Remembrance Day is first and foremost, a day for honouring the service of those in the armed forces.
A local Victoria veteran turned naval historian has spent more than a decade doing just that, ensuring the story of one particular arm of the navy is preserved, lest we forget.
Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS nicknamed ‘Wrens’) was established on July 31, 1942 amid the chaos and destruction of the Second World War. It was the navy branch of the women’s service, with separate organizations established for the army and the air force, which had preceded it in 1941. More than 6,700 women volunteered for the service. The WRCNS was separate from the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and disbanded on Aug. 31, 1946.
Lt.-Cmdr. Dave Freeman was a longtime navy service member, coming from a navy family where his dad, uncle, cousins and other relatives also served in the armed forces. Freeman served with a number of former Wrens during his time in the navy, and during his time kept notes about and from people he met during his service.
In later years he handed those off to Mary Grant, who was working on compiling records about the Wrens into a collected history. Grant died 11-and-a-half years ago and Freeman was asked if he would continue her work.
“Someone approached me with the project and said, ‘Oh it’ll just take you three weeks.’ Now it’s been 11-and-a-half years.”
Freeman got to work, scouring for available records and visiting every naval museum in the country, which often turned up little in the way of results.
“Often naval histories won’t even mention the Wrens, or they’ll get one line, which chokes me right up.”
The best sources of information often came from the Wrens themselves. Reunions were particularly good sources of information, with a high proportion of former Wrens returning for the events for years after they’d left the service.
“I think it’s because of the comradeship that they developed with other (people) that were in the service. They formed bonds and those bonds lasted for years – right up until their deaths. That’s what many of them said, they had such an interesting time and they had made such great friends. They shared some great experiences. They just stayed in contact.”
All the information Freeman has accumulated over the years is being compiled into two volumes, one acting as an index of all the Wrens for which he has been able to confirm names and service numbers, and another volume focused on the stories of those Wrens he’s been able to speak with or gather more information from.
“Once I put it to bed and publish it, hopefully, that will be the end of it. However, my experience – having published two other books – is that there will probably have to be a supplemental. Because somebody always finds something that you haven’t found before that somebody is holding on to her mother’s stuff and didn’t know what to do with it.”