Kelowna’s Mickey Schienle a real life Rosie the Riveter

Mickey sits with her niece Heather looking at photographs from her time working in Ontario during the Second World War (Brittany Webster - Capital News)Mickey sits with her niece Heather looking at photographs from her time working in Ontario during the Second World War (Brittany Webster - Capital News)
Mickey (left), her brother Ike, and friend Marg pose in uniform in an old snapshot (Brittany Webster - Black Press Media)Mickey (left), her brother Ike, and friend Marg pose in uniform in an old snapshot (Brittany Webster - Black Press Media)

When it comes to world wars the focus usually centres around veterans, those who served on the front lines of combat.

For that combat to happen, however, hundreds of Canadian women worked in Toronto building plans and ammunition needed for battle.

Mickey Schienle was one of those women.

“The war was on and we knew that they had to do all this work, that’s how they got their guns and any supplies or whatever they needed over there,” Mickey said.

“Of course, that had to be done over here. Instead of continuing with their education a lot of us just decided to put in our help.”

Mickey was 18 when the Second World War broke out.

One job she had was in an ammunition plant in Ontario.

“We lived in a dorm and the pillows, they used white pillow slips. From whatever was in the air it turned our pillow slips orange. Not real orange, but you could see the orange hue on it, so we were breathing all that stuff. No masks or anything.”

Mickey laughed when she mentioned the unhealthy air.

“Well, I don’t think so, but I still managed to get this far,” said the 99-year-old.

Regular bomb drills, bunkers separating rooms of explosives, and meticulous cleanliness to avoid disaster were all part of everyday life for these women.

Mickey also spent a great deal of time working on the Lancaster planes, her preferred job during the war.

“They had these jiggs…and the nose of the plane was on there. The panels that are on the outside, made of aluminum or whatever, are just sort of clipped on there with some sort of clip. So, we had to put rivets through. Drill holes where all these joints were… and then put the rivet in.

“Most of the time I was on the inside and they called it bucking. You had a bucking bar and you had to hold it up against the rivet to make it flatten so that it would keep the panel on,” she explained.

Lancasters were strategic bomber planes, allowing considerable accuracy even at night. The Lancaster was pivotal in the war and is considered the most effective British heavy bomber of the Second World War.

“What they needed there we were producing. Without us, they couldn’t have had the war. Maybe we shouldn’t have done it,” Mickey laughed.

When the war came to an end, the woman received no recognition, not even a handshake.

“The PA system came on and they said, ‘The war is over, turn off your machines. You can go home. Collect your paycheque at your usual place and time.’ That was it. No severance, no thank you, no nothing.”

On the cusp of becoming a centenarian, Mickey now lives in a retirement home in Kelowna.

With the ongoing war in Ukraine, Mickey says thoughts of a third world war have crossed her mind.

“You think about it because you don’t know what they’re going to do. Especially with the way, Putin acts, talking about nuclear stuff. It’s kind of scary when you think about it. If they start with anything like that… might as well say goodbye to the world.”

So on Nov. 11, don’t forget about the hundreds of women who worked behind the scenes, just like Mickey, who supported the fight for freedom.

READ MORE: Okanagan Indigenous veterans were stripped of their status after war efforts


@thebrittwebster
brittany.webster@blackpress.ca

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