"Ladies and Gentlemen, the cast of the Canadian Armed Forces Tattoo". The lights come up, the audience jumps to its feet clapping and cheering - the final standing ovation of a tour that has taken 1750 Canadian Service personnel across Canada. Its our final stadium show, September 9, 1967. For the 39 Servicewomen, 13 each from the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Air Force, and Canadian Womens Army Corps, it is our last performance. The next day we will pack up our belongings, say good-bye to each other and return to our duties on various bases across Canada.
In March we were gathered together, flown from bases across Canada to Ottawa to start our dance training at CFB Rockcliffe. Until the end of April we had full, physical days with gym, synchronized swimming, and Highland Dance training. Five days a week we worked, with our 3 dance instructors, and learned to dance to the pipe music of the Black Watch. After that, we were flown to Victoria, CFB Esquimalt, to put the show together and start our tour.
Canada turned 100 on July 1 that year, and the Canadian Armed Forces celebrated by showcasing Military presence in Canada through music and tableaux, from a French settlement in 1665, with a contingent of Carignan-Salieres, through history to UN Peacekeeping in the 1960's.
A FRENCH GARRISON 1665
The first appearance of women in the show was in the French Scene. Some of the women were dressed in period costumes, playing settlers wives, bartering with courier des bois, watching Natives play lacrosse, and generally mingling across the field. A fife and drum band played as the announcer read a letter from New France.
A BRITISH GARRISON 1782
The next scene, the Highland Scene showed Servicewomen dressed as farmers' and settlers' wives, and trollops listening to the pipes and drums, selling grog, then dancing in small formations, and a huge circle dance, until the evening gun called us back to the fort for the night. The scene was colourful and lively with the Black Watch Old Guard and pipe band on the field, and the teasing trollops generally enjoying themselves.
A LEGACY OF FREEDOM
Another scene where we appeared was a World War Scene. We were in the uniforms of our respective Services, in the pattern of World War II. It hit us all, at various times, that we were portraying a Wren, Air Force WD, or CWAC who served, and perhaps gave her life for Canada. A sobering, but proud moment in our young lives! These women went to war, that we current Servicewomen could enjoy our own Military experience in relative peace.
Some of the other scenes, that did not include us women, included HM Dockyard in 1911, with a gun race and sailors hornpipe, a fantasy with toy soldiers, some on toy horses, fighting for a piece of cake, and a peacekeeping reconnaissance patrol. There was lots of pageantry, lots of music, and lots of pride.
AND LIFE GOES ON
After the Tattoo, as we women went our separate ways, we promised to keep in touch, promised to get together in the future. Some of us took refresher courses, then took our place at our working bases. Some returned to pick up their trade where they had left off. The CWAC were Reserves, and returned to civilian life, and perhaps a parade night once or twice a week. Unfortunately, with postings and releases, marriages, and the ups and downs of Life, we scattered to the winds.
FAST FORWARD TO 2014
It is 47 years since those tearful good-byes. We are all classified as Senior Citizens now, and almost all of us are retired. One by one we are finding each other, and having "mini reunions" in various places. We are gathering in groups of 3 or more to have lunch, laugh and remember that amazing time! Now we are planning a Tattoo Sisters reunion in Ottawa this August. We have discovered 5 of our number have passed away, including our Petty Officer, Willie. We have found our Captain - she is 85, and in poor health, and cannot attend. At this point we are still looking for 6 of our members and hoping to find them soon, and convincing them to come to Ottawa! Those of us who will attend are getting out our photo albums and scrap books, and getting excited about the prospect of seeing each other again after all these years!
We've lost 5 of our number already, and this has to be done before we lose any more - we, sad to say, aren't getting any younger. We'll tell our old stories, laugh, cry, and simply renew and enjoy our old friendships. Perhaps we'll again hear Norma yelling "Yahoo Tattoo"! We may finally tell Chopper why she got that nickname! And why is Betty snoozing in the dressing room before a performance? (I have the picture!)
If you were a Tattoo Sister, get in touch. If you can't join us, do as Ma'am has promised, raise a glass to our wonderful summer.