As a child, Marilyn Trainor remembered the music of the Elgin Regiment brass band from across the street in her St. Thomas, Ont., home.
“I always wanted to be in the (military),” she said.
During the Second World War, Marilyn rushed home from school to peer into the training grounds from her second floor bedroom window.
Trainor would grow up to become the first woman in Canadian military history to be accepted into a naval shipping course at Portsmouth shipyard in the U.K.
“(The navy) was traditionally a male (domain), so I choose to take the traditional route at the time (nursing),” Trainor said. “I used my nursing degree to get my foot in the door (in the naval reserves), but it wasn’t for me.”
Once Trainor received her nursing degree from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI, she enlisted as a nursing sister with the nearest Canadian naval reserve unit. Later, she worked her way up to commander of HMCS Hunter, a naval reserve unit based in Windsor, Ont. where she lead several successful missions on both Canadian coasts.
But she would never be given the privilege to sail aboard a naval ship as commander. She said that the men who served under her did not look past the medals on her commander’s uniform when she addressed the division. Her gender did not undermine her ability to organize a convoy.
“I always held myself in a professional manner,” Trainor said. “I also like to think I was well liked!”
She would brief the captains of merchant convoy ships before they set sail on the some of the most treacherous waters on both Canadian coasts.
Former HMCS Hunter Commander Roy Del Col admired her ability to lead both the upper deck and lower decks aboard the warship.
“Marilyn proved that sex was no object and I have to say, she led a good ship,” Del Col said.
Trainor and her husband now live in Tilsonburg, Ont., but after 27 years of retirement her her love of Canadian military is as deep as it was when she was that little girl in St. Thomas. She is now a member of the Tilsonburg Historical Society teaching others about the significance of Canadians in naval history.