Toronto – September 10, 1943 – Part 2

(Dodging Shells gave you Tommy’s letters from the front. Let’s continue his twin sister Kathy’s third letter in response. Learn more about Toronto during wartime…)

…..…Actually, I was thinking about signing up, myself. They make it sound so good. Women in the armed forces are doing exciting things these days: they’re piloting war planes from factory to operational bases, flying alone and doing their own navigation; they’re training as battlefield drivers, prepared to do their own repairs and maintenance. There’s even one Lieutenant who’s authorized to ride a motorcycle and who trained with the men.
…..Ok, ok. I don’t even drive a civilian car and I have no appreciable mechanical ability. I know that. I’m trying to make a point, here.
…..The point is that women are going to war now–or if not now, then soon. They’re not all just tucked safely behind the scenes, supporting the work that the men do. And they’re willing to fight in the front lines if they get the chance. Women work as coders, plotters, signallers, telegraphers…all jobs with impact that could actually be more in my line. Oh, I know that most of the jobs the women get are still clerical. And I’m sure the women don’t get to choose for themselves, any more than the men do. But that’s ok. I could enjoy clerical work, if that was how the chips fell. That’s not what made me hesitate.
…..And the possibility that I might someday have to get in shape and learn to fire a weapon with intent to kill…well, that doesn’t trouble me either! Granted, sports have never been my passion, but I’ve always been healthier than I probably deserve to be and I guess I could handle it. (I was pretty good with a bow and arrow in PT. Does that count?) There’s a woman in Winnipeg who’s hoping to form an all-woman fighting regiment. That’ll probably come to nothing, but the idea is kind of interesting.
…..To tell the truth, I just can’t see myself living with a batch of other girls. All that jolly companionship and girlish giggling–my threshold for girlish giggling is not high, and too much companionship…well, it would be a strain. I find that my particular brand of charm benefits from a lot of time spent alone.

…..There was an ad in the Toronto Star the other day for a clerical position at a large publishing firm downtown. I’d enjoy working near books…it might lead to something. Who knows? (A clerical job…oh yes. That’s the path to the editor’s chair.) But there’s a war on. The Department of Labour won’t just allow people to change to a non-essential job, regardless of how feeble a career step it may represent. One has to apply for permission. And I suspect that publishing books wouldn’t be considered significantly more essential to the war effort than ferrying executives up and down a tall building.
…..I’ve enjoyed my job as an elevator operator, but it does just take me up and down…and I’m beginning to think I need to move forward! And the pay stinks. There’s plenty of work in the war industry, of course. I could apply at Massey-Harris; it’s an arsenal plant now. The pay is good and they’re offering to train for the future, but I suspect when the war ends and the men come back, it’ll be a long time before women will be welcome in any important factory position.
…..So I visited the employment office at Simpson’s–there’s no problem changing jobs within the same company–and asked to transfer to a clerical position. Not awfully exciting, maybe, but at least it’s a step in some sort of direction. They sat me down in a small office in front of a desk neatly stacked with very confidential-looking files to talk to the personnel manager. He seemed pleasant, in a carefully polite sort of way. As usual, he was grey-haired. I guess all the younger managers are now colonels or majors. That’s fine with me.
…..We talked about my education…my strong subjects…my interests. (Why should he care?) I told him why I wanted a change.
…..“I see that you’ve been operating the executive elevator,” he remarked.
…..I agreed that I had.
…..“I believe I’ve noticed you there.”
…..“Yes…I’m sure I remember seeing you,” I said, to show how very alert I am. I remembered no such thing.
…..“Please be comfortable for a few minutes. I’ll be right back.”
…..He left the office long enough to make a phone call or two–checking on me, no doubt. Subtle.
…..When he returned, he sat down and considered me, in much the same way you might consider buying a new washing machine that had been recommended, but came with a very limited warranty. “Miss Smith,” he said, “How would you like to work for me here in the employment office?” It was that easy.
…..So now I’m working in the employment office, making entries on cards, filing papers, doing mysterious things with numbers…even handling a very little bit of hunt-and-peck typing, from time to time. (Typing will never be my strength.) When I get my bearings, I’m sure it’ll be much more interesting than it sounds. The people seem nice…and I don’t have to live with them.
…..The only drawback is that I have to turn in my snazzy uniforms and prepare to dress for the office. It’s lucky I can make my own clothes, because the government has been controlling the styles that can be produced and one off-the-rack garment looks a whole lot like another.
…..So when I’m at home, I’m up to my armpits in fabric and there are pattern pieces strewn all over the furniture. I bought a reliable sewing machine when I started working at Simpson’s, so I’ll be appropriately attired in no time.
…..Oh…somehow, a pattern for slacks snuck into the pile. I tried on a beautiful pair of silk and linen slacks at Creeds (of course I wouldn’t dream of buying anything at Creeds–it’s far too expensive. I was just pretending) and I couldn’t resist trying to whip up a similar pair for myself. What with army nurses starting to wear trousers in the field and women wearing overalls to the factories, slacks are becoming the practical choice for casual wear. Now, if I could only wear them to the office…no, I guess not.

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About Wendy Bertsch

I’m a Canadian author—a pragmatic optimist with rather eclectic interests and a pervasive sense of humour. Toronto born and bred, I live by the lake with a motley array of dogs and a cat, all but myself being of unknown origin, in a comfortable old house filled with books. Over a thousand books. Books in every nook and cranny. And now, since there can never be too many books, I'm writing more. Once More, From the Beginning highlights the women in the bible. It's about time! And believe me, they see things quite differently. And in Dodging Shells, you'll meet the irrepressible Tommy, as he fights his way through Italy in World War II. You'll love Tommy. I do. Next? Well, that's a secret yet. Stay tuned... I recently initiated the fledgling Ocean Highway Books, providing editing, formatting and cover design services to authors wishing to self-publish.
This entry was posted in Canadian army, Dodging Shells, historical fiction, history, humor, Kathy's letters, Toronto, World War II and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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