Vera Peel Answered the Call for Women Volunteers to the Royal Canadian Air Force

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Karen Graham

Centennial resident Vera Peel in her Women’s Auxiliary finery. Photo: Supplied.

Centennial resident Vera Peel in her Women’s Auxiliary finery. Photo: Supplied.

Perhaps sixteen year old Vera Peel was enticed by one of those recruiting posters (see below) seeking women to enlist in the Canadian Air Force. She admits she would have preferred to join the Navy, but they required candidates with a university education, so Vera settled on the air force. There was experience in her family, who originated from England. Her father had spent many years as a member of the Imperial Army of India during World War I. With no brothers to sign up, Vera felt compelled to join up and continue the family tradition. Besides, school in Winnipeg was boring, so she happily headed to CFB Trenton to join the CAF. There were 2 sections of Air Force recruits on base, as well as 200 women recruits living and working on this base built on 960 acres of farmland outside Trenton.

As she one of the younger recruits, Vera’s duties began in the Canteen, but she quickly moved on to preparing and delivering the Daily Routine Orders to each department. At that time, women were not allowed to fly, but that didn’t mean all women were in the kitchen or stuck behind a desk. Some held training and mechanical as well as administrative jobs. At the time, Trenton was the largest training centre of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and was host to the RCAF Central Flying School, the Air Navigation School, and a Flying Instructor School and was also a major repair depot.

Before arriving at Trenton, she had to survive the forces Basic Training program, which she describes as very difficult. In particular she recalls frequent inoculations which she remembers as painful, almost monthly occurrences which left her unable to move her arm for several days. That was the most difficult part of her time there.

Vera on the steps of a building at CFB Borden in her last year of service in 1945. Photo: Supplied.

Vera on the steps of a building at CFB Borden in her last year of service in 1945. Photo: Supplied.

Once installed on the base, life for Vera was quite lively. There were plenty of activities to keep the troops active and occupied during their three month stay. Vera recalls roller skating and ball hockey events in the drill halls, and dances every other week. With a ratio of 10 males to every female on the base, ladies from Belleville were brought in by bus for the evening to create a more balanced group for those events.

Perhaps because of her youth, or perhaps because of her distance from the battles of the war, life on the base for Vera was quite pleasant, almost exciting with the ebb and flow of new recruits and constant activity. She remained on the base until the end of the war in 1945, when she moved to Peterborough to settle down with a young man she had met on the base, where she lived until her recent move to Centennial Place in Millbrook.

This was not the end of the role of the armed forces in Vera’s life. Like many of her colleagues, she joined the Ladies’ Auxiliary branch of the newly formed Legion in their Peterborough location where she took on roles including the Membership Chairman.

Like Vera, many young women performed crucial and sometimes dangerous tasks during both World Wars, including munitions manufacturing. The stories of these women are now featured in a special exhibition in The Canadian War Museum. Wartime set the stage for women to begin to break through the gender barriers and take their place in the work force, often throwing themselves into work to push back their fears about loved ones lost or in battle. To gain a greater appreciation for the role of women during war, visit the World War Women exhibit running at the Canadian War museum in Ottawa from October 23, 2015 to April 3, 2016.

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