Carlson shares her experience in World War II
Tuesday, Nov 05, 2013 06:00 am
At age 92, Sundre resident and veteran Agnes Carlson still gets emotional when talking about her experience in the Second World War.
She worked as a Wren (a member of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service) in Sydney, N.S., from 1943 at age 23, until 1946, after the war had ended.
She was living in northern Alberta before the war, when an officer was out west looking for farm women to fulfil housekeeping duties, such as cooking and doing laundry.
“You signed on the paper that you were willing to do any job that was necessary,” said Carlson.
The Wrens were in their own building on the harbour with double bunk cubicles, bathrooms and a locker.
“When you went on leave you had to take every bit of your stuff with you, in case you had to get drafted somewhere else while you were gone,” she said.
She still remembers how “terrible” the train ride was to get to Sydney – a total of six long days.
When she went on her second leave, she ended up in the hospital for an appendix operation.
“They took me right out of hospital – I was in hospital for a few days – right out of hospital. Had to pack your stuff, pack everything and get on that train. That was a rough trip,” she said, as she began to cry.
She said they had to wear all black and were not allowed to wear jewelry, besides a wristwatch and a plain wedding band if they were married. They had to keep their hair short, above their collars, and they were not allowed to take pictures.
“I was a Wren to start with and that’s what I wanted to stay, just an ordinary Wren doing my work. Well, the petty officers that we got, the one, she ended up getting sick leave, so what did they do? They shoved me in as petty officer but I wasn’t even a leading Wren,” she said.
“That happened to me so many times. Finally they demanded that I go and I had to get into uniform and go up to the certain building they had for that, and I had to write an exam and go through the drill and I became a leading Wren.”
However, she is thankful for not having to be put in a situation of being the only woman with a ship full of men.
“They were going to send me on a small ship and I would have been the only Wren with a bunch of sailors. Can you imagine what that would have been like?”
Fortunately, her lieutenant stepped in and said that she didn’t have to go.
“I didn’t know what I was in for. If I ever got out there it’d be like throwing a cat to a pack of wolves or something,” she said.
“I stayed in Sydney. Everybody else, they were shipping them here and shipping them there, and I never got drafted. I would go home on leave and I’d have to take all my gear with me and I’d think ‘well maybe I’ll get drafted somewhere else’.”
When the war was over, she was one of two Wrens left in Sydney. She went to Ottawa and says she hated it.
“In Sydney we were so welcome and they were so friendly. We got to Ottawa, well the war was over, we’d won the war, they didn’t need us anymore. That was the feeling you got. They were not a bit hospitable at all,” she said.
She was in Ottawa for two or three months.
“I wanted to get out of the navy and go back to civilian life, but they kept a few of us on to finish up things,” she said.
She was then sent to Victoria, B.C. to get her discharge from the navy.
She will be laying a wreath at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Sundre Legion on Monday. When asked what the importance of Remembrance Day is to her, her eyes instantly filled with tears.
“There were sailors that I knew, but I didn’t know them well enough, because they were here today, gone tomorrow,” she said. “But there was a boy from home. He went overseas and he was in the army and on D-Day he got killed over there.”
“But outside of that, most of the guys that joined up that I knew, everyone came home. They just were lucky I guess. He wasn’t.”
She married Eric Carlson in 1950 and they had two children together, Valerie and Eric. They built a house in northern Alberta and have spent most of their time together travelling. They moved to Sundre for retirement in 2006.