Category Archives: Military history
Dorothy Raguin my mother, joined the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) known as the Wrens in April 1943. She left a job teaching grade three at Berthelet School in Montreal to help in the war effort and to look after her brothers, Robert and Arthur Raguin, both serving in the Navy.
She had graduated from The High School of Montreal Girls School in 1939 and then attended MacDonald College for teacher’s training and began her teaching career.
War was declared in September 1939, but it wasn’t until three years later that the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service was formed. Dorothy was one of over 6000 women who joined the navy, allowing the shore-based men to go to sea. The navy was the last of the forces to admit women. The first recruits were cooks, clerks and laundry maids but by the end of the war, women filled 39 trades including communication operators, signalman, coders and radar plotters. Their pay was also raised from two-thirds of a man’s to eighty percent. The Navy found women were useful.
The Wrens were inundated with applications even though the Army and Airforce had been recruiting women for two years. These women wanted to join the Navy. As the smallest of women’s services, it claimed to be the most selective. The Wrens were known to have recruited a “better type” of girl. They were ladies, not sailors and kept their hats on indoors.
There was a short three-week course at the WRCNS training centre HMCS Conestoga, in Galt Ontario. This facility which had been a girls reform school was referred to as a “stone frigate.” The women put on the Wren uniform and had a rapid transition into military life. They were given physical training, drill practice and learned about naval traditions and customs.“ They all seemed anxious to serve and do something constructive to help win the war. I found them very receptive to naval tradition and amenable to discipline, said Superintendent Carpenter. ”¹
Dorothy was drafted to HMCS Cornwallis September 1943. Mom’s first posting was to a hospital base, Stadacona in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A family friend, Miss Fellows was in charge of the women and had two sick berth attendant positions available. These were prime positions working in the laboratories. One was in haematology and the other in urinalysis. Mom chose blood and a friend got the other position.
It wasn’t all work, marching and standing in lines. In their free time, they visited the scenic places around Halifax including Peggy’s Cove and Chester NS. There were always men coming and going from the ships and the Wrens used to take some of the patients rowing on the Arm. As innocent women, they were warned to be careful walking on Gottingen Street which had buildings right to the sidewalk, as they could be grabbed from the doorways! Dorothy celebrated her 21st birthday in the Navy with a lobster dinner at the Lord Nelson Hotel, a treat by her cousin Richard Scrivner who was then a Navy Commander. It was her first lobster and she never had another. There was also trip with other Wrens to New York City. They didn’t have to pay for their hotel and received meals for free as a thank you for their service.
One of her teaching friends Mary Hawkins wrote in May 1943 from Halifax. “Dorothy Raguin and I met at the ANA (Army, Navy, Airforce) Club yesterday. She looks fit and is getting a kick out of the Wrens. She was in the School for Teachers the year before I was and was teaching at Berthelet. She left a month after I did – to join the Navy. I asked her if the Wrens get their tot of rum and she said, No, but apart from that everything is just the way Nelson left it. I know what she meant.”²
She finished her duty doing discharge physicals at the Royal Canadian Naval Hospital (RCNH) St Hyacinthe, Quebec. Her transfer was mentioned in the Tiddley Times, the Wrens newsletter. “Our hospital staff have been lucky in the acquisition of Dorothy Raguin, Aileen Fee and P.O. Anne Hawke, all lab. technicians with first-hand experience from Halifax.”³ The WRCNS disbanded in August of 1946 as women were not needed in peacetime.
Dorothy saw her brothers only once while she was in the Navy. She arranged dates for them when their ship came into Halifax. Happily, they managed to survive without her care and returned home safely.
My mother Dorothy Raguin Sutherland, died recently, at 95. She was proud of her service in the Navy and so to honour her and her service to Canada I am posting this story.
- Superintendent Carpenter on Navy Radio, Recorded10 June 1943 for broadcast 14 and 16 June on CBC. Library and Archives Canada: MG30 E 391 Volume 1.
- Buch, Mary Hawkins., and Carolyn Gossage. Props on Her Sleeve: The Wartime Letters of a Canadian Airwoman. Toronto: Dundurn, 1997. Print.
- Tiddly Times May – June 1945 Wrens Newsletter page 26.
