Volume 92, Issue 38

Wednesday, November 11, 1998

thank you


Winds of war, winds of change

Courtesy of The London Free Press Collection of Photographic Negatives, JJ Tallman Regional Collection, DB Weldon Library
MARCHING INTO HISTORY. World War II marked the beginning of enlistment of women in all three branches of the military. Here the Canadian Women's Army Corps undergo an inspection, Nov. 1942.

Courtesy of The London Free Press Collection of Photographic Negatives, JJ Tallman Regional Collection, DB Weldon Library
WORRIES AND RELIEF. Lance-Cpl. Ronald McNaughton is welcomed home by his wife, in November 1943 after being wounded in Sicily.

By Jessica Spodek

Gazette Staff

Remembrance Day sparks a range of emotions and memories for many Canadians. It is the day when all of the those who went to war and sacrificed their lives for Canada are commemorated and honoured.

War often becomes a catalyst for rapid change within society and Canada was no different. Many women of the era were abruptly placed into foreign positions in both domestic and military spheres and the long-term effects of this can still be seen today.

"At the end of 1944, I joined the Army as a dietitian with the Nursing Sister's Association of Canada," says Toronto resident June Barron. "It was already after D-Day, so for a number of years, I worked in various cities throughout Canada. Eventually, I returned to the permanent force and was sent to Korea to work in a field hospital."

The conditions Barron and her co-workers faced upon arrival were far from desirable. They lived in primitive conditions with outdoor plumbing facilities and, as a minimal number of Canadian Forces were sent to Korea, food was provided by American field rations.

"By the time that I arrived in Korea, the Armistice had already been signed, but it was still a war zone," Barron recalls. "We couldn't travel anywhere without the accompaniment of a Jeep and a male officer. Sometimes the scene became quite frightening."

Barron was stationed at the 25th Canadian Field Dressing Station, located on the only main road in the area. Any severe casualties from the front lines would immediately be rushed to the station or flown to the Commonwealth Hospital in Japan.

"Our hospital belonged to the United Nation's Force. We were the only women in a UN Force and so we were very popular. We would be invited to parties in the officer's mess, even though we were ranked below them," Barron says.

As the war came to an end and troops were being sent home, the hospital was eventually phased out. Although Barron had expected to remain in Korea for a full year, she returned to Canada in June, 1954.

"Although I was only there for six months, being in Korea was a life-changing experience," Barron says. "It was a completely different world from that which I was used to and it was very sad to witness the devastation of a country. In Seoul, there were only a few buildings left after the war because of bombs.

"It was hard to understand that people had lost their homes and couldn't do anything to prevent it from happening."

Today, Barron says she will be reflecting on all the victims of the war. "I think of all the lost and wasted lives of young individuals who were excited about going to a foreign country and then losing their lives. I feel incredible grief," she says.

Joan Faulkner, who served in the British Army during World War II and married a Canadian soldier, says she feels similarly about Remembrance Day.

"It is a sad day when people you knew, people you didn't know and family members are remembered," she says. "Before I enlisted in the army I lived in London, England. During the war, friends died during bombings, and my parents even lost three homes."

Yet there were still times for celebration. Faulkner met her husband, Earle, when they were sent to Italy on the same boat. The couple were the first ranks below sergeant to be married overseas. Despite their marriage, both maintained their duties.

"My husband was sent to the front lines, while I remained doing clerical work. It was a traumatic experience, but I am sure that it was no worse than the Canadian women who were waiting at home. I had access to the daily casualty reports and I checked them every day. Thankfully, his name was never on them," Faulkner says.

According to Jonathan Vance, a professor with Western's history department, the women who remained in Canada during the war while their husbands were sent to combat abroad faced a different set of difficulties.

"Many historians minimize how difficult it was for women to stay home during the war. It was hard for them, as they were isolated at home. They were thrust into the position and pressure of ensuring the maintenance of the home. They also had a great psychological burden, constantly worrying about whether their husbands would return," he says.

The post-war eras did provide political gains for women. Vance explains after World War I, women were included in provincial franchise, allowing them to vote, with Manitoba setting the precedence and other provinces, with the exception of Quebec, following.

"Women had been making great contributions on the home front, in domestic duties and in industrial and agricultural jobs. Extending the franchise was a type of reward to women for their essential contributions to the war effort," Vance says.

Women contributed to the World War II effort in similar ways as in World War I, Vance says. The major difference was in the second war, women were actually enlisted in all three branches the military.

"Although they employed in non-combatant, 'behind the scenes' jobs, women still had essential jobs. For example, women in the Air Force would ferry planes back and forth, direct the aircraft, read radars and plot maps. Women in the Army would act as nurses, mechanics, serve in supply depots and provide many repairs. Women in the Navy would be responsible for communications, radar sets, intelligence and coding and decoding."

After both wars, continues Vance, there was a backsliding, as people wanted their lives to return to the way they were before the war. There was widespread pressure for both genders to "get back to normal," yet they could never return to the pre-war conditions.

"It was as though [women] took two steps forward during the war and post-war they took one step back," Vance says. "Many historians have asserted that women were determined to look forward and wanted to move on. Yet, there has also been recent research which indicates that women wanted to return to their domestic roles.

"After 10 years of depression and six years of war, lives had been filled with uncertainty and challenges, therefore many men and women desired a stable domestic environment.

"There were pressures on women to return to the domestic sphere," Vance says. "It was impressed upon them that they occupied temporary positions. Also they were made to feel patriotic in returning the jobs to the men. There must have been women who resented that."

Despite evidence of backsliding, claims Vance, the gains which women achieved would eventually have occurred. The war simply accelerated the progress and pushed the women's movement ahead 10 to 20 years.

Remembrance Day invokes many emotions – but it is a time for remembering not just the grief and tragedy, but also the gains of women throughout this century.

To Contact The Focus Department: gazette.focus@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998