Not all veterans celebrate Remembrance Day. Mary Rainville, a female veteran of World War II, is one of them.
“I stay away from Remembrance Day.” Rainville said. “It brings back too many sad memories. I used to, but then it got too hard for me.”
Rainville, 86, stopped attending Remembrance Day celebrations after her husband died 14 years ago. However, she still wears a red and black poppy.
“It means a lot,” Rainville said when asked what the poppy means to her. She intended to say more, but was overwhelmed by tears. “It makes me proud” was all she could muster.
During the Second World War, Rainville was stationed in London, England as a clerical worker for the Canadian Air Forces. Her husband, Vincent Rainville, was an army engineer who served in France and Kent, a small city outside of London.
“I didn’t like being apart from my husband, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it,” Rainville said. “It made me nervous all the time. I feared for his safety.”
Fortunately, Rainville and her husband were never in the midst of the war, but there were several close calls.
“I was with my uncle and he got me a bicycle,” Rainville recalled. “I hadn’t been on a bicycle for years. We were in Kingston, just outside of London. Overhead was a dogfight, Germans and our air forces were fighting above us. There was a canal beside us and vacant land on the other side. I asked my uncle, ‘what will happen if the Germans come down and see us? He said, ‘we’ll have to jump into the canal.’ Luckily, they stayed high enough so they didn’t see us. They were too busy fighting. I was so scared. I didn’t want the Germans to come down looking for more trouble.”
When asked if her husband had any close encounters with the Germans, Rainville was again overwhelmed by tears.
“He was in a basement with some Americans when German troops arrived,” Rainville said. “They weren’t supposed to be fighting, so the Americans told them not to shoot their guns. So they tried to leave through gullies in the basement. At the end of the gully was a dead German. He was missing the lower half of his body.”
As Rainville shared her World War II memories, she was dressed in her veteran’s uniform, adorned with three medals. Rainville was first recruited in 1943, and returned to her hometown, Quebec City, just before the war ended.
“Mackenzie King decided all married women got to return home early so the wives were waiting when their husbands arrived,” Rainville said. “That made me feel angry. I wanted to stay; I was doing something worthwhile. Why should I go home when the war was still on?”
Rainville’s husband didn’t return home until eight months after the war ended. He was left overseeing his duties in France.
“I was so proud to see him when he finally came home,” Rainville said. “I was very happy and excited. It was a reunion; I hadn’t seen him for two years.”
After the war, Rainville and her husband moved from Quebec City to North Bay, Ontario. They eventually settled in Thessalon, Ontario and raised two kids. Rainville currently resides in the Tony Stacey Centre for Veterans Care in Scarborough.
Another female veteran at the centre had slightly more positive tales to retell of the Second World War.
Mary Chadwick, 91, joined the Canadian navy after her two younger brothers were recruited.
“My two brothers joined the navy, so I thought – why can’t I?” Chadwick said.
As a wren, a term used for the first group of women who served in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, Chadwick was stationed in a naval hospital in Halifax and Cornwallis, Nova Scotia.
“I absolutely loved working in the hospital,” Chadwick said. “I liked being a nurse, and looking after all the young men was interesting. It was a good experience.”
Chadwick’s three years of service weren’t all filled with happy memories.
“One of my brother’s ships was torpedoed by the Germans on the coast of Iceland. There was only one survivor,” Chadwick said. “William was 22-years-old when he died.”
In traditional military fashion, Chadwick received the news of the death of her eldest younger brother via a government telegram.
“My mother was really devastated when she got the news,” Chadwick said. “But I bit the bullet and tried to carry on. I celebrate Remembrance Day with him in mind.”
Unlike Rainville, Chadwick partook in the centre’s Remembrance Day celebrations.
“We have a really nice service,” Chadwick said. “A choir from the church comes, and boy scouts and girl guides. For the past several years, I presented the wreath during the ceremony.
“Remembrance Day is very sad. We have to remember all the young people that gave up so much. It always brings a lump in my throat.”
Chadwick returned home from the war in December of 1945, shortly after the allied victory. Born and raised in Toronto, Chadwick returned to the city. She eventually married and raised two sons.