- Huba, Diane., The Wrens 70th Anniversary 2012. Starshell Volume VII No. 58, Spring 2012.
- Dorothy Raguin Sutherland reminiscences as told to the author.
The plane crashed just after one in the afternoon Eastern Time on December 22, 1944. He probably died right then, or soon after.
James Frederick (Fredrick or Federic) Devitt left at least two families mourning for him, one in the United Kingdom and his own in Ontario.
His service file shows that the man was 22 years old when he died. His birth had been a Valentine’s Day gift for his parents. Prior to joining the Air Force, he worked for the Canada Bread Company in Peterborough as a driver and route manager. He played hockey and softball and owned a motor boat.
His last trip as a flight engineer/pilot officer left from Gransden Lodge just prior to 4 p.m. in the afternoon, December 22, 1944, exactly 71 years ago yesterday.
His Lancaster and 13 others were on a Pathfinder mission to mark a small railway freight yard in Germany’s Rhine Valley. He was in Lancaster 405/D, which was seen crashing about three hours later by four pathfinders at 50:02 N. 06:25 E., southwest of Leimbach.
Blind Sky Marker failed to return from this operation and nothing has been heard from any member of the crew since time of take-off. This was F/O Tite’s 35th operation.” 
His mother’s notes to the Air Force show how difficult these situations were for families.
The telegram and letter reporting him going missing within a month of the crash was the only official news, but she still had hope that he had lived in May.
Can nothing be done to locate my son Fred? I have waited for days thinking some message would come through. I had word from two of the fathers from two of his crew saying their sons were prisoners of war. This was some time ago. Try and help a heart-broken mother please.”
Henrietta was 65 when her Devitt died, but she had already known great loss. His father Robert Campbell Devitt had already died of complications following a stomach ulcer operation when he was three years old, his older brothers were five, 15 and 21 and his five sisters were eight, 11, 14, 17 and 19.
When she got news about her youngest son going missing, she was already dealing with the death of his elder brother Alexander, who had died the previous January in the Battle of Ortano, Italy.
She wrote the Royal Air Force a second note three months later:
I have not heard any further word about my son Jas Fredric Devitt except what the three members of his crew who came back told me by letter. They said the plane burst into flames. One bailed out and two were blown out and what happened the rest is not known. Surely some identification marks were found. If he was killed and buried like my other son I wouldn’t take it so hard.
Two of the boys were taken as prisoners and the other wounded and put in a German hospital. All any one says is missing.”
A month later she wrote again.
Surely you can tell me something of my son Pilot Officer Jas Fud shot down over Germany December 22…If I know he was died and his body found my mind would be at rest—as it is I’m afraid of results.”
Another woman who loved him also worried. Eight months after his plane went down, a Mrs. S. Hitchings wrote the Royal Air Force from 111 Connaught Road, Roath Park, Cardiff. She too had heard that two airmen from his plane were taken prisoner and she hoped that perhaps they provided the Red Cross with information about Devitt.
I feel sure that if he was alive we would have heard from him, since he became part of our family whilst he was stationed in this country.”
It would take another three years to be sure about what happened to the Lancaster, but Devitt’s service record indicates that:
This 4 engined aircraft fell 60 or 70 yards behind the fam of MARTIN STOMMES in WIERSDORF (L.0357). It was shot down by a German night fighter and was burning in the air, it hit the ground, turned on its back and burned for 3 hours. One engine and the tail unit fell off before it crashed.”
Three bodies and the remains of a fourth were buried in an unmarked grave.
Devitt’s remains have since been moved to Rheinberg War Cemetery in Germany. For more information, refer to his Veterans Affairs Canada memorial page.
 Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203, General Information.
 No. 405 R.C.A.F. Squadron (P.E.F.) Operations Record Book, Gransden Lodge, photocopies of secret book, December 22, 1944, Appendix 212.
 Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203, National Estates Branch, form C92768FD269, October 29, 1945.
 Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203, report from Officer Commanding No 2, MR&E Unit RAF, dated January 17, 1947.
 Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203, letter from S. Hitchings, received August 25, 1945.
Note: This article was also published on http://www.Arialview.ca today.
As I watch the memorial service today, I’ll be thinking of my friend Ed Johnson, the visionary behind the North Wall.
