My name is Mary Duchesnay. I was born in Québec City in 1920.
In 1939 I passed the civil servants examination for bilingual shorthand and typing, and stayed home to help my mother. Then I was called by National Defence – the naval control in Québec City – and I started to work there, thinking I’d be a stenographer, but no, they immediately taught me to code and de-code messages. After a few months there, we were called – all civil personnel – to join the Wrens if we wanted to and have a chance to continue that work, which pleased me very much. It was so unusual.
I joined the Wrens in June 1943, and went to Gault – which is called Cambridge now – in Ontario, and after a month’s training I was sent to HMCS St. Hyacinthe to the first school in coding and de-coding in the commonwealth. We were twenty-three girls, and we all passed.
I did that work for the duration of the war and even afterwards. But if I joined, it was not only because we felt there was a terrible thing going on. And my brother, who was not even seventeen, had enlisted in 1939, so he was already in. And I’m the daughter of a man… my dad, who joined the Canadian Army – the Princess Patricia’s – in 1914, and so we are kind of involved when we think people are in danger.
I learned to better my English writing and speaking in the navy and also made wonderful friends. It was a great experience.
We honor you, Mary Duchesnay.