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Vy Connolly poses for a propaganda photo at her factory in Hamilton, Ontario, during the war.
(Courtesy of The Memory Project/Iolanda Connolly)
"We found out that yes, the ship had indeed gone down and there was 128 men missing."
Well, during World War II, I wasn’t married at the time, at the beginning of the war. I was married in 1941 to my husband, William Connolly, and we both knew that eventually, he would be going to war because there was conscription if the boys didn’t volunteer. So he fully realized that and he joined the navy. And we also knew that he wouldn’t be here very long before he left for overseas. They did send him to Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, for his training as a signalman. He had no choice as to what he wanted to be, that’s what they told him he was going to be. And so he was there about two or three months and he came home on leave and said that he was going to be drafted to Halifax.
He was assigned to the [HMCS] Athabaskan. And that was, I would say, that’s 1943, 1942 [or] 43. It was on April the 29th, 1944. They were in a battle with, oh, quite a few German ships they encountered. And the [HMCS] Haida was with them. And they took two torpedoes. It was announced on the radio and I went to church that, it was on a Saturday night and I went to church on Sunday morning and when I came back - I was living with my in-laws - my mother-in-law said to me, you have a phone call from a Mrs. Hayes. And I says, oh yes, I said, her son is onboard the ship and he’s also in communications and Bill met him onboard the ship.
So I said, oh, I’ll phone her right away. So I phoned her and she said, Mrs. Connolly, she said, have you heard from your husband lately? And I said, well, I had a letter last week. She says, no, I mean, later than that. I says, well, you know, I don’t get much mail, that was just a week ago. So she says, Mrs. Connolly, the ship went down last night. Well, needless to say, I just collapsed in my mother-in-law’s arms, I just, I couldn’t answer her anymore. And so the next day, we found out that yes, the ship had indeed gone down and there was 128 men missing. And they didn’t know anything more than that. So after that, we heard that 47 of the boys were picked up by the Haida and Bill Hayes was one of them. He was a lucky one. Nothing was said about my husband or that chap that you saw in the picture in the frame.
We were told that we would be hearing from the government. Well, I did eventually get a notice that he was missing at sea. And no one else got anything any different, they were all missing until they could find out where they’d gone to. A little while later, we found out that there was 85 - the Germans admitted that they had 85, picked up 85 of the boys but they weren’t ready to release their names. And they didn’t for three whole months. And all them 128 families were hoping that one of those 85 belonged to them. So it was three months later when the Red Cross finally got through to them and said they were obligated according to the Geneva Convention to give the names of the prisoners that they had. The Red Cross provided all those prisoners with a pre-printed card and it said only on it, I am a prisoner of war and there was a little square there where you can tick it off, and then, I am injured and a little square where you can tick it off. Well, he just ticked that off, a prisoner of war and then he signed his signature on there. We knew it was his signature, couldn’t have been anybody else’s. So that’s how we found out that he was a prisoner of war. But three months we waited; all those people. So the other people of course who didn’t, whose loved one wasn’t there received a notice that missing, presumed dead.
Well, do you know, alongside the ads in the paper, asking for women to come in, there was this one line there that got to me and it said, the sooner we get this war work done, the sooner our boys would come back. And that did it for me; I quit my job as a telephone operator and went directly to the Norman Slater company, which was almost across the road from where I lived, just about five blocks. And so that’s what motivated me was that one little item saying, the sooner we get our war work done, the sooner our boys will be back.
Actually, I didn’t mind it at all. Mind you, it was tough on the hands sometimes but I went on other jobs from there. In the Sawyer Massey company, when they found out that my husband was in the navy, - and he wasn’t a prisoner of war at the time when I went there - they had a lot of women there but none of them had a husband in the navy. And we were doing navy work in that particular company. So with that, they came to me, the president came to me one day and he said, we would like your permission to put your picture on the front cover of our very first magazine. And I said, oh, we can’t do that, I said, you know, all these women are the same as me. And I said, they’re my friends. And he says, well, we went to them first and we told them that she was the only one that has a husband in the navy and he’s overseas. And you ladies may have husbands in the army or whatever, he says, but we’re working on navy work. So they said, go ahead, put her on the cover.
And they were pictured as well on the inside of the magazine. So that’s how I got on the cover of the magazine. And then the next thing I know, I was in a parade in downtown Hamilton and they told me to go and get my - I had a dress that looked like a navy uniform - and go and get, go home and get dressed up in that outfit and we’re going to put you on a, a big truck with a gun on it. And it was a real gun. And we’re going to be in a parade. And that was to sell war bonds. Yeah, it wasn’t, I didn’t mind it at all and the fact that I was singing at all the military bases kept me really busy. I mean, one would hear about it and then the next one would say, well, when can you come and sing for us.
I wasn’t a trained singer. I just knew all the popular songs and they were mostly love songs, you know, all during the war. They were beautiful songs. And my husband and I had, well, one of our favourites was “My Prayer”. My Prayer is to linger with you at the end of the day in a dream so divine. But anyway, it was a beautiful number ….
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