Ed and I met first late in 1995, six months or so after the North Wall (officially known as the Canadian Vietnam Vet Memorial) was erected in Windsor, Ontario. We met again the following July and then again ten years later during the tenth anniversary of the monument.
In our first meeting, Ed told me how a chance meeting with a woman at the Wall in Washington in 1986 led him on a long journey to create the North Wall. The Canadian woman told Ed that she served as a nurse in Vietnam. Later he found out she lied about that, but her comments made him curious about all Vietnam veterans from Canada. He remembered serving with a Canadian in 1969/70 with the 2/47 Mechanized Infantry.
“During that time, it just never registered,” he said. “I didn’t know what that would mean or where it was. I mean, how many American lives did they save? I’m forever grateful for what they did.”
Johnson began looking for information about Canadian Vietnam Veterans. He found out that some associations existed in Canada, but that most veterans in our country were still isolated and on their own. He learned that many had to cross the border multiple times a year to get health treatment for injuries received during the Vietnam War.
“So I organized a committee here in the Detroit area and called it the Canadian Vietnam Veterans’ Welcome Home Committee. We began working to organize a Welcome Home event for them. The event took two years in the planning and I personally went out and signed a contract with the Michigan State Fair Grounds for $48,000.”
The Welcome Home party took place on July 4, 1989, but internal fighting between veteran’s organizations meant that two other similar events took place in Michigan the same weekend. The pressure also caused fighting at home. By Sunday night that weekend, Johnson had lost $12,000, his house, his credit rating and his wife.
Despite the turmoil, Johnson continued his efforts to bring the Canadians home. He, his buddy Ric Gidner and his brother-in-law Chris Reynolds began building a mini-version of the Washington monument for the Canadians. With the help of the associations in Canada, they researched 100 names to inscribe on the granite.
In March 1993, Johnson and Gidner started a non-profit association called the Michigan Association of Concerned Veterans to offer their monument to the Canadians.
Both the National Capital Commission and the City of Ottawa refused the offer, as did the ministries of Veteran’s Affairs and Public Works.
That led the Americans to split with the Ottawa and Toronto groups that wanted an Ottawa site and look for an alternate site instead.
In the end, the City of Windsor offered land in Assumption Park, right next to the Ambassador Bridge. The monument was dedicated on July 2, 1995 and continues to be dedicated annually every year.
Ed attended all of those dedications until he died from cancer on August 24, 2010. He was only 61 years old. There’s a neat memorial postcard in his memory.
I tried to find an official death notice for my friend, and found one for Edward George Johnson IV, who also lived in Farmington Hills and was born and died on the same dates as the Ed I knew. The picture looks like Ed to me. If this is indeed Ed, it’s nice to see that he built a strong relationship with family before dying despite his commitment to leaving a legacy for Canadian Vietnam Veterans.
Charles Vincent Massey served as High Commissioner for Canada in London from 1935 until 1946. His wife Alice (formerly Parkin) served by his side fulfilling formal niceties, such as presenting Canadians to the King and Queen and writing letters to the families of fallen soldiers and those who went missing, like my uncle.
The letter she sent to John Mathieu the day his son went missing reads in part:
Dear Mr. Mathieu, This is meant to tell you how deeply my husband and I feel for you since we heard that your son is missing. – we know what these days of anxiety and doubt will mean to you.
Do know with what understanding and sympathy we are both thinking of you.
The note remained within the keepsakes the Mathieu family retained long after the war.
Since then, I’ve discovered that Vincent Massey was one of the key people behind Canada’s participation in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). The scheme brought 136,849 people to Canada during World War II to train as aircrew and enabled Canada to become a leader in the aviation industry.
Massey was not officially considered a founder to the plan after the fact; but he was the first person to propose the idea in writing. In a 1936 report to Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, he credits the idea to British Air Minister Lord Swinton.
After Swinton’s proposal was turned down, proposals about the same idea came from other players.
During a 1937 trip to London, for instance, Canadian Minister of National Defence Ian Mackenzie received a memorandum in favour of airmen trained in Canada from RAF Group Captain Robert Lekie.
That memo led to King agreeing to train 15 RAF soldiers within Canada. Proposed trainees increased to 50, then 120, then 135, before King backed out in 1938.
