DIL Interviews

Former Defence Industries Limited Employee and Ajax resident, Louise Johnson: 

What made you want to come to Ajax?

  • Louise had never heard about Defense Industries prior
  • Many other women left the West to for something related to the effort (either in the armed services or war industries)

How did you hear about the job at DIL?

  • At the age of 18, everyone was required to register with the government so that they could keep up to date with personal information (phone numbers, addresses)
  • This was also used in case conscription was necessary
  • Louise registered at the age of 18 and through this, received a telephone call from D.I.L personnel and Selective Service (Human Resources)
  • Alec Russell and Cec Robinson worked for D.I.L and were actively recruiting single women across the country
  • They went through a list of people registered with the government to find available women
  • They called Louise and invited her to come interview with Cease Robinson
  • During the interview, Robinson explained the importance of the job and the need for single women
  • In order for her to be accepted for the job and move to D.I.L, she had to pass a medical inspection and physical
  • She was also interviewed by the RCMP to check her background

Were there many ads for employment in war industries where you came from?

  • Louise suspects that that there were, and heard that many ads appeared in newspapers, however where she lived, in rural Saskatoon, the newspapers did not reach her.
  • Russell and Robinson conducted their search from Peace River, Alberta to Halifax, Nova Scotia

Was this your first experience working?

  • Louise was working at a Saskatoon hospital from the age of 16, as did many women
  • Women were also teachers and worked in domestic jobs

What was it like when you first arrived in Ajax?

  • The train from Saskatoon left at 5am, Louise boarded the train the night before
  • 3 passenger cars were filled with girls moving to DIL
  • She spent 3 nights and 2 days on the train
  • The girls were met by DIL personnel in Toronto
  • Louise described that the girls were never alone or felt uncomfortable
  • She said that they were never in limbo
  • They were taken to what was called ‘Pickering Works’
  • The girls were then taken to the single women’s residence, which she described as clean, comfortable and new
  • Room-mates were assigned to Louise because she did not know anyone else (as in the case with many girls)
  • Once they were settled, the girls were called together for a 3 day orientation
  • This is where they were assigned to their shifts, discussed the rules and dangers of working and the importance of their role and their work
  • The girls were also instructed to put money into Victory Bonds

What kind of pay did you receive?

  • Pay depended on the kind of work you did
  • Women generally received 42 cents per hour at 48 hours a week
  • Men generally received 74 cents per hour

What were the conditions like while you were working?

  • Louise described good conditions while working and in the factory
  • She described the conditions by also emphasizing the ‘complete community’ which made for good conditions
  • The factory was always clean (as were uniforms that were provided)

What were your supervisors like? How did they treat the workers?

  • There was a ‘floor lady’ in every room of the factory on every shift
  • She wore a different coloured bandana so that she was easily recognizable
  • She reported to the foreman that would supervise throughout the factory
  • She would make sure that supplies were ample
  • She would also be there to relieve or take over for women on break or women that were sick
  • Louise never had any run-ins with the management and says that workers were treated very well
  • People that worked in management came from other jobs in management (such as GM)
  • Managers understood that a happy work place was needed to produce shells and win the war

Were there many accidents or injuries?

  • Louise never encountered any accidents or injuries while she was working

How long were your shifts?

  • Shifts were 8 hours long
  • 8-4, 4-12, 12-8 (shifts)
  • Employees worked 6 days a week except Sundays and Christmas Day
  • If you were sick, you would still go into work where a nurse would decide if you should continue working, go home or go to the hospital
  • Louise recalled that one of her friends was sick with Tuberculosis and was sent home to Saskatoon
  • There was also a 3 month probation period: if you decided to leave within 3 months of your arrival, DIL would pay for your way home, or if they decided you weren’t fit for the job, they would pay your way home

What was the sense of community like?

  • Louise described a great sense of community
  • She remarked that, “We only had each other to rely on”
  • She recalls that employees played ball, went bowling and dancing
  • There were many activities for the workers to do
  • Louise described that, “We were all in it together”

If you could describe your experience in 3 words, what would they be?

  • “Exciting, Fulfilling, Satisfying” (because of how important the job was)
  • “If soldiers didn’t have shells, we’d be speaking German”
  • Working at DIL was a growing experience, Louise was able to gain and learn so much

What was the feeling when you had completed your work at the end of the war?

  • Louise had mixed feeling when the war was over
  • She said that she was happy that the war was over and there were no more shells to be filled, but she was also sad because the way of life and the sense of community she had experience for 4 years was coming to an end
  • There were also no more jobs for women as she was told by Selective Services

Was it easy to find work when you war was over?

  • There were no more jobs for women once the war was over
  • It took years for factories and manufacturing to re-convert from war industries
  • Veterans were also returning and needed jobs
  • Louise said that women wouldn’t want to take the jobs from the men that served the country

Did you/Do you keep in touch with any other women from DIL?

  • During her time at DIL, Louise met and married Russell Johnson, another employee at DIL
  • After the war, the couple continued to live in Ajax
  • Louise keeps in touch with another lady that worked at DIL who now lives in Vancouver City

If you could do it all again, would you?

  • Louise said that she does not regret choosing to work at DIL or her experiences
Female Factory Workers- Defence Industries Limited with Louise Johnson

Louise Johnson Interview- Courtesy of Global TV and the hit show, Bomb Girls

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