Remembering the women who served Canada

Few of us have not been touched by war. Parents, grandparents, siblings, past and present relatives and friends have known through anecdotes accounts of conflict, tragedy, horror, loss and poignant moments of peace and muted success.

Remember.

Few of us have not been touched by war. Parents, grandparents, siblings, past and present relatives and friends have known through anecdotes accounts of conflict, tragedy, horror, loss and poignant moments of peace and muted success.

My mother Irene Harris, who served in the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) in England, remembered vividly the day the Second World War started on 1st September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. As much as it was an ominous event that launched worldwide reaction, it fuelled tormented emotions of anger, deep fear, apprehension, and anxiety over the dire consequences of Hitler’s actions.

Her father, my grandpa ‘Pop’, had served in the First World War and was away fighting in the Battle of the Somme when mom was born in August 1916. That battle, which endured from July to November, came to symbolize the abysmal horror of war. The appalling casualty figures totalled more than a million soldiers who died, were wounded or went missing (Britain 420,000, France 200,000 and Germany 500,000). It was known as the battle of a lost generation of young soldiers. Pop was one who came home injured.

Remember.

In the Second World War, mom and my mother-in-law Jessie Evans joined with thousands of women who stepped up to the plate. They would do their part to support the war effort and protect our values.

In Canada, women first entered the Canadian military as nurses when they served in the Northwest Rebellion in 1885. That continued during the South African Boer War of 1899 to 1902 when they became a permanent part of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. In 1906, nurses were admitted to the Regular Force.

During the First World War, more than 2,800 women served with the Army Medical Corps. The majority were overseas in hospitals, on board medical ships, in several theatres of war and in combat zones with mobile field ambulance units. But that war also saw women emerge in full military capacity, undertaking training in small arms, drill and vehicle maintenance.

Remember.

More than 50,000 women saw military service during the Second World War. And their support for the military was just as passionate among those still at home. At the peak of wartime employment, 439,000 women worked in the service sector, 373,000 in manufacturing and 4,000 in construction. They excelled in fine precision work in electronics, optics and instrument assembly.

Despite the macho attitude of the times (not all men welcomed women into the workforce), women drove buses, taxis and street cars. They worked in factories, on airfields and on farms producing food. They built parts for ships and aircraft, and assembled ammunition. They worked with lumberjacks where, no surprise here, they were tagged as lumberjills.

And then there was Canada’s Elizabeth Muriel “Elsie” Gregory MacGill, the first woman in the world to graduate as an aeronautical engineer. Born and raised in Vancouver in 1905, she joined Canadian Car and Foundry in 1938 where she designed the Maple Leaf Training ll aircraft. When the company got the contract from Britain’s Hawker Aircraft to build the Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft for the Royal Air Force, MacGill oversaw 4,500 workers, and streamlined and troubleshot production of 1,400 Hurricanes known as the Mk X by 1944. Talk about girl power…

Since the Second World War, women have steadily advanced in the military. In 1944 Elizabeth Smellie (a nurse in both world wars) was appointed a colonel in the Canadian Army. She blazed the way for women to excel at the highest military level. Today women make up 15 per cent of the Canadian military with many serving in the regular combat force in all levels and specialties.

Remember…..

Just Posted

Gary Abbott performs a traditional hoop dance, National Aboriginal Peoples Day in Chilliwack, 2016. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Indigenous Peoples’ Day brings a virtual celebration of culture on June 21

Event to showcase Métis dancing, traditional Stólō songs, dancing, pow wows and storytelling

A t-shirt designed by Coast Salish artist Bonny Graham (B. Wyse) includes the phrase ‘every child matters’ in a custom font inspired by Coast Salish design.
Chilliwack FC works with Stó:lō Nation Chiefs Council on t-shirt fundraiser

The youth soccer organization will sell custom-designed orange shirts, donating proceeds to the SNCC

Wilma’s Transition House Charity Golf Tournament takes place Aug. 21, 2021.
Buzz building for 2021 Wilma’s Transition House Charity Golf Tournament

The key fundraiser for the non-profit will be held Aug. 21 at the Cultus Lake Golf Course

Special weather statement issued for Fraser Valley as first summer heat arrives June 20, 2021, and set to persist all week. (Photo by James Day on Unsplash)
Second day of hot temperatures rippling across Fraser Valley

Communities from Abbotsford to Hope will see daytime high maximum temps of 32 degrees

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

The Sacred Hearts church on PIB land burned Monday morning. (Theresa May Jack/Facebook)
Two churches on First Nation land in South Okanagan burn to the ground

Sacred Hearts church on Penticton Indian Band land was reduced to rubble

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

In the first election with public money replacing corporate or union donations, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan take part in election debate at the University of B.C., Oct. 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. MLAs ponder 2022 ‘sunset’ of subsidy for political parties

NDP, B.C. Fed call for increase, B.C. Liberals have no comment

Emergency crews shut down White Rock’s Five Corners district on Feb. 19, 2020 following an assault. (File photo)
Trial underway in February 2020 death of White Rock senior

Ross Banner charged with manslaughter following Five Corners altercation

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Most Read