The following September, Massey joined Australian High Commissioner Stanley Bruce to meet with officials in the British Air Ministry and Treasury. The month is described in detail by F.J. Hatch in a Department of National Defence publication called “The Aerodrome of Democracy.”
Hatch questions why Massey didn’t attend the last crucial meeting in which Bruce proposed the project to Harold Balfour, Britain’s Under Secretary of State for Air. As Hatch wrote:
Why Massey was not at this meeting is not clear, but his absence has led Bruce’s biographer, and Balfour himself, to give Bruce the full credit for originating the BCATP concept.
If Massey backed off to ensure that there was no hint of his promotion of the idea to King, his methodology worked.
Over the next three months, King’s government negotiated an agreement with the Australian, British and New Zealand governments to create the (BCATP), which was signed in December 1939.
Implementation in Canada began with the Royal Air Force renting out space for schools across Canada to train recruits before they went to Britain.
I believe my uncle Charles Mathieu was probably one of 5,296 people who trained at one of these. A manuscript passed to me by him begins in 1940:
That same night I was an AC2 on the Midnight train to St. Thomas along with twenty other lads from Montreal. We were assigned as G.D.’s [general duties] to help open up the Technical Training School for Air and Engine Mechanics … I spent six months at St. Thomas doing guard duty and being General Duty Joe, however, my last month spent there was decidedly my best.
There is a question about the status of St. Thomas because it doesn’t appear in a list of 152 installations outlined by Dunmore nor in similar lists detailed by Hatch. It does appear on a bigger list of 231 BCATP facilities found on Wikipedia.
 Mathieu, John Charles, personal documents, letters and keepsakes.
 The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945: An Historical Sketch and Record of the Ceremony at R.C.A.F. Station Trenton. Ottawa: Edmond Cloutier, 1949.
 Dunmore, Spencer. Wings for Victory: The Remarkable Story of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada. Toronto, Ont.: McClelland & Stewart, 1994, pp24.
 Hatch, F. J. The Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945. Ottawa: Directorate of History, Dept. of National Defence, 1983, pp13-14.
 Hatch, p14 quoting three sources: Edwards, Cecil, Bruce of Melbourne, Man of Two Worlds, London: Heinemann, 1965, p 279; Air Ministry, Notes on the History of RAF Training, 1939-44 (London, 1945), p 126; Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force, p 79; Balfour, Harold, Wings Over Westminster, London: Hutchinson, 1973, pp 113-114.
 Mathieu, John Charles, personal documents, “All of This Heaven Almost” manuscript, 1947-1950, p1.
 Dunmore, Spencer. Wings for Victory: The Remarkable Story of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada. Toronto, Ont.: McClelland & Stewart, 1994, pp349-360.
 Hatch, F. J. The Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945. Ottawa: Directorate of History, Dept. of National Defence, 1983, pp207-212.
 List of British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Facilities in Canada, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_Commonwealth_Air_Training_Plan_facilities_in_Canada,” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 12 July 2015, accessed July 23, 2015
By Sandra McHugh
In World War II, RCAF Iroquois Squadron 431 executed 2,584 sorties, dropped 14,004 tons of bombs, lost 72 aircraft, and suffered 490 aircrew causalities, including 313 deaths, and 14 operational personnel deaths.1 My father, Edward McHugh, was part of the ground crew of this squadron. He was an electrician by trade and when he enlisted during the summer of 1940, it was determined that the RCAF needed aircraft electricians. He began his training in Canada as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Program (BCATP). Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had agreed that Canada would manage the BCATP at 231 facilities across Canada, mainly at air bases.2
Great Britain’s Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command was formed on July 14, 1936 and became part of the air defence of the country. It was made up of groups and the Canadians were included in these groups. Group 6 was established on January 1, 1943 and was entirely made up of Canadian squadrons. At its peak, there were 14 squadrons belonging to group 6, including Iroquois Squadron 431.3
Squadron 431 operated Wellington X, Halifax V, and Lancaster X aircraft. The Halifax and Lancaster aircraft had higher speed and greater bomb loads than earlier aircraft.4 The Canadian squadrons were stationed in Burn, Tholthorpe, and Croft, Yorkshire, allowing them to make sorties out across the English Channel, out into the North Sea, and into mainland Europe. Their targets included military targets, U boats, industrial centres, and Nazi occupied territories. The battle honours of Squadron 431 include the English Channel and North Sea, the Baltic, Fortress Europe (areas occupied by Nazi Germany), France and Germany (1944-45), ports in the Bay of Biscay, the Ruhr valley, Berlin, German Ports, Normandy, and the Rhine.5
My father almost never spoke about the war. Despite the camaraderie and deep friendships he forged during his time of service, it was a dark period of his life and he wanted to forget about it. The few times he spoke of it, he mentioned the busy work leading up to a mission, whereby the ground crew would be working intensely to ensure that everything was the best it could be. Each person was acutely aware that a small detail could mean the difference between life and death. Each team of the ground crew was assigned to one bomber and they would wait for their bomber to come back after the mission. Sometimes the bay remained empty and the bomber never came back. My father never got over the pain of waiting for a bomber that would not return.
