Interview 2: Oz
aged - 97
"With a picture of her in her uniform before us Oz tells me of her wartime experience. Born and brought up in Canada she was the 8th woman to volunteer for active service in Montreal in 1941. Her regimental number was therefore 40008. She was 21yrs old.
I ask her: “Why did you want to join up when it wasn’t compulsory for Canadians to do so?”
“Well we were hearing about it and I was reading about the war in the papers everyday…”
Oz joined the WAC (Women’s Army Core). Her uniform shows the Canadian Army’s insignia and buttons.
“We were the first people to sail on the Queen Elizabeth, on its first trip, it was used to carry troupes before it became a cruise ship. It took 3 days to get to Britain (the journey had been taking people 5 days); whilst we were en route the radio announced we’d sunk, obviously we hadn’t. There were 11,000 men and only 10 women…
…I’d been secretary to a Colonel in Montreal before I left and I had a secretarial role in London but we all had other duties, one of mine was to stand, at night, on the roof of the building where we worked and catch incendiary bombs as they fell, putting them into buckets of water to put them out…
…I remember walking through glass on the way to work. Otherwise in the blackout you had to feel your way along the walls of the various streets, to find your way home. We were in digs near Mayfair, there were some lovely houses in the area and many were just deserted. I remember we used to creep in and have a look around sometimes…”
Imagery showing details of the
Canadian Women's army corp
Oz became an avid dressmaker after the war. She show's me images of herself wearing her own creations.
“I loved this outfit,” she says showing me a photo of herself sitting at a table wearing an elegant dress and short jacket ensemble both made of the same satin fabric with Asian buttons and a tiny flower embroidered pattern.
Another image shows her wearing a beautiful, movie star styled, white dress with a belted waist and an embroidered bodice.
She has other photos too, taken at social events she attended during the time she was married to her first husband. “He was a diplomat. We lived in South Africa and Singapore. We were socialising every night” she tells me “we had a certain circle of friends who’d attend every event.”
I’m particularly struck by two black and white images in which Oz is to be seen at a party on a boat. “What are you wearing there?” I ask “It looks like a very glamorous long jacket.” To my great surprise she goes to her wardrobe and gets out the satin evening coat for me to see, she’s kept it carefully for over 60 years. It’s made of a beautiful Chinese pale pink satin fabric with a pattern of embroidered circling dragons and I ask her to model it for me.
Oz had 2 daughters with her first husband but eventually left him and their life abroad. It was in Singapore, however, that she’d met the man who was to become her second husband. He was a British Admiral and they lived together in London.
After she was widowed she worked in Fortnum’s perfume department. “I still made many of my own clothes and my daughters dresses,” she tells me. “Fortnum’s had lovely fabric. I got the fabric for my wedding dress to my third husband there.” He was the Registrar of Sutton's Hospital. Again she has a photo to hand, a head shot of herself in a dark coloured dress with a beautifully embroidered neckline.
As an accomplished seamstress Oz has promised to help me to make my Danny house collection, with advice regarding smocking for example; I don’t know how paper will take to that technique but I’m keen to try it out. “It’s only my eyes now that limit me,” she says.
We ran out of time today for me to talk to her partner Morgan as well but are re-arranging that."
- Stephanie Smart