Warden Robert Parker Guest Speaker at Sunny Brae Remembrance Day Service
Municipality of Pictou County Warden Robert Parker was the guest speaker at the Remembrance Day service in Sunny Brae Nov. 11. Here are his words during the service.
Before I begin on my subject for today, I want to give thanks and credit to two very special individuals. ‘Remembering Canada’s Heroes’ is a wonderful program that allows high school students across Nova Scotia to learn much more about the heroic efforts of Nova Scotians and the critical role that our province played in the two World Wars, the Korean War and modern wars in Afghanistan and other hot spots in our world. Bill Green and Ray Coulson (Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum) give much of their own time to visit our high schools each year to help students understand the realities of war and the large part that this province and this country contributed to the ultimate victory. I was very pleased, on Friday past, to bring a message to a large gathering of Primary to Grade 8 students, their parents and teachers at McCulloch Education Centre in Pictou during their Remembrance Day Ceremony.
I relayed to those present, the great story of Bill Baillie, who was with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, and along with many others, freed the small town of Authie in France. Bill Baillie eventually gathered money from many Memory Groups after the war, which allowed the destroyed school in Authie to be rebuilt and is now named the Bill Baillie School and the street in front of the school is named Pictou Street. I would not have known this story to relay to these students if I hadn’t attended twice, the presentations at local high schools by Bill Green and Ray Coulson, quiet individuals doing a great service to make sure that we never forget.
Today, I want to talk briefly about the role that women have played in the war efforts of our great country, Canada. I don’t think that there is any doubt that the results of the two World Wars would have been much different if it were not for the many contributions that women made.
First, let’s look at the home effort. Like many fathers, husbands and sons joined the armed forces and left home, mothers, wives, and daughters were left with the tasks of keeping their homes going, their families fed, along with the many other tasks that were normally looked after by the men. It all still had to be done and under a lot more stress.
And let’s not forget that stress. Many of those women eventually got the news they dreaded. Their husband, father, the son would not be coming home. Suddenly the future for them and their families looked much different on a permanent basis.
The women of this country contributed much more to the war effort in helping to supply troops with their many needs overseas. Surviving in their homes with many essentials rationed – like butter and sugar. Helping with drives for scrap metal even to the point of giving up brand new aluminum pots in the scrape drive because they knew how badly aluminum was needed to build airplanes. Knitting socks, mittens and more, packing care packages to send to the boys on the front. All of this work was done quietly at home while many women kept their homes going without the help of their mate.
The second aspect that women contributed to the war effort, which was totally indispensable, was the role that they played in replacing the men in the many factories, farms and forests across the country. One interesting story was how the women helping in the forest became called ‘lumberjills’, as opposed to ‘lumberjacks’.
In order to be victorious in a war effort against powerful enemies, there was a constant and large need for supplies. Many factories needed to work flat out to produce just about everything, especially ships, vehicles, guns, ammunition and so much more. Women, many of whom before the war had worked in the homes, were suddenly urgently needed to staff the factories. Many, right here in Pictou County, helped at the Ferguson Shipyard in Pictou and the car works in Trenton and many other factories. They were quickly trained and soon proved to be every bit as good as their male counterparts had been. Production was at a high level due to the great need and ‘Rosie the Riveter’ was certainly ‘up to the task’. Without women across this great country pushing out huge numbers of supplies every day, our war effort overseas would not have survived. Supply lines during the war are critical, and Canada’s women kept them coming, year after year.
An interesting sidebar to this story is that women were paid far less than men and as they became every bit as good at doing the job, men became concerned that they may not have jobs after the war. This was the beginning of ‘equal pay for equal work’ demands for women, a battle that still goes on today. Also, in World War I, the demands for better pay led to ‘voting for women’ for the first time in 1917-1918.
The final area I will address today is the role of women in the many wars in a direct role. The traditional role that women played in World War I was as nurses to care for the many injured men during the war. This certainly involved women being put in very dangerous positions, often right behind the front lines. More than 2800 ‘Nursing Sisters’ served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the First World War. They were nicknamed ‘the bluebirds’, with their blue dresses and white headpieces and were greatly respected for their compassion and courage. They were not permitted to serve in other military roles in World War I.
In World War II, the Nursing Sisters wore a military uniform with the traditional white headpiece. 4500 nurses served with all three branches of the Canadian Military, and these women were commissioned as officers, the first of any Allied country to have official status. Eventually, over 50,000 women enlisted in the army, air force and navy.
In 1941 and 1942, women took up many other roles in all three branches of the military but not in a direct combat role, that would come many years later.
One interesting story is how, in World War II, women took on the task of ‘ferrying’ new aircraft across the ocean to England for training and eventually into the war. This freed up many men to fly bombing runs. They even flew planes with trailing targets for trainees to practice shooting down. Their slogan was ‘We serve that men may fly’.
Women expanded into many other roles in World War II including driving ambulances, trucks and working as mechanics and radar operators and coding technicians.
(Joy Robley and Dorothy Levo story) – These two local women I have known all my life, and I am sure you all know of someone from here in the Sunny Brae area as well as all the surrounding areas. Joy and Dorothy worked out of Quebec as wireless operators during World War II. In speaking with some of their family members I was told that ‘what, where, who’ they sent to and received messages from was of the highest confidence and they never spoke of it with their families, even after the war ended. Their Code of Confidence was solid!
‘War is war’ and as women took a larger part more directly in our wars, more gave the ultimate sacrifice for which we honour them and all the men that gave their lives, on this Remembrance Day. The first Nursing Sister of the Second World War to die as a result of enemy action was Agnes Wilkie, one of 137 people on board the Newfoundland Ferry ‘Caribou’ when it was torpedoed and sunk in 1942 in the Cabot Strait by the enemy. Nursing Sister, Margaret Brooke, was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her heroic efforts trying to save her fellow Nursing Sister, Agnes Willkie, on that fateful day in 1942.
Over time, women have been granted equal rank with men, to play an active role in our military. Women have contributed as peacekeepers and combatants in our modern-day wars, such as the Baltic region and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, as part of that role, Captain Nichola Goddard, a forward artillery observer and a Nova Scotian, was the first Canadian woman to be killed while serving in a combat role in 2006 in Afghanistan. May we always remember her
ultimate sacrifice along with the many other women that gave their lives that we may enjoy our democracy and our freedom.
A memorial to all women in the British Commonwealth who served in World War I and World War II was unveiled in 1976 in Winnipeg, Manitoba with statues from all three branches of our military. May we never forget the role that so many women have played in past and present wars, that supported and cared for the many others that have fought for and continue to fight for our country.
I would like to close by showing you something that is very special to me and very relevant to the subject I have spoken about today. My grandmother worked in a Munitions factory in northern England during World War I and created this piece. The workers were allowed to pick up the small pieces of filings and make something from them during break time. My grandmother made this solid block paperweight and it is heavy! I will read what she put on it.
‘GRACE BLENKINSOPP EUROPEAN-WAR 1914 – 15 – 16 & 17’. It came into my possession (and my families) and our country, Canada, in 2006.