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Doing their part

The women who were determined to serve

On May 8, 1945, the women of Canada’s military shared in the victory celebrations knowing they’d played a definitive role—and blazed a path for women to serve in the future.

In the early years of the war, as scores of men signed up to serve overseas, women who wanted to contribute had fewer options. Women’s volunteer corps were founded across Canada, primarily packing and sending supplies and providing medical aid through the Red Cross, but they had no official military role.

That changed in 1941 with the establishment of the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Corps. The new units allowed women to enlist and take over administrative, clerical and other similar roles so men in the Air Force and Army could take on heavier duties. The women’s units quickly became so critical to military operations that in 1942 they were officially integrated into their respective branches as the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division and the Canadian Women’s Army Corps.

An ever-expanding role

With the creation of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service in 1942, women could officially enlist in all three branches of the Canadian miltary. They gradually took on traditionally male-dominated tasks including instrument and engine repair, safety system and parachute maintenance, and radar and radio operation.

By the end of the war, around 50,000 women had served: 21,600 in the Army, 17,400 in the Air Force, 7,100 in the Navy, and an additional 4,400 who served as miltary nurses.

All three military branches disbanded their women’s units after the war, but their legacy paved the way for the eventual full integration of women into Canada’s armed forces.

Honouring their legacy

This year, our End of Second World War collection not only celebrates Canada’s role in the transiton to peace, but also pays tribute to the women who helped us get there. The women who forever changed the status quo and who paved the path for those who wanted to follow in their footsteps. Their contribution must never be forgotton. From land to sea to sky, we honour their legacy. 

“The women had never had jobs like this before and we wanted to prove ourselves … The Wren training that I had, and the experience, were some of the happiest days of my life … I felt very important, that I was helping out.”

– Beatrice Mary Geary,
Women’s Royal Canadian Navy Service

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