“A few weeks shy of 100th birthday, Rose Jacobson can still rattle off her name, among other things, in Morse code.
It’s not something she’s used regularly of late, but during the Second World War, she served in the Canadian military, training pilots in Morse and other codes such as Aldis, or signal, lamps or flags. She had already picked up Morse code skills when she was younger from the telegraph at the railway station where her brother worked.
“I used to play around with it,” she says.
Born Rose Holdway, she grew up in the Montreal area and was working for Sun Life in the city when the call went out for women to join the forces. Already, she’d been affected by the war having been engaged to a Scottish pilot who died in action.
The initial reaction to women in the army was a bit awkward, and some, she says, though it was a bit of a joke. Over time though, she and her peers earned the respect for their work to support the war effort.
“I joined up as soon as they began to take women in the military,” she says. “It was getting to the point where they were running out of men.’
Her tenure in the military, from 1942 to the end of the war in 1945, started with boot camp, which she didn’t mind because she liked having the day regimented, and this was followed by six months of training in coding in Montreal.
From there, she was sent to Claresholm, Alta., made her way back east, then back to Alberta, where she spent much of the war training pilots, particularly those from Australia and New Zealand, who were to be stationed on the East Coast. Typically, they’d come for a few months to learn about signals.
“I didn’t choose to be an instructor, they chose me,” she says.
She recalls those days fondly where she got to train all the handsome young pilots.
“The interesting part was to watch them all get their wings,” she says.
The importance of the training was to give them a way to contact the ground in the event their navigators were shot. Being able to use lamp signals, for example, would help them get the information they needed to come to a safe landing.
Even though it was war, she does recall some many fond memories.
“I just loved the dances,” she says.
While she was told she could apply as an officer because of her education, she chose to stay among the enlisted, becoming a corporal.
When the news came that the war was over, everyone was happy to be going back to their normal lives. In 2001, she took part in an RCAF 60th anniversary reunion in Edmonton and managed to stay in touch with one of her friends over many years.
In the waning days of the war, she married a military man, Edwin Christoper “Jake” Jacobson, whom she had met from her military experience.
“He had joined up before the war,” she says. “Then he stayed after the war.”
The choice at the time meant giving up her career in the military while her husband continued to serve as his career. Over the years, they had three daughters – Sharon, Diane and Lynne – and like many military families moved from place to place. This included stops in Ottawa, Trenton, North Bay, St. Hubert, even Comox for a time, before the Jacobsons decided to retire in 1963, all too happy to make their permanent home back in Comox.
“My husband was military, so we moved from station to station,” she says.
She concedes that after the war there was little demand for skills such as Morse code, but the knowledge has left an indelible mark on her, as evidenced by the ease with which she can communicate, even after so many years.
“Once you get to know it, it’s sort of like A-B-C,” she says.