A special thanks to W.E. Huron for his publication about Squadron 431: The History of 431 R.C.A.F. Squadron and more, 1942-1945: Burn, Tholthorpe, Croft
1 Heron, W.E., A Yorkshire Squadron, the History of 431 R.C.A.F. Squadron and more, 1942–1945: Burn, Tholthorpe, Croft, General Store Publishing House, 2009, p. 8
3 Heron, W.E., A Yorkshire Squadron, the History of 431 R.C.A.F. Squadron and more, 1942–1945: Burn, Tholthorpe, Croft, General Store Publishing House, 2009, pages 3 and 4
5 Heron, W.E., A Yorkshire Squadron, the History of 431 R.C.A.F. Squadron and more, 1942–1945: Burn, Tholthorpe, Croft, General Store Publishing House, 2009, p. 8
Canadian actor and playwright R. H. Thomson has undertaken a remarkable project to commemorate the names of the more than nine million people who died in World War I, individually, and at the exact time of each person’s death, no matter what the person’s nationality or military rank.
Over the next four years, those names will appear in various ways. They will be streamed to computers, tablets and cell phones. They will be displayed on the walls of buildings or in public spaces. And they will be distributed in an app to museums, schools and universities.
Among the many nations participating are Canada, the U.K., Germany and France. Russia, where more people died than anywhere else, is considering its participation, but may have difficulty because some of the archives were destroyed. Some countries have declined to take part.
Any opportunity to help other genealogists and researchers is a good one, and The National Archives in Great Britain announced an interesting project this week.
The National Archives (TNA) has spent the past three years digitising WWI unit war diaries and now they are looking for volunteers. These diaries are among the most popular records at TNA.
With this project, TNA hopes to create new Citizen Historians, working together to make previously inaccessible information available to academics, researchers and family historians worldwide, leaving a lasting legacy for the centenary of the First World War. They need volunteers who can spend an hour of their time — or more — to read and tag a few diary pages.
Earlier this week, TNA published the first batch of diaries online as part of First World War 100. You can search and download more than 300,000 diary pages of the first three cavalry divisions and the first seven infantry divisions to arrive on the Western Front. By the end of this year, TNA will have published the rest of the diaries that they have digitised, around 1.5 million pages in total, opening up an already popular record series to historians worldwide.
To learn more about the project and how you can get involved, visit The National Archives Blog. Thanks to Dick Eastman who brought this story to our attention in his eNewsletter article, Operation War Diary: A Crowd Crowdsourcing Project.
The Kitchener Public Library in Ontario is looking for your help. In honour of the upcoming 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, the library’s staff has created soldier information cards about the many courageous men and women of the province’s Waterloo County who served Canada in the First and Second World Wars. These cards were created during and shortly after each war and were compiled using newspaper and magazine clippings, photographs, and information contributed by soldiers and their families.
The library needs virtual volunteers to transcribe the content of the soldier card sets, making them searchable on the library’s online photograph site. The transcription process will involve copying the information on the soldier card into a text (.txt) file and sending the finished transcription back to staff for upload. If you are interested in volunteering for this project, contact the library at email@example.com or telephone 519-743-0271, ext. 275. Read more about the project on the library’s website.
Perhaps genealogy societies should approach their local library to find out if they hold treasures that need to be digitized and posted online. This would be an excellent opportunity to support a library, create a new collaboration, and uncover genealogy gems.