G. William Streeter (Bill) has long had, not only a fascination with military history, but also has had a dedication and commitment to ensuring that the local histories of those who served in war times are maintained and remembered.
Few realize the key roles that women played during times of war, both at home and overseas on the frontlines but, when Streeter, Chair of the Saugeen Shores Heritage Committee, learned of two women who had served and whom he had known personally, he knew he had to find out more.
Streeter began his search into the lives of local women who had served, delving into military records and, more importantly, through tracing and contacting the families and descendants of the women.
What he found were the captivating stories of 19 local ‘Ladies in Uniform’ who had served in a wide variety of fields from nursing to radar technician to ambulance driver, cook and more.
In a moving commemorative ceremony on Saturday, September 4th (2021), that began with a colour-guard troop-in by both the Southampton Legion Branch 340 and Port Elgin Branch 155, a unique interpretive plaque dedicated to those local women of World War I and World War II was unveiled, showing the young women in uniform along with their histories.
Mayor Luke Charbonneau extolled the patriotic virtues of the women who served during wartime and compared them to the women of today. “The women saw a role for themselves, a purpose to go and try to win the war, try to solve the problem and make the world a better place. That made them heroes … they were then and are now. When you read this plaque it’s hard not to think about today and the world crises that we now face and the women in Ontario, our country and around the world who are doing heroic things to get us through these crises … I hope we don’t have to wait 100 hundred years to recognize the women who are doing the work today through this pandemic and that we work faster to recognize their heroism.”
Streeter then presented a brief history, that he had researched, of each of the 19 women featured on the plaque to the crowd of approximately 100 people, that included family members and descendants of the women. Many of the descendants are still within the area and the names are familiar to many … Cobean, Matheson, Root, Masterson, Longe and Eidt among others.
One special veteran who attended the ceremony was Vivian Winnifred Wotton (nee Sees) with her daughter, Rexanne Barrett and grandson, Chris.
Both Vivian and her older sister Kathleen Thelma enlisted in 1942 and 1943 respectively. Thelma born in Port Elgin in 1921, enlisted in the RCAF in 1942 and was not discharged until 1946. Following the death of her husband, she returned to Port Elgin where she died in 1988.
Vivian Winnifred (Sees) was born on September 23, 1923, enlisted on April 23, 1943, in London at age 19. Following training, she was assigned to the Radar Central. Control Command Centre in Victoria, one of 11 radar coastal station that monitored all air traffic on the western shore. It was here that they would plot and follow aircraft movement on a large tabletop map. This work was of a highly secretive nature and was under the Official Secrets Act that was not cancelled until 1991 and Vivian is still reticent to talk about it.
Another local woman was Helen Margaret Root, who was born in Saugeen First Nation in 1920 and whose father Joseph had served in World War I. In 1941, she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps (CWACs) and was sent to England where she served as a signaller relaying coded messages. She was known for her smile and the family lore is that, women had to be five feet to enlist, and the only reason Helen was accepted was “because she charmed the enlisting officer with her smile”. In England, she worked in a building in Trafalgar Square that saw regular bombings. After the war, she married and raised a family returning to Saugeen First Nation where she stayed in the Elder Lodge until her family took her back to Burlington where she died in March (2019) at the age of 98. She remained extremely patriotic her entire life and maintained her military friendships.
Several descendants of Helen Root attended the ceremony, some travelling from Caledonia.
The plaque now stands at the main entrance to the Saugeen Shores Administration building (Plex) and the public is invited to read the fascinating histories of these incredible women.