Canadian Armed Forces
We Serve that men may fight – Canadian Women’s Army Corps Motto
“I really felt that we were threatened in a roundabout way. We had to help Britain and I felt that it was my duty to do all that I could.” And so began Mary Jarvis’ three year plus commitment to the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. (CWAC) during World War II
Mary enlisted in 1942 in Toronto. After completing four weeks of basic training, she received additional training as a driver on a number of vehicles. For the first three years of her time with the CWAC, she was based in Ottawa – providing transport services to the Canadian Armed Forces. On the ready 24 hours a day, Mary would deliver mail to the brigades and, when necessary, army personnel to the airfield. She even stepped in for a few days as a bus driver during the March 1943 transit strike in Montreal.
In early 1945, Mary was reposted to Farnbough, south of London, England. “When we signed up, we didn’t know we were going overseas. My main objective was to do what I could to help the Canadian effort here at home. Going overseas was a bonus,” she said.
“While we were never in direct combat, we always had to be on high alert for enemy bombers.” Mary’s role while overseas was that of ambulance or Blitz Buggy driver. (A Blitz Buggy was a jeep that was modified to carry the wounded). “I remember making trip, after trip, after trip to the coast to pick up wounded Canadian soldiers returning from France,” she said. “To avoid detection by enemy aircraft, we’d go out under the cover of darkness. Our convoys consisted of two or three vehicles depending on the number of wounded.”
In Canada, they were trained to drive using headlights, but over there they couldn’t turn them on because they were in total blackout. “When we went out on convoy, there was just a little light on the left hand side of the lead vehicle – usually a motorcycle,” she said. “We followed that tiny red light with our lives. It was the same going back, except that we now had up to four wounded strapped to stretchers which were stacked two to a side, hanging off either side of our vehicles.”
There was always a male nurse who traveled with me in case the wounded needed help. “I couldn’t look after four people, drive and keep my eye on that little red light at the same time,” she said. “The saddest ones where those we had to take to the mental hospitals. I don’t know how many of them ever came out. There was no opportunity to get acquainted with them because they were just too sick.
“It was sad, but it was also a good time in my life. The one thing that stands out for me is the camaraderie, the close bonds that were developed with living and working so closely together. We were all kids, with very little life experience. You could say we grew up together. “