One of the first Canadian women who enlisted into the Royal Canadian Air Force committed suicide less than a year later.
Ten days after her 29th birthday, Hazel Winnifred Webb Seymour left a steady job with the Bell Telephone Company of Canada to enlist in the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. The unit operated under the motto: “we serve that men may fly.”
Sign up to get Notable Nonfiction updates
Ten months later, she swallowed three bottles of cleansers (iodine, cresol and carbolic acid) while in the hospital for hysteria. She died on September 10, 1942.
When she joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Webb Seymour seemed like the perfect candidate. She was healthy, high-school educated, the right age and height, and well-trained in administrative duties. She was married, and had been for seven years, but the couple had no children as he was deployed overseas.
Her early days in the Air Force reinforced her aptitude for the job. One test resulted in the comment:
“One of the best on the course – always cheerful and will make a wonderfully reliable and good N.C.O. Suitable for a difficult station.”
An “assessment of character” completed in March 1942 also contained high praise: “industrious, capable, willing worker,” “highly resourceful,” and “merits accelerated promotion.”
Four months later, Seymour was admitted to the Station Hospital with something so serious, she stayed for eight days. From then on, she went in and out of hospitals, both civilian and military, until her suicide.
During an inquest about her death, Flight Lieutenant Allan Campbell Blair described what happened in the final three days of her life.
“It was considered that before she should be discharged on the grounds of this nervous disorder that it would be worthwhile to give her another chance and to this end was admitted to Station Hospital again to be kept under observation and the be employed doing small jobs about the hospital which was thought might be of benefit to her. She was apparently responding and there was, in my opinion, no need to restrict her freedom about the hospital. There was no evidence or intentions from her that she was planning self destruction. On September 10, at 1205 hours as Dr. Williams and myself were leaving the hospital we encountered her in the hall holding an iodine soaked stained towel to her mouth and she stated that she had just drunk three bottles of poison….”
After she died, her mother wrote to the military needing help.
“The funeral refund has not been sent to me and I really need that amount to help with my winters’ coal, if I can get any.”
Despite those pleas, the only cheque to the family reimbursed $154.16 they paid for Webb Seymour’s funeral.
Note: This story is a mini-version of a chapter in Tracey’s upcoming book: Steady Hands, Brave Heart: World War II’s effect on Canada.
 Seymour, Hazel Winnifred; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 28621, testimony, Allan Campbell Blair, C3966.
 Seymour, Hazel Winnifred; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 28621, letter, Pearl Web, August 28, 1943.
About the Author
Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.