At this time, I think of one particular woman who was both friend and fellow teacher. Although we need to acknowledge the truly tragic stories from the wars, some who enlisted were changed by other military experiences, too. This is an excerpt from my book Sharing the Good Times: A History of Prairie Women’s Joys and Pleasures.
Dunny Hanna nee Robertson. was hurried and pressured into enlisting during the Second World War because the military wanted women like her. Her family had a long history in the west. One of three children, Peggy was the eldest. Dunny [Eunice] was born in 1921, and Bill was the youngest. The children’s early life was comfortable. Both parents loved to read, so there were always books in the house. Dunny loved books and math, and she achieved university entrance requirements, but given circumstances in the 1930s, going to normal school was more practical. To teach young students, she needed geography and art, so returned picked up those requirements, as well as business courses before even starting Normal School.
Academically inclined and loving books, Dunny did not particularly enjoy all program, which emphasized art, hand work, physical education and social studies activities for young students. Then, during her first years as a country teacher, she experienced the warmth and kindness of the family where she boarded. She earned $780 a year, and there were funny moments. A reoccurring one was when the skunk who lived under the school sprayed every time music class disrupted its quiet home.
At the declaration of war, Dunny’s sister, Peggy, became the second woman to enlist in the Canadian Women’s Army Corp Municipal District 13 (mostly in Alberta). Having learned to drive at home, at about 25, she became the driver for a Calgary brigadier general. Eventually, Peggy was appointed head of the army’s driving program at Red Deer, Alberta, and there, she trained women to drive trucks, ambulances and convoys.
Peggy thought her younger sister should join the army, too. She, the next door neighbour and the brigadier general all believed that Dunny was the kind of woman the army needed. As a teacher, she had the background to be a training officer and recruiter, both of which were desperately needed.
At the end of her second year of teaching, Dunny was looking forward to her summer holiday. She intended to relax and consider a new teaching post that she had been offered. When she returned to Calgary, she discovered that the next-door neighbour and friend, who was in the army, had booked an appointment for Dunny, just to see if she would pass the physical. Dutifully, Dunny went to the appointment, and before she knew what had happened, she was in the army, but after the fact, she was able to laugh at the purposefully hurried and somewhat deceptive process.
She received her training at St. Anne de Belleview in Quebec, and then she became an instructor at the Vermillion, Alberta, CWAC training camp. Following those two years, she had other duties elsewhere. One was as messing officer in charge of food for female troops at Toronto. Though many women were well-informed about food and enjoyed cooking, Dunny was not one of them. In addition, she never knew how many would attend meals, and once, she spent entire budget for the month and still had a week of meals yet to provide.
Peggy Robertson (left) & Dunny [Eunice] Robertson Hanna (right) Photo Credit: The image was a gift to F. Holt from Dunny
Having enlisted did allow her to see something of the world. She was posted to England just when Germany surrendered. Since it the fighting had ended, being overseas meant good times for her. Finally, when being sent home, she spent three to four months in New York.
In the army, she learned that people were all so different, and each must be accepted and valued for who he or she was. As part of the demilitarization program, the army would pay her tuition to a post-secondary institution. For Dunny, her university years would bring some of the great joys of her life.
She left the army in 1946 and enrolled at university so she could teach older students, she wanted to specialize in math and English. Once again circumstances and other people dictated the combination wasn’t practical. Over the next two years and two summers, at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, she fulfilled the requirements for her Bachelor of Education, and she became qualified to teach grades one to twelve.
After her B.Ed., Dunny taught grade nine, and then she returned to university for post graduate work. In the early 50s, she began a Master of Arts degree, specializing in English, and she completed a thesis comparing the children’s literature of the 1700s and 1800s. “There were six or seven of us taking a Masters in English, but I was the only woman.” Once again, her education was funded as a result of her service in the army. “I received my fees and $50 a month for board, and I bought my own books….and courses were most rewarding” but also, she lectured for freshman English.
With her marriage, Dunny moved back to Calgary. Before her children arrived, she lectured at what was then the Calgary campus of the U. of A. Some years later, she returned to teaching, this time at the high school level, and her love for books never left her.