Blog Archives

Family Jewels

No one in our family ever had any pieces of magnificent jewellery but even the most ordinary piece has its story.

My mother always wore her wedding band and engagement ring. The diamond in the ring wasn’t big and the band was plain but they were what my father could afford in 1947. As she got older and her fingers were thinner, she kept losing them, one or other or both. Luckily, the staff at her residence kept finding them. Eventually, they encouraged me to keep them.

IMG_9380

After, when I would visit my mother, she would look at her hands and the freshly done nails and say, “You have my rings and I want them!” She thought her hands were naked without them and nobody would know she was married.

“I really want them!” she would say.” She would tell others that Mary had her rings in a Birk’s box in her bureau drawer.

I bought her costume jewellery replacements. She had stories for those too. One, a ‘diamond ring’, she said a policeman found on the street and gave it to her. That one disappeared. Another set she said was her grandmother’s and she was sad when they were thought to be lost. Even a couple of days before she died she still said to me, “I want my rings!”

When we divided up her jewellery there was a large blue glass pin in the shape of a flower. None of us remembered her wearing it or even seeing it before. I gave it to my cousin Sharon. When her brother died recently I looked for pictures of him. There was one when he was a new baby being held by his Grannie, Beatrice Raguin and she was wearing that pin. So now Sharon has something that belonged to her Grannie.

Beatrice Raguin also had a thistle pin, silver with topaz coloured stones. She belonged to a sewing group where all the other ladies were from Scotland. She was French Canadian although born in Greenbay, Wisconsin. So as to fit in, she bought the pin and told everybody she was from Aberdeen. My mother gave me that pin.

IMG_9367

Minnie Eagle Sutherland, my other grandmother worked for Ryrie Brothers in Toronto as a jeweller. I have a stick pin that I think she made. It has a spiral of gold on the top with a tiny diamond and a pearl and now rests in a tiny rectangular box. It might have been a wedding present for her husband as she didn’t work after they were married. There is also a picture of a Union Jack made out of stones and on the back it says made by Minnie Eagle. Unfortunately, we don’t have that piece of jewellery!

IMG_9371

Dad did give my mother a few other pieces of jewellery. He once bought her a silver bracelet at the Tower of London on a business trip to Britain. He said the intricate metalwork reminded him of her tatting. She gave it to me because I could also tat.

IMG_9375

Mom was right. Her rings are in a Birk’s box in my bureau drawer. We haven’t yet decided how their story will continue.

A Wren’s Story: Dorothy Isabel Raguin

IMG_9015

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.

 

IMG_8721

Lab in Halifax 1944

 

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.

IMG_8727

Doreen, Dorothy, Gwen

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.

IMG_8784
Dorothy Raguin in the Women’s Volunteer Reserve Corps before 1943.

 

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.

Notes:

  1. 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.
  1. Buch, Mary Hawkins., and Carolyn Gossage. Props on Her Sleeve: The Wartime Letters of a Canadian Airwoman. Toronto: Dundurn, 1997. Print.
  1. Tiddly Times May – June 1945 Wrens Newsletter page 26.
  1. Huba, Diane., The Wrens 70th Anniversary 2012. Starshell Volume VII No. 58, Spring 2012.
  1. Dorothy Raguin Sutherland reminiscences as told to the author.
  1. www.navaireview.ca/wp-content/uploads/public/vol3num3/vol3num3art5.pdf
  1. www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/wmens-royal-canadian-naval-service/
  2. In the third picture, Dorothy Raguin is not wearing a Wren’s uniform but rather the Women’s Volunteer Reserve Corp (W.V.R.C.) uniform. The main goal of this organization was to fundraise for the war efforts and train women in war-related tasks.
%d bloggers like this: