As the custodian of many veteran stories, I assume that role with much humility and admiration for the contributions, big and small, made by these veterans. Two such veterans are Jean and Reg Muir.
At the age of 18, in 1943, Reg was desperate to sign up and tried to enlist in the Airforce, Navy or the Merchant Marine but finally enlisted in the Army in the Armoured Tank Core in Vancouver.
After basic training in Vernon, B.C., Reg was posted to Camp Borden where he took courses in wireless and gunnery and just before Christmas 1943 he finally got his posting overseas to somewhere in England where he was to take more courses in wireless and gunnery.
“In his letters he could tell me some details but never where he was or what he was doing,” Jean said.
Jean and Reg had dated as teenagers in Williams Lake, she was at boarding school and he lived nearby. Before he shipped overseas, Reg made the journey to Victoria to see Jean, she was going to school there at the time.
The couple promised to stay in touch through letters. That was the only form of communication for the enlisted and their families and loved ones.
Through his letters, Jean pieced together a sketch of Reg’s life at that time. He wrote of the big trench dug in their tent so when the air raid signal sounded during the enemy bombing of London and area, the men would dive into the trench. After one bombing when their tent was spared they emerged to find the church next to them was demolished and an unexploded bomb was just behind their tent. Jean remarked their guardian angel was looking after them.
During another air raid Reg had to jump off one of the massive tanks and severely damaged his knee. As a result, he had to transfer from the Armoured Tank Core to the Transport Core. His job then became the piloting of huge tank trucks, during the black outs, through London to the seaports to be shipped over for the troops. Reg drove the lead truck on one of the convoys and during the blackout they found themselves at a dead end and had a massive job to turn the convoy around.
Although he desperately wanted to go into combat, his knee was so bad he was sent home with a pension. By this time Jean had enlisted and the letters between them became less and less until finally they stopped. It was more because of the difficulty of keeping in touch, than any other reason.
For Jean her adventure was just beginning. She enlisted in the navy in 1944 at HMCS Esquimalt.
“Everyone worked for the war effort in whatever job they could do,” Jean said.
“My sister Kay worked in the Boeing aircraft factory in Victoria, my brother Art immediately enlisted in the Army and went overseas, my dad worked in the shipyards in Victoria and for the Airforce in Tofino. People made bandages, knitted blankets, socks and sent care packages to the troops.
After what seemed like a very long wait, Jean received a posting with the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS), stationed in Ottawa, Ont. Homesickness was a problem for many of the women but Jean, having attended boarding school, was used to being away from home. She was assigned to work in the Stores Division which supplied everything to sailors both at home and overseas. The women lived in former sailor barracks and things such as double decker bunk beds, no doors on either the showers or the toilets, bells to wake you, ironing uniforms, responding with yes ma’am and no ma’am and of course the lack of communication (other than letters) with family and loved ones took some getting used to.
With only one furlough a year and a four-day train ride to get home, Jean and several of her western enlistees, for the two years she was in the Navy, allowed the local girls to go home for Christmas and the others would take their furlough at New Years and go to New York City, Time Square and all. On one of those trips, Jean dropped into an American Service Club to find a huge surprise.
“It was the shock of my life. My older brother was sitting there. I thought he was still overseas,” Jean said.
“That was so good.”
For the WRCNS you had to be 21 to be posted overseas. Jean remembered the excitement when one of the women received their overseas posting.
When the war was over, Jean had hoped to remain in the Navy but in 1946 they were advised WRCNS was being demobilized and in August of that year she was discharged and returned to B.C.
A chance meeting in the Quesnel bus stop brought Jean and Reg back together. The couple were married in 1949 in Kamloops then moved to Quesnel. They raised eight children.
“Reg and I were very proud to have served our country, in some small way,” Jean said.
“To help keep our freedom and keep our country safe.”