||Rose M. "Rosina" |
||1 Jun 1919
||Rose M. "Rosina" Guyon |
|Eby ID Number
||26 Nov 2023 |
- At 100, Waterloo 'bomb girl' recalls wartime London and how she met her husband
Rosina Guyon, who moved to Canada in 1966, worked in a London munitions factory during the Second World War.
by Valerie Hill Waterloo Region Record
WATERLOO - The phone rings and Rosina Guyon smiles as she realizes the person on the other end of the line is her sister Rita, calling from England.
"Is this my special day?" Rosina asks of her sister. "How old am I, 400? I lost track."
Well, not quite 400, but at 100 years of age, her longevity is impressive \emdash especially considering Rosina was not expected to survive much past her mid-50s following a major heart attack. Then there is her diabetes, the result of several years of imbibing in junk food, particularly hard candies. And there are her pulmonary issues, which means she relies on a portable oxygen tank.
Rosina's 100th birthday was on Saturday, and The Record was invited in just prior to her centennial celebrations at her home in The Village, at University Gates long-term care facility in Waterloo.
Her daughter, Linda Vande Kolk, travelled from her home in Wisconsin for this special occasion and pondered the irony of her healthy father dying following unexpected heart attacks and strokes at age 67, while her mother still ticks along at 100 with all of her health issues.
"We joke that Dad is saying, 'What are you doing, you silly cow, get up here.'"
Rosina was all smiles being the centre of attention. Although age hasn't taken the edge off her wit, it has poked several holes in her memory, which made it difficult to tease out all of those rich stories of working in wartime London in a munitions factory. She was part of a contingent of young women known as "bomb girls" who worked in the factories while men served in the military.
She admits that the details of that time have faded, but what she does remember is being given a choice of jobs.
"I trained as a welder, I burnt myself so many times," Rosina said, recalling coming home at the end of a shift and finding pinhole burn marks on her clothing.
She also remembers being an "eager beaver," ready to learn a new skill and to feel like she was genuinely helping shorten the war by building bombs. She said she could have been assigned to weld "little fiddling things."
But she wanted to build bombs, and it would be bombs that eventually ended the Second World War. The work was dirty and dangerous, and factories were often targets for the Luftwaffe.
Rosina was born and raised in London, the daughter of an Irish-English mother and an Italian restaurant owner. Ruocco's was a small café-style eatery where Rosina worked after having to quit school at age 14.
She has told stories about being a girl in London and sneaking off to the gates of Kensington Palace, where she occasionally caught a glimpse of "the little girls" playing on the grounds. Of course, those little girls would have been Queen Elizabeth and her sister Margaret when they were children.
When Rosina was just a toddler with eight older siblings, her mother died after falling down some stairs while pregnant. Her father needed a new wife and sent for one in Italy. They married and proceeded to have five children. Rosina and her siblings didn't speak Italian, while their new stepmother didn't speak English.
Rosina said she liked growing up in such a big family. There was always some action, and someone was always available to go to the movies, theatre or dances. Then she met Jim in Ruocco's.
"He would come in with his pals. I gave them all a turn," she said, meaning there was a bit of flirting back and forth. In the end, she chose Jim.
The couple married in 1941 and Jim went off to serve in the Royal Air Force, returning after the war. Linda, an only child, was born soon after, and when she met a young engineer eager to move to Canada, the entire family followed: first Linda, then her parents in 1966. Their first stop was Toronto, but they later moved to Waterloo.
Jim was an electrician, while Rosina often worked part-time in restaurants.
Theirs was a very traditional marriage, with Jim making all of the decisions, Linda said. After he died, the responsibility transferred to Rosina, and Linda said something of a transformation took place.
"She came out of her shell," Linda said of her mother.
Today, at 100, Rosina in not afraid to speak up, and her sense of humour peeks through regularly.
As she speaks to her sister on the phone, Rosina says there are two men in the room (a family friend and a Record photographer).
"What am I doing with two men in my room? Nothing at the moment," she said. "Who are they? Who knows."
Hill, V. (2019). At 100, Waterloo 'bomb girl' recalls wartime London and how she met her husband. KitchenerPost.ca. Retrieved 3 June 2019, from https://www.kitchenerpost.ca/news-story/9404187-at-100-waterloo-bomb-girl-recalls-wartime-london-and-how-she-met-her-husband/