Recently, our Museum received a wonderful donation that honours Barbara Parlby, LAW, RCAF from 1955 – 1959. Along with the donation of her uniform pieces, came her story. Today is Barbara’s birthday and I think it appropriate that we celebrate her special day with the sharing of this story:
” Barbara was born on July 9, 1936 and grew up in Victoria, BC. She was the oldest of 7 siblings. Barbara enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force February 12, 1955 at the age of 19 years.
Barbara was sent to St. John, Quebec for basic training, where she contracted measles, which delayed her graduation by a few weeks. She was then posted to Camp Borden for temporary duty before being assigned to Alymer, ON for her Clerk Admin Course.
After a quick week back home to visit her family, she was given her first posting, Goose Bay Labrador in December of 1955. She was issued a pair of Flight boots and a Parka as she boarded the aircraft. Her first image of her new home was Cold and Snow up to the roofs – all a bit of shock for a Vancouver Island girl. She recalls hearing the ice cracking in the bay. On a positive note, she had her very own room for the first time in her life.
After about 8 months in the north, Barbara was next posted to 2 (F) Wing Grostenquin, France, in September ’56. The journey getting there was an adventure in itself – First, she was flown from Goose Bay to Lachine, Quebec, then a bus to Quebec City where she had a day or so to explore the beautiful city before boarding the RMS Scythia of the Cunard Line. (RMS Scythia was a Cunard liner. She sailed on her maiden voyage in 1921 and became a troop and supply ship during the Second World War). It was a military sailing this time as well. On the first day out to sea, everyone was seasick. Barbara remembers looking out her cabin port hole and seeing the waves rolling over it; she shared with 3 other airwomen. It was a four day voyage from Quebec City to Le Havre, France. They stayed in Le Havre overnight, and a group of them was so excited to get off the ship and out and about to tour the area; for almost everyone, it was their first day out of Canada – ‘Overseas’.
From Le Havre, they traveled by bus and train to reach their new Base 2 (F) Wing Grostenquin. When they arrived they were all in a bit of shock – the huts were tin shacks and the heating and water pipes were elevated up in the air.
Life quickly became a routine and Barbara took advantage of her new posting. There were plenty of activities to keep everyone busy in their spare time; they played baseball, basketball, broom ball, and even bowling. Inter-Base sports tournaments were set up between 1 (F), 3 (F), and 4 (F) Wings as well. Entertainment was also provided to the personnel at the Base – Musical groups and even the Harlem Globetrotters. The Air Women were cautioned and discouraged about travelling on their own so the Base would set up tours around Europe.
Barbara took full advantage whenever she could. She toured through Italy, spent New Year’s Eve in Interlaken Switzerland, and went to Belgium for the ’58 World’s Fair among other trips.
One trip she did take on her own, with permission, was to England. She was able to meet and attend the wedding of her childhood Pen Pal (the Vancouver Sun, in 1944, had posted a notice looking for Pen Pals for children from Britain – Barb responded and it became a lifelong friendship). Barbara was also able to meet and connect with an uncle and some cousins.
Barbara’s position at 2 (F) Wing was DRO to Mailroom then Records. She would often type up wills for young service men as well as copying records in the hospital. After a horrific plane crash into the hospital, where two were killed in the maternity ward, Barbara was sent to the hospital to assist with the records and roll call. She was released shortly after the accident in 1959.
Barbara returned home and in a short year later was married and beginning her own family.
Barbara instigated and organized the very first 2 (F) Wing Grostenquin Reunion in Victoria, BC in 1994. There were about 300 ‘ 2 Wingers ‘ and spouses who attended. She organized a few more in Victoria (1997 and 2006) before others took over and organized them in various cities across the country. They even expanded to have ‘ brat ‘ reunions. (Brats – Adults who were born or grew up in bases overseas)
Many great friendships were made during her time in the Air Force and they still remain today. Some of her fondest and greatest memories were of her time in France.
Years later, Barbara was able to travel with her daughter and revisit many of the places she saw as a young Airwoman which inspired her daughter with the ‘ travel bug ‘ ”
Special thanks to Barbara’s daughter for the photos of her Mom and to both for ensuring the donation arrived safely so that we could share the photos of part of the donation below, along with the story! Your gift is appreciated and valued!