SCRAPBOOK
Serving In World War II
Ann Lawton MacLean & Al Knowlton
By Rev. Dr. William Randall
As we approach November 11, we will hear the expression, “Lest we forget”. I wish to help you remember, or if you’re too young to go back fifty-six years, to give you a glimpse of what the Second World War was like to two of our neighbors living among us. Ann MacLean and Al Knowlton. Here are their stories.
Ann Lawton (Mrs. Milton MacLean, was just 16 when she enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces, in early April of 1942. While on a trip to Montreal to visit her aunt, she (quite unexpectedly) enlisted in the Canadian Women’s Army Corp. Ann was not to return to her home in St. Stephen, New Brunswick until 1946, a full year after the war was over.
The Canadian Women’s Army Corp (CWAC) had been formed in August of 1941 and became integrated into the regular forces in March 1942. The Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Forces, started in July 1941, was later renamed the RCAF Women’s Division, and was commonly referred to as the WD’s. The Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) was formed in July 1942. All three branches of the Armed Forces were now open to women. This coincided with the keen desire of thousands of Canadian women, all eager to serve their country in uniform.
Before going to basic training, Ann was sent to St. Sulpice Barracks near the recruiting office in Montreal. Because of the shortage of women’s uniforms at the time, their only uniform was a red arm band. They were introduced to army life – learning to fall in, marching in formation, and the art of saluting. They were assigned the everyday domestic duties of the barracks – laundry, cooking, cleaning and orderly duties. From this Ann went on to six weeks basic training.
Despite the discipline and hard work of army life, service women did enjoy certain freedoms and privileges, all designed to keep them ‘feminine’. They were allowed to wear makeup and lipstick, as long as it was within reason. Colored nail polish was not acceptable, neither were earrings, although some girls did wear a loop of thread through their ears (so earrings could be worn with ‘civies’).
Ann worked at the Montreal Military Hospital for almost two years. While there she received a promotion, her second stripe, and a second pay raise. At this time, as a private she was being paid $.90 per day – pin money, as she called it. After basic training at St. Ann de Belivue, Quebec, Ann worked for several months at the Hospital, where she received her first stripe. During this time Ann was sent on many courses: Medical Shorthand; Typing; First Aid; Bookkeeping and Map Reading. Ann was then transferred to Queen Mary Hospital where she worked for several months more.
On the day she turned 18 (which the military assumed to be 20, because she had said she was 18 when she enlisted) Ann was paraded before her superior officers. Although she had been a model soldier, with not a mark against her, she could only think that she had done something wrong. Instead she was offered a chance to go overseas. Ann was shocked; she “almost dropped dead on the floor”. She was excited, and certainly surprised, as she had been the only one picked from (Montreal) Military District #4 to go.
Though going overseas was a great opportunity, Ann had the choice to either stay in Canada and be promoted to Sergeant or go, and forego the promotion. At the time there were no vacancies overseas for a Sergeant. She decided to opt for the overseas experience, as it was a privilege to be picked over all the other girls in her unit.
Ann left Halifax, aboard the ship the Louis Pasteur in the early spring of 1945. They weren’t allowed to call home or tell anyone that they were going overseas.
While overseas, Ann had ample opportunity to travel around England and Scotland. She even had a chance to go to Paris – but ended up giving her ticket to a soldier with a ‘hard luck’ story. Ann visited Westminster Abbey, toured the sights in Scotland, and even looked for the Loch Ness monster. She had the good fortune to meet Colonel Foot; the only Canadian Chaplain presented a Victoria Cross for his service during the war.
Though the war ended in May 1945, Ann would stay at CMHG in London until the next April. Her office handled the discharge forms for soldiers remaining in England, so her unit was one of the last to leave. Ann returned to Montreal, and was discharged there in May 1946. She then returned home to St. Stephen. Ann found employment with T. K. Craig as an accountant. Found Milton MacLean and married him.
For the last 35 years Ann and Milton have lived in Harvey and have raised two daughters, Kim and Kathy. Lest we forget! Ann won’t. “Her brother-in-law, Sgt. Bernard Greyson was the first regimental officer to set foot on British soil during World War II”. (Quoted from April 1970 issue of “Legion” Chatham, N.B.)
