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LOOKING BACK: Pop-up exhibit spotlights local Bluebirds’ war contributions

A Maple Ridge Museum display about women in wartime continues until January
Doris Whitby sat at her desk in her Canadian Women’s Army Corps Uniform, 1944. (Maple Ridge Museum archives #P07820/Special to The News)

By Melissa Rollit/Special to The News

During the Second World War, women played a crucial role in contributing to the war effort both overseas and at home.

During the 20th century, many women held the tradition role of homemaker and during wartimes this role became more difficult with wartime rations, which limited the availability of fabric, metals, and food.

However, they were also contributing to the war effort through charity; sending supplies to the front, gathering materials for scrap collections, fundraising money to send overseas, and more.

Essentially, they were doing more with less.

Other women at home, moved into less traditional roles as a result of the Second World War.

With many working-aged men serving overseas, Canadian women stepped up to the plate to fill in for these vacant civilian jobs. From taxi driver to munitions factory worker, women took on varied jobs to support the war effort while also proving that they had the same ability as men to work.

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As in the First World War, women were able to join the war effort by volunteering as nurses.

The Canadian Nursing Sisters, often nicknamed ‘bluebirds’ due to their blue uniform, treated soldiers, prisoners of war, and even civilians.

During the Second World War, the Nursing Sisters were expanded to all three branches of the military (army, navy, and air force).

Working conditions were not ideal, hospitals were often made out of canvas tents or abandoned bombed buildings. Often times and especially after a big battle, they were overwhelmed with the sheer number of patients.

Working as a nurse was not without its perils. Being so close to the front, they were in range of guns and subject to air raids and attacks.

Beginning in 1941 to 1942, women were also able to serve in the military force.

After lobbying the government, military organizations for women were created. This included the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWACS), the Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force (WD), and the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (Wrens).

They took on a variety of roles in all three branches, ranging from mechanics to parachute riggers to clerks. This was the first time women were able to enlist and serve in uniform in Canadian history.

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Visitors to the Maple Ridge Museum can view some of the uniforms and items used by enlisted women from Maple Ridge in our current pop-up exhibit ‘In Uniform.’

Highlights include the Royal Canadian Medical Corps nursing uniform worn by Helen Mussallem, the most decorated Canadian nurse in the Second World War, and the Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force uniform belonging to Margaret Franklin.

‘In Uniform’ is now on display until January 2023.

– Melissa Rollit is curator of the Maple Ridge Museum & Community Archives


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