Women in Wartime

While the men were fighting overseas, North Shore women participated in the wartime effort at home, at work and in uniform. Their traditional responsibility for running the household involved purchasing supplies, cooking and raising the children. The government’s War Savings Committee recognized how vital women were to managing household finances and quickly targeted them with brochures on War Savings Certificates, Victory Bonds and “making do” with limited food rations and supplies. The newly minted title “Housoldiers” replaced Housewives to acknowledge women’s contribution to the care and protection of their families.

The War Savings Certificates and Victory Bonds were provided by the government as a method for civilians to help fund the war after their successful use in raising funds in WWI. Certificates and Stamps were for smaller investments ($600 or less); whereas, Victory Bonds had no limit. Redemption was after several years and included interest. Victory Bond Drives were launched every 6 months, with a parade and rallies to promote the event. Everyone was encouraged to participate.

While the government was responsible for sales through post offices and banks, individuals and organizations got involved by holding fundraising drives for both War Savings Certificates and general donations. The Squamish people held several fundraisers in support of a Spitfire fund, which was aimed at purchasing a Spitfire plane. Fundraising activities included a craft bazaar and the creation of a name quilt that Indigenous people living on reservations across British Columbia contributed to.

Budgeting for the war effort included the use of rations in WW2. Pamphlets and books aimed at helping women make healthy meals for their families while limited by rations focused on canning and preservation techniques.In fact, households that participated in canning could receive an additional ration of sugar. Many families planted “victory gardens” in their yards so they could grow their own food and free up rations for troops fighting overseas.

“Oh, the rations, the sugar ration was the worst. It seemed to me we never could get enough sugar … there would be a mass rush by the moms to get out to the store to get a couple of jello powders because they were basically sugar.”
~ Clifford Green
Oral history excerpt, Clifford Green, 10 March 2007. NVMA #172-36

Domesticity was celebrated while women’s more active involvement in the war effort received pushback. At the start of WW2, enlistment in the Canadian services was restricted to men and women could only serve as nurses. Many women wanted to be more involved in the war effort and so they established paramilitary organizations. These groups were volunteer-based and self-supporting. Women paid membership fees and were required to purchase their own uniforms.

By September 1939, the Canadian Women’s Training Corps (CWTC) was established in Vancouver with the motto “Facta non verba”, meaning deeds not words. The North Vancouver No. 3 Company of the CWTC launched in March 1940 under the leadership of Captain Nancy Hewett. Her sister, Marjory joined her the following year. The two held ranks of Major (Nancy) and Lieutenant (Marjory). Members of the North Vancouver CWTC met twice a week to practice military drills and receive training. They learned about first aid, air raid precautions and anti-gas, as well as motor mechanics. Lessons were followed by exams and certification.

The CWTC was also heavily involved in fundraising for the war effort. They volunteered for several drives for the War Savings Committee, promoting the sale of stamps and certificates and encouraging the public to donate to the war effort. The North Vancouver ARP quickly saw the benefit of women volunteering their services and began to recruit women to join their organization through pamphlets aimed specifically at women.

Not everyone appreciated women in more active roles in the war effort and dismissed their contributions. In a letter, a Captain Warden of ARP complained about the hiring of a woman as his superior, finding it “entirely against my principle as a man.” The Daily Province celebrated the work of the CWTC, yet the author refers to the group as “the pretties of Vancouver’s women in uniform.” Regardless, necessity demanded change and in July of 1941, the Royal Canadian Air Force opened recruitment to women, with the Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Navy following suit by July of 1942. In general, women replaced men in administrative positions, expressed in slogans such as: “They Serve that Men May Fly.”

Both Nancy and Marjory Hewett resigned from the CWTC to enlist in the war and offer their services on a greater stage. The photo of Marjory shows her in a Canadian Women’s Army Corps uniform. Eventually, the women’s services in the Canadian Army, Air Force, and Navy were all disbanded in 1946.