For this year’s Remembrance Day, I chose to highlight some women’s contributions to the Second World War.
Thousands of women were in uniform and immersed in; or very near to harm’s way as they gave very meaningful support to our men and boys. Many more took on tremendous tasks on our home front, dutifully fulfilling the void left by their overseas warriors. I wish to share a few of their stories.
Sonya, was a teen ager, in school in France and alone while her divorced mother was visiting the United Kingdom, (England) when the war erupted. Without a passport or money, she somehow made her way to England; the forefront of her ability to succeed under advise circumstances.
Sonya d’Artois ( her married name) met her husband to be, Guy d’Artois, a French Canadian, in 1944, in England.
Both were training in the military Special Operations Executive; (SOE) and had selected explosives as their speciality. They were learning how to make bombs, blow up bridges, pick locks, and assassinate silently. Married prior to deployment in France, they were separated; each going on different missions.
Just 20 years old; Sonya, outfitted with a pistol and suicide pill parachuted into France nine days before the “D” Day invasion. Her fake I.D. had her as Suzanne Bonvie; code named “Agent Blanche.”; sometimes referred to as ” Madeleine.”
All sorts of havoc was created to slow German efforts to counter the allied invasion. She and her team leader, Sidney Hudson were shot at and he was wounded in the shoulder. Sonya escaped unhurt, although her jacket had been riddled with bullets. By sheer luck, she once decided to avoid a resistance meeting, purely on instinct. She learned later it was a plot specifically designed to assassinate her. She was very good at associating with German soldiers, while at the same time co-ordinating ambushes carried out against them by the French resistance.
When American forces liberated her area, she was mistaken as a German collaborator, and her head shaved before her colleagues intervened and got her released. She was but one of of 3,000 female agents operating in Europe during the war. After the war, she and Guy resided in Canada. He went on to serve in the Royal 22nd. Regiment and was a decorated war hero himself.
Mary Owen did covert work at the Baccaro Long range Navigation Installation Centre in Nova Scotia during world war two along with 24 other women. She was a member of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (Wrens). In 1944, they received a warning from Halifax the two German submarines were only a kilometre off shore.
The WRENs has sten guns, (light machine guns), rifles and dynamite and were ready, if necessary, to defend or blow up their secret facilities.
Fortunately the Germans never landed. Their long range navigation system (LORAN) was connected to two other locations.
The top secret system allowed ships and aircraft to navigate without making radio contact and giving up their positions.
Elsa Lessard worked at HMCS Cloverdale, outside of Moncton New Brunswick, a signals intelligence station.
They intercepted encrypted radio signals sent in morse code and established bearings on German submarines. The information was quickly sent to England’s Bletchley Park, the United Kingdom’s covert operations centre where team leader, Alan Turing broke the German Enigma code.
It’s estimated that “listeners” like Lessard; from across the world shortened the war by two years, saving 250,000 lives.
Lastly, Jean Tackaberry was one of 15 Canadian WRENS working at Bletchley Park as a classifier. She and many others were issued commemorative medals inscribed; “We also served”. Indeed they did!
Dale Ferrel is a freelance writer based in Leduc, Alta.