Three brothers in the military service, two of whom Ann met in England on their way home to Canada after the war. The third brother was buried in Italy 1944.
Al Knowlton’s Story:
I was working at the Harvey Creamery as an ice cream maker and boarding at Marshal Robison’s when I volunteered to join the Royal Canadian Air Force in April 1941.
Basic training was taken at Yarmouth, N.S. and technical training at R.C.A.F. University New Brunswick detachment, Fredericton.
I was posted overseas in October 1941 and was attached to the Royal Air Force. I trained for Special Radar Air Services in Scotland and in London and served with different squadrons in England and Scotland for a year.
When in England and Scotland I had a chance to see many beautiful castles and historical buildings. One place that stuck in my memory which was neither historical nor beautiful was a pub called “Dirty Dicks Bar Room”. This must have been an area which was inhabited by many stray cats, someone must have liked them because hanging on the walls were dozens of these cats, all colors and sizes! They were of course all preserved – not a sight often seen.
It was at this time I volunteered for service out of the country. I travelled by sea convoy for two months stopping in West Africa, crossing the equator, around South Africa to Durbin where part of the convoy went to India and I went through the Red Sea to Egypt and was posted up the Nile. While there I did some sightseeing around Cairo, the Pyramids, the Sphinx and museums.
I was posted to 113 M.U. in Tvipoli and travelled by Army convoy across North Africa. What a trip! Mine fields, sweet water canals and desert – Sweet Water Canals were stagnant pools of water which the natives used for bathing, drinking, washing animals, sewerage, etc. The desert was very hot during the day, and very cold at night, we slept on the ground under the trucks if possible. Wherever we stopped Arabs would appear – seemed like out of nowhere and they always had eggs to trade or sell to us. I never did see a hen! It was so hot we could fry them on the fender of the truck.
During my posting at Tvipoli I spent four weeks in a hospital the Germans used before it was captured by the British. From there I was posted to Italy, travelled by Italian cruiser across the Mediterranean and then by train (in box cars) to the Bay of Naples. Every time the train stopped the natives climbed on the roof, sides, between and under the box cars hoping to get to their homes from which they had been driven by the Germans.
While in Italy, myself and a friend became acquainted with an Italian family, who were living in the basement of a bombed out house. They were a poor family, very kind, and we often shared our rations with them. They invited us to spend Christmas dinner with them, mostly pasta, roast chestnuts and fruit.
During the next few months I was sent to Radar School in Algiers twice, once we were forced down in Tunis and stayed at an American camp.
Being in Special Radar Service (Air) I didn’t travel with a unit. I was given rations and orders and then travelled the best way I could, by truck to an airport and hopping a ride by plane and so forth.
The last time I went to Algiers I was posted to 272 Squadron in Southern Italy. I went by Australian Air Force to the Islands of Sardinia and then Corsica where I then joined an Army Convoy landed by Landing Ship Transport (LST) just below Leghorn and travelled south through Rome crossed the Appenines Mts. and eventually arrived at my unit.
While serving there I was notified I had served my tour of duty and was being repatriated to Canada. I sailed from Naples to Gibraltar then to Liverpool. I was given leaven and spent Christmas in London, then finally on my way home! I sailed from Liverpool to New York and then by train to Montreal and finally to Harvey Station!
Why Harvey? To marry the Undertaker’s Daughter!
At that time my parents were living on a farm between Woodstock and Hartland.
When I arrived at Woodstock there had been a very heavy snow storm – nothing moving – except a hearse, which was on its way to a place in the country. They offered me a drive if I didn’t mind sitting in the back – no problem – I hopped in with all my gear and finally arrived at my parent’s door – you can imagine their surprise when their son who had been away to war for 4 years, and the back door of the hearse opened and I hop out. But knowing their son, they were amazed to say the least but not really that surprised!
I was stationed in Pennfield until I received my discharge in September, 1945. I then married the undertaker’s daughter, Joyce Swan.
Source: Rev. Bill Randall’s “From The Scrapbook Vol. One.”