Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Canadian Women's Army Corps part 1 .......... an article from Susan (Hillman) Brazeau

I am always pleased when friends offer to contribute to the blog and was particularly happy that Susan who lives in Canada agreed to write two more articles about aspects of Canadian history. 

In the following article she says "this was originally a speech I presented at the 100th anniversary of the college where I taught, which had  also been the Westerrn Training Centre for the CWAC; and, also at the 2013 Remembrance Day Services."

At a time in our history when we are beginning to recognize and honour those who served in peace time and in more recent conflicts, there is one important group of servicewomen from the past whom I want us to remember.

I refer to the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, or, CWAC’s.

When World War II broke out, there was a quiet, but steady movement by women across Canada, to have the right to take an active role in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Not only did they have to convince the government of their worth, they had to persevere against the prejudices towards working women that was prevalent in Canadian society at the time.

In fact, the term “QUACKS”- which has since become a term of endearment - was, in the early days, considered derogatory and an insult by the Corps.

Nevertheless, these women persisted; and, although initially reluctant to have women do anything other than volunteer work, the Canadian government finally saw the advantage of having a female workforce with a fully trained, but non-combatant military presence that could free up more men to go off to war.

Thus, different branches of the military created their own women’s forces.   One of these was the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, and it is this relatively unknown part of Canadian history that is highlighted here.

Established in 1941, the Corps began to recruit the following year and officially disbanded in 1946 - five short years.

Two training centres were established: Kitchener, Ontario for eastern Canada; and the western centre was on the campus of what is now Lakeland College in Vermilion, Alberta.

All the women were tested for aptitude, interests, abilities and IQ.

Here are some of the criteria for a woman to be accepted into the CWAC`s. She had to be:

a British subject, which all Canadians were at the time;
in excellent health and weigh at least 105 pounds (or 47.6 kg);
between 18 and 45 years of age; and,
single, with no dependants, and,
she had to have completed grade 8

Although a few of the women were sent to Europe or the United States, most remained in Canada.

They performed a variety of jobs - close to 55 different types by war’s end - including roles that had traditionally been carried out by women, such as clerical work, laundry, cooking and sewing.

They also performed in stage shows for the male troops, before they went overseas.

CWAC’s also served as medical and dental assistants, switchboard operators and cipher clerks.  Others served in some of the more traditional male roles such as radio operators, mechanics and drivers of trucks, transports, jeeps and personnel vehicles.

By the end of the war, almost 22,000 women served in the Corps.

Twenty-five died, while in service.  Most who joined said they were doing it for the excitement, for pride of serving their country, or to do something entirely different from what they were used to doing.

One such woman was the author’s mother, Jessie Wright McKellar.

Her story is told in Part 2.

©  Susan (Hillman) Brazeau

Pictures; courtesy of the Library and Archives Canada

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