HMCS Donnacona members have memorable visit with veteran Wren

Navy News / December 30, 2020

by Sub-Lieutenant Simon Bullock, HMCS Donnacona

Two days before Remembrance Day, I received the most remarkable call.

"What the heck is going on for Remembrance Day this year?” said the woman on the line.

"Well, ma'am, due to the pandemic and public health measures, there will be no grand ceremonies, and citizens are encouraged to participate in the act of remembrance online,” I said.

"Well, that's a shame!"

"I completely agree and understand."

We talked for a bit longer and it became clear I wasn't speaking to just anybody, but a woman of distinct character and passion. I later found out her name was Vicky Lockwood-Drummond, a Second World War veteran of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS).

"You must not talk to a lot of 97-year-old ladies, do you?" she continued.

"No, ma'am."

"Well, I'm old and you're going to need to speak up and clearly for me."

"Aye, ma'am."

I collected her personal details, phone number and home address.

Immediately after the call, I burst into my colleague's office at Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Donnacona, the Naval Reserve Division in Montreal, to tell them about the remarkable lady I had just spoken with.

"We have to do something for this lady, a card, a coin, something!"

I set to work coordinating with the Naval Association of Canada (NAC) to validate her credentials, and reached out to Lieutenant (Navy) Anne-Marie Belisle for public affairs oversight and consultation, Non-Public Funds to procure a ship's coin, and my Command team to review the copy of the letter to be drafted.

A flurry of activity later, everything was nearly ready to go.

On Remembrance Day, I arrived at my office early in the morning to draft a letter on behalf of the Commanding Officer in Copperplate script.

A few hours later, having just finished the letter, Acting Sub Lieutenant (A/SLt) Cole Henry Forster and I traveled to Valleyfield, Que., in order to assist the Chief of Staff (Eastern Region) Commander Mathieu Leroux and our ship’s Coxswain, Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Pascal Rioux. A somber wreath laying followed, in which we paid our respects to fallen comrades, but also the memory of His Majesty’s Canadian Ship Valleyfield, a River-class frigate that was torpedoed and sunk in May 1944 during the Battle of the Atlantic.

Back at the Naval Reserve unit, I pursued my frenzied activity, making calls to A/SLt Forest to serve as the supporting Navy personnel, and Charles O'Leary from the NAC. Mr. O’Leary informed me that he would be joined by Anthony Colucci, also from the NAC. Some grand plans were hatched; however, I cautioned them lightly about turning this into anything too big as we didn't want to startle Ms. Lockwood-Drummond!

We arrived at Ms. Drummond’s address with time to spare in a tentative formation outside her door and paused for a moment. I knocked gently at first, then more firmly.

"Deborah, hold on, I have to get the door," I heard Ms. Lockwood-Drummond say.

The door creaked open.

"Deborah, I have to go! THE NAVY IS HERE!"

"I'm Sub-Lieutenant Simon Bullock, we spoke earlier this week on the phone. How are you?" I asked.

"Oh my goodness, this is just wonderful! The Navy came to visit me! This means so much to me, you don't even know."

We were cautious to ensure we kept our physical distance due to the pandemic and were careful to keep our masks on at all times.

It didn’t take her long before she launched into stories from her days in service. Her anecdotes were as full of life as she was, even in her advanced age.

Energy and vitality springing from every word, her eyes smiled and lit up as youthfully as the uniformed young lady framed on the shelf over her shoulder.

During our visit, we sang a tune or two popular during the war, and she recounted her favourite memories of her time in the WRCNS, in her own words below.

“Violet? You're not a violet, Violets are too nice; you're feisty.”

“The first woman joined the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service in October 1942; I joined on February 8, 1943. I tried to join on February 2, but due to me having lost an eye at eight years old, the recruiter deemed me unfit.

I said, what do you mean, I can't see!? I'm seeing you just fine right now.

Well, I was able to get the Admiral’s number and called him to explain the absurdity of me not being able to serve due to missing one eye. I see just fine!

Well, six days later I got a call back and the Admiral had told them to let me in. That's how I became known as Vicky; I was victorious.”

On burial and ceremony

Vicky went on to tell us about her burial plot in the Field of Heroes and how she wishes to have her family contact us when she dies to have us attend.

"Well I hope that isn't for quite some time," replied A/SLt Forest.

"Yes, I'm sure you can make it to 100," added Mr. Colucci.

"Oh God I hope not. Let's not drag this out; I've had a great run," replied Vicky.

"I really, really hope that the Navy could be present at my funeral, it would mean so much to me."

"As sad a day as that would be, it would be an honour. HMCS Donnacona will be there," I promised.

When Irish eyes are smiling

“You can't see it under this mask, but I’m smiling ear to ear,” said Vicky.

“Your eyes are smiling and say enough,” chimed in Mr. O’Leary.

“When Irish Eyes are smiling sure it's like a morn in spring,” he sang in a light playful tone.

Without pausing, Vicky had caught on and echoed back: “In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing.”

Our faces all lifted as Mr. O’Leary and Vicky harmonized the rest of the verse.

“When Irish hearts are happy all the world seems bright and gay.But when Irish eyes are smiling sure they'll steal your heart away."

All of our eyes were a-glow peaking over our masks, and I thought I saw a tear fill her eyes.

Throughout all of her stories, she always would end on the note of how incredibly important the Navy was to her and her family. How much she loved it.

We said our heartfelt goodbyes and left her with a handwritten card and ship's coin.

“Oh, I am just so pleased! This is the most wonderful day,” she said.

“I can't wait to call all my girlfriends and tell them that the Navy came to visit me! This is just the best. I have to call all of my family now and tell them. Thank you so, so much!”