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This article first appeared in the November 10, 2010 issue of the The Low Down to Hull and Back News.External Link Reprinted with permission. Search complete list of Low Down Articles.

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Chelsea teen of first to be recruited to war

She may have been one of the few women from Chelsea who went to war, but that fact didn't intimidate Marian Anderson.

The 18-year-old, who was Marian Milks at the time, was eager to set sail for London, England. It was the Second World War and the first time the Canadian military recruited women to join its ranks. Milks was one of thousands who enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force Women's Division.

"We were treated very well," she says. "I was one of the top people, so I had no problems that way."

POSTED IN LONDON

While posted in London, Milks' duties included secretarial work, bookkeeping and informing families of casualties by telegraph wire. It was a position she worked hard to land, but co-workers in Ottawa had requested her posting overseas.

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Harky Milks stands before an exhibit at the Chelsea Library dedicated to his sister Marian (Anderson) Milks. Photo courtesy Allan Richens.

"I guess they couldn't do without me," the now 87-year old Anderson jokes from her Dutton, Ont., home. Milks saw her name change when she married William Anderson in England in April, 1943.

The Chelsea native was the oldest of 15 children in the Milks family. Growing up, she went to an elementary school on Mill Road and later a high school at St. Stephen's in Old Chelsea. She had to share her textbooks and a desk with her brother, but made the most of it and says she was at the top of her class.

At 17, she enrolled in an Ottawa business college and soon went to work for the air force headquarters nearby. The move to the RCAF Women's Division was easy.

SEE THE WORLD

"I thought I could see some of the world," Anderson reclls.

With just a purse and suitcase, the young teen boarded ship and headed to London. Despite the excitement of living overseas, war soon became a reality. She grew accustomed to the sirens warning of enemy planes and the bombings that followed.

This reality eventually hit closer to home. After almost a year in London, Milks walked into her office to find a casualty notice sitting on her desk. It was for her brother, Erle. The RCAF flight sergeant's plane had been shot down.

"I had to notify my parents," she said. "That was terrible."

When the war ended, Milks returned to Canada and continued to work for the RCAF another year.

She still looks back on her time in Chelsea when she swam in the Gatineau River, walked and delivered mail with one of her brothers for a humble price.

SOMETIMES APPLES

"Sometimes we got a quarter and we had to split that, and sometimes we got apples and a piece of chocolate cake," she says.

Long before she embarked on her trip overseas, she stayed busy with church activities and hockey games. "Chelsea was a pretty good little town," she says.

You can read more about Marian (Milks) Anderson, at the Chelsea Library. Gatineau Valley Historical Society member Allan Richens has written a biography with additional photos, and it's available for viewing until Nov. 15.