Ida MacKay's holidays in England were almost at an end when she suddenly decided to cancel her trip home.
"(Because) it became obvious to her that England was preparing for war," Summerside author Katherine Dewar said.
The year was 1939. MacKay, originally from Mount Stewart, P.E.I., was a nurse and was travelling overseas in search of something different from her norm. So, when the Second World War began, she decided to enlist with a British unit.
Cancelling her ship booking turned out to be a good decision, Dewar said.
"It was sunk the first day war was declared."
MacKay is one of 19 P.E.I. women whose stories will be featured in Dewar's upcoming book We'll Meet Again: P.E.I. Women of the Second World War. While these are the stories Dewar was able to piece together, the book will also highlight at least 600 Island women who served for the nursing corps, army, navy and airforce at the time.
MacKay went on to serve for six years. She was one of over 300,000 evacuated off the beaches of Dunkirk and she narrowly survived the Action off Cape Bougaroun when the ship she was on was hit by a torpedo.
HONOURED BY CITY
• Summerside author Katherine Dewar was commended for her work – both in her prominent experience as a nursing instructor and as a historian – with the Frances O. Perry Good Neighbour of the Year Award during a Summerside committees meeting on Oct. 6.
• During the meeting, she spoke on the importance of Summerside's efforts in preserving its heritage.
• "Thank you very much for this award, and I hope you will continue to honour the heritage of Summerside and its buildings and its people. Because there is a very rich heritage here."
• Many city councillors congratulated Dewar and thanked her for her own contributions in preserving Summerside's heritage.
"And I hope you're not finished doing so," said Coun. Justin Doiron.
Dewar noted that P.E.I. was well-represented off the cape. There were four other nurses from the Island, and by the time MacKay had scaled the 65-foot scramble net up the side of the ship rescuing them, the SS Monterey, she heard a voice yell out.
"Is there anyone here from P.E.I.?" MacKay soon discovered it was a soldier named Daniel J. MacDonald, who'd go on to serve as the federal minister of veterans affairs.
Many of the P.E.I. women in the Second World War kept in touch and remained friends once they returned home, which is what inspired the name of Dewar's book. She feels stories like theirs need to be told.
She's the author of five books, one of which recounts P.E.I.'s nurses of the First World War. It was a little easier to piece that one together because First World War files became open to the public while she was doing her research, Dewar said.
"But the records for World War II are all sealed."
So, for this book, research consisted of everything from scouring newspaper clippings, cemetery records, and personal diaries to - for some veterans - in-person interviews.
"There's a lot of connecting the lines," she said. "You can sometimes track down people by just sitting at the phone."
It means she can't guarantee every woman who served will be included, but she's working as hard as she can and can still make revisions after her publisher, Island Studies Press, starts work on it next week. She welcomes anyone with information she may not have yet to reach out to her at: [email protected]
She expects We'll Meet Again to be released sometime in late 2021, and it very well may be her last book, she said.
"(But) every time I write a book, I say I'll never write another one again," she said, laughing. "So, we'll see."
Daniel Brown is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government.