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.
- 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.
When you are lucky enough to find original documents pertaining to your ancestors do you really read everything on them or do you just glance through them, copy them and file them for later? One thing I have recently learned is to thoroughly read all documents. What a novel tip for genealogy research!
I was sending information to a fellow writing about my grandfather, Rene Raguin. He told me that Rene’s father Marie Joseph Raguin had been a Limonadier. What kind of occupation is that I wondered? I wrote back and asked him how he knew that information. He responded that it was on my grandparent’s marriage licence.
I had never looked up their documents as I knew when and where they were married. One of my great uncles, Herbert Bruneau had done a lot of Genealogy research and I had his family tree. I was more interested in people I didn’t know and had put off confirming other’s research. The document was easy to find and there under “profession of father of husband” was “Limonadier”. There is a lot of information on Ontario, Canada marriage certificates.
What was this profession? It sounded like someone who made lemonade. The marriage was in 1912 when bottled soft drinks were not available. According to Wikipedia, a Limonadier made and sold lemonade, could also make and sell alcohol or run a cafe.
Aside from being an interesting occupation, this explained some of our family traditions. My mother had a recipe that we called “Grandfather’s Lemon Syrup”. It was a lemon syrup that when added to water made lemonade. My mother used to make it and on visits to my grandparents, we had the lemon drink in little glasses that once contained cream cheese and home-baked sugar cookies. My cousins called my aunt’s version of it, “Grannie’s Lemon Drink” but they were obviously wrong about the origin.
It is also possible that Marie Joseph did run a cafe in Fleurier, Switzerland. One story that we heard growing up was that grandfather used to take a big pan of plum pie to the bakery to have it cooked as the pan didn’t fit in their oven. Why would a family of four need such a big pie? So making it for a cafe makes sense. It was a simple dish, pie crust covered by half plums with sugar sprinkled on top, a dessert that my mother also used to make.
It is amazing how much information one can get from a single word.
Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KS8D-G3N : 10 April 2015), René Emile Raguin and Cecile Béatrice Bruneau, 09 Jul 1912; citing registration, Cornwall, Stormont, Ontario, Canada, Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,906,765. On Feb 22, 2017.
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limonadier accessed Feb 22, 2017.
René Emile Raguin, my grandfather, was the last of my relatives to arrive in Canada. He was the only one to return home after he emigrated. His family, originally from Doubs, France, moved to Fleurier, Switzerland soon after he was born.
He arrived in Canada aboard an Allen Line steamship, the Lake Erie and so didn’t have to endure a long voyage on a sailing ship. It was 1910 and he was 23 years old. He had been a Lieutenant in the French army. His father was French and as the son, even though he lived in Switzerland, he had to do his service. He had also trained as a teacher but there were no jobs in Switzerland, so he was fortunate to find a job at the French Protestant school in Pointes aux Trembles, Quebec.
René was a dapper little man with a full beard and moustache. He was sure he was going to be a hit with Canadian girls although his landlady told him they didn’t like men with a lot of facial hair. The morning after meeting Beatrice Bruneau and her sisters, he came down stairs with only a goatee! In later years he only had a small moustache but with a completely shaved head.
René and Beatrice were married in 1912 in Cornwall, Ontario by Beatrice’s father, Reverend Ismael P. Bruneau. Their first daughter Aline Marguerite was born in May 1913. The next summer they sailed to Europe to show off Aline to Rene’s family. Rene enjoyed the voyage, walking on deck with his little daughter, but Beatrice, pregnant with their second child Robert, suffered from sea sickness and was mostly invisible. Rene was very happy chatting with all the other passengers who wondered about the little girl’s mother.
They were having a wonderful time in Fleurier, visiting Rene’s parents, Joseph Marie and Rosina Steinman Raguin and his sister Bluette, when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated and World War I began. When England declared war on Germany August 4, 1914, returning to Canada as quickly as possible became a priority. As Rene had become a Canadian/British citizen in 1913, they appealed to the British Government and received a document of safe passage through both France and Italy to return to England. They made a quick journey by train from Switzerland to Le Havre, France taking what they could easily carry and leaving their trunk behind.
They made it safely back to Canada where René was then the principal of De La Salle Academy in Trois Riveres, Quebec. The school administration had been worried he wouldn’t return for the beginning of the school year. He used his story to raise money during the war, for the Canadian Patriotic Fund.
Robert was born in December followed by Arthur, Dorothy and Madeleine. René continued teaching and finished his career as a French teacher at Baron Byng High School in Montreal. They spent summers in Dunany north of Montreal where he enjoyed golf and socializing and winters in Montreal where he curled and socialized. He and Beatrice didn’t travel very much, just one train trip to Vancouver to visit their son Robert. They never returned to Europe, never again saw any of Rene’s family, or their trunk.
Rutherdale, Robert. Hometown Horizons: Local Responses to Canada’s Great War. Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 2004. Print.
Anecdotes personally communicated to the author by Aline Raguin Allchurch in 2003.
Passeport; original document in possession of author.
Rene’s British /Canadian Naturalization Certificate was in his possession in Europe to obtain his Passport but the document was later lost as it was replaced in 1916. Libraries and Archives Canada: Citizenship Registration Records for Montreal Circuit Court 1851-1945.
Military documents in possession of author.