Wednesday, December 2, 2015

World War Wednesdays: The RCAF Women's Division at No. 4 B&G, Fingal

     "Women Serve That Men May Fly"-- fly to save-- to do or die,
Fly to make our world secure-- fly to keep our record pure.
We joined to do our bit, you know-- dull or exciting, fast or slow.
"Women Serve That Men May Fly"-- even as you? Even as I?

Men will fly and women serve, till the scrap is won--
Ne'er a Briton quits his post, till the job is done. 
Men will fly if we but serve with a willing grace--
Keep our chins up-- serve as they-- with a smiling face.

"Women Serve That Men May Fly"-- make it service with a smile;
'Tis the spirit in the job we do that makes it worth the while.
Then, when the peace is justly won, we'll turn with heads held high
To peace-time jobs and peace-time joys-- we helped to cast the die.

(Published in the February-March 1943 edition of the Fingal Observer)

     On 2 July 1941, an Order-in-Council authorized the formation of the Canadian Women's Auxiliary Air Force, later re-designated the RCAF Women's Division ("WDs") on 3 February 1942. A training depot opened in October 1941 at Toronto's Havergal Girls' College, and became No. 6 Manning Depot on 11 April, 1942. A second depot, No. 7, followed at Rockcliffe. In January 1942, the WDs numbered 1,583, and by July there were over 5,000. On 22 February, 1943, a CBC Radio broadcast announced the enrollment of the 10,000th volunteer. In total, some 17,038 women enrolled before recruitment ended in the Spring of 1944.

     Both trades and pay for the women were limited at first, with the ladies earning only 80% of their male counterparts, but mechanical and electrical trades were eventually added. The WDs constituted about 8% of RCAF strength, and during the war 34 were killed or died on active service. Many also received awards and medals for their service.

     The WDs of the No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School at Fingal played a major role in the function of the school, and assisted with the majority of ongoing operations at the station. They worked in places like the photo section, motor transport, tower operations, mail, and mess. These WDs basically did everything but fly, and it has been said that their unofficial motto became "We serve so men can fly".
Staff of the school's accounting station, February 1943

Memories of the Fingal WDs
     From Cpl. Harry Brown, RCAF Motor Boat Crewman at No. 4 B&G, Fingal:
"In late 1942, something new was added to the RCAF. The Women's Division was formed and a lot of people thought it would not work, but it did work well in spite of the predicted doom. The airwomen put the airmen to shame; they were neater and far surpassed the men at drill and marching. They relieved the men from duties that were not essential to the war effort. They ran the mess halls, performed the clerical duties in the headquarters, drove truck, refueled aircraft and did various other tasks in the hangers. It was an amazing phenomenon to see how quickly the airmen became more careful of their appearance. What a wonderful influence woman has over man. I salute the ladies for the superior job performed in spite of the odds against them and for the contribution they made to the war effort."

From Former Fingal WDs Margaret Davis and Dorothy Schick (Taylor) after being posted to Halifax, in a letter to the editor Fingal Observer February-March 1943:
     "Dear "Fingalites":
Greetings from two "Fingalites" in Halifax. We just received the January edition of the Fingal Observer and to two lonely WDs it sure hit the spot.It's been five months since we left No. 4 School and we can truthfully say the months we spent at Fingal were our happiest.
     Back in August four scared WDs passed through the gates of Fingal for the last time (with tearful eyes, I might add), and scared wasn't the word for what we were, terrified is better.
     When we heard we had been posted to Halifax (after all the things we had heard about it), the bottom fell out of our world (but not for long). There was "Smitty" from the plotting office, Germain from the logroom, Schick (pardon me, I mean Mrs. Taylor) from the library, and yours truly from Maintenance Control Room, but alas, the happy foursome has been broken up. Smitty and Germain have gone back to Rockcliffe for a course and they have left behind two lonely WDs in the "Gateway to Canada" (so they tell us).
     Since we have been here we have had the privilege of seeing a number of "Fingalites" as they waited to cross the pond-- F/Sgt. Reynolds, whom a lot of people will remember, F/L Lamb from Maintenance, Sgt. Observer "Tiny" Blake Merrick, now a P/O, F/O Sprinkle of the old BR Sqdrn, boys from the fire hall and ground crew from the different Hangars. Sgt. Bob Gray was on the station (although it was our misfortune not to see him), and we hear he was recently nabbed by Cupid and handed our very good friend her diamond ring. Congratulations, Givens. Latest additions to our station have been S/O Little and Ma'am Fulton. It sure feels like home to see a familiar face around town. 
     Dot Schick (Taylor) and myself enjoy our work very much, we're called Clerk Ops.-- meaning we work in operations. Dot works in the Filter Room and I struggle in Flying Control, which is all we can tell you about our work. You know the old saying, "military secret."
     We'd like to say hello to all our old friends at Fingal-- if they still remember us. In case they don't, we're enclosing a snapshot of us, taken in Halifax, to refresh their memories.
     We wonder (in our spare time) just how many of the original girls who arrived at Fingal on May 25th (just in time for a wings parade-- remember, kids?) are still at our favorite station. Not many is my guess.
     So long for now, Fingalites, and the best of luck to you all.
       Two faithful fans, 
Margaret Davis,
Dorothy Schick (Taylor)

     I hope this week's post sheds some light on the incredible group of gals who served at Fingal during the war, as well as the remarkable relationships that were formed between all who spent time there. Driving through the town today, it's hard to believe that such a large group of people have some of their best lifetime memories in Fingal, Ontario, but it really was a treasured place for students and employees from all over the world.
     Information for this post comes from local historian Blair Ferguson's book Southwold Remembers: The Fingal Observer, No. 4 B&G School as well as the February-March 1943 edition of the Fingal Observer. 
                   Thanks for reading,

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