Home > (VADs) > Kay Ruddick Red Cross Escort Officer Overseas > Page 2
| Click image for larger view. EOs Pat Ridout and Helen Drope on board the Lady Rodney en route from Southampton to Halfiax, November 5-14, 1946. Photo courtesy of Leah Halsall.
| Click image for larger view. Escort Officers stayed at 80 Brooke Street in the Ritzy Mayfair District of London.
| Click image for larger view. E/O Helen Black, E/O Leah Halshall, Capt. LeBlanc of the Lady Rodney, E/O Esther Whittaker on board the Lady Rodney enroute from Southampton to Halifax, July 1946. Photo courtesy of Leah Halsall.
February 28, 1946:
Left Moncton at 3.30 pm. Went to Halifax on a special car 302, Maritime Express. 19 girls when Mardy Holder and I boarded, 22 of us when we arrived in Halifax. Met there by Mrs. Evans and luggage and group taken right to the dock and walked up the gangplank. What a thrill!
"Thrill", "thrilled" and "thrilling" are words that appear quite frequently in Kay's diary, and no wonder! For a small-town girl from Moncton, New Brunswick, post-war England and Europe must have seemed like a dream come true. As she neared Southampton Harbour 10 days later, Kay described the scene before her:
March 10, 1946
One of the most thrilling days of my life! Got up at 6:45 and out on deck at 7 and watched the ship coming into Southampton harbour.... Disembarked at 11. Went to the station in an army lorry and saw quite a bit of bomb destruction. Did we ever laugh when we first saw a train and heard it whistle at the dock. Mardy, Mary, Rose-Mary, Marg, Roy and I had a compartment to London. I never saw so many smoke stacks in my life! Roy pointed Big Ben and Scotland Yard out to us as were coming in. Saw the Queen Mary and Elizabeth in the dock at Southampton. Red Cross met us at the station... Very thrilling to think I am in England!
Any misconceptions Kay might have had about life as an Escort Officer were soon lost when she arrived at the Corps Headquarters at 80 Brooke Street in the Mayfair district of London. After settling in, Kay went straight to work and over the next nine months, when she wasn't making hundreds of beds or feeding war brides and their children, she made 15 trans-Atlantic crossings on brides' ships with names like Scythia, Lady Nelson, Lady Rodney, Aquitania, Letitia or the luxurious Queen Mary. On an ordinary day aboard the bride ships, escort officers would do cabin rounds, take care of minor medical problems,
organize baby feedings and day care, hand out medications and bandages, and deliver tea and crackers to seasick war brides. If many dependents were sick, or if the seas were rough, it was not unusual for the escort officers to be on call 24-hours a day. Working on board the brides' ships was not only physically exhausting, it could be a dangerous experience. More than once, Kay and her the other Escort Officers found themselves wishing for land in the midst of a trans-Atlantic crossing.
On August 28, 1946, Kay wrote of a horrifying experience on board the Queen Mary:
Terrific sea: around midnight wave hit the ship and was so huge, splashed in the portholes on top deck and hit the bridge, down the gangway into the Captain's cabin....electrical equipment put out of commission and ship stopped for two hours, bobbing like a cork...brides, babies (1000 brides and 1000 babies on board) ship's crew all sick all over the place.! Men, civilians and other passengers, turned to, to help us look after the babies. By morning the seas had calmed down and the "cleanup" started...wet mattresses galore, not to mention gallons of javex used to clean the cabins and decks.
Luxury liners such as the Queen Mary attracted not only hundreds of war brides, but some very important people (VIPs) whom the Escort Officers were often invited to meet. During the course of Kay's travels on war bride ships, she was personally introduced to Field Marshall Alexander of Tunis, Canada's incoming Governor General. Kay took care of the Governor General's children while they were on board and for many years after he regularly sent Kay Christmas cards with pictures of his growing family. In this notation from her diary, Kay recalls a conversation with the Governor General about one of his children, Brian, who had become attached to her:
April 9, 1946
At supper time I was extended an invitation to Governor General Alexander's cabin. Thrilled beyond words. Both Alex and his Lady told me the tantrum Brian went into for not taking him with me yesterday afternoon. Both said they really meant it and insisted if I ever came to Ottawa I was to let them know.
In addition to the Governor General, Kay met the future Canadian Prime Minister, Lester Pearson, who invited Kay to numerous events in Ottawa for years after. She also met Prime Minister MacKenzie King, who was on his way back to Canada from the Paris Conference. As fate would have it, Kay was invited to join in an official photograph with the Prime Minister, a photograph which she cherishes to this day.
It just so happens that on that particular crossing, with 1,837 brides and children on board, Prime Minister MacKenzie King addressed the brides. Kay's diary contains the original press release produced by the Queen Mary's public relations office, in which the Prime Minster's speech was described as follows:...
Click for next page