Ridge ex-service women worked for us all

More than 45,000 Canadian women helped army, navy and air force in Allied war effort

Margaret Mattson served in the CWAC as a driver.

Margaret Mattson served in the CWAC as a driver.

 

Recently, large crowds braved the rain to fill Memorial Peace Park to observe Remembrance Day.

Often, women’s contributions to the war effort are forgotten amongst stories of male heroics and sacrifice.

However, one needs only to look to the Ridge Meadows Ex-Service Women’s club to learn about women’s wartime experiences.

More than 45,000 Canadian women were organized into army and air force auxiliaries in 1941, with the naval auxiliary established the following year.

In the United Kingdom, where many local ex-service women immigrated from, women participated in the war effort right from the onset of war.

Women in both Canada and the U.K. did not participate in combat roles; rather they freed men from war-related work. Many women performed clerical duties, such as maintaining service records or payroll, some worked with machinery, such as aircraft maintenance or monitoring ships through radar, while others joined the essential services, working as cooks or vehicle drivers.

Margaret Mattson, a Whonnock resident who joined CWAC in December 1942, served as a driver.

“We had to learn how to drive Lorries, Jeeps and anything else they had for us to learn on,” she recalled.

“We would put close to 200 miles a day on our vehicles.”

In order to stay connected during peacetime, women attended ex-service women’s reunions.

Eve Peters recalled one of the reunions as, “Glorious and beautiful. Oh what a joy to see all those happy, familiar faces again.”

With so many attending reunions, it was decided that a club would be established to provide interaction, comfort and support amongst members.

On Aug. 17, 1988, 14 women formed the Ridge Meadows Ex-Service Women’s club. Membership was “Open to any female who served in any of Her Majesty’s Forces or any of Her Majesty’s Allies or co-operated in underground forces in wartime with any of her Majesty’s Allies and would encompass the area from Pitt Meadows to Ruskin.”

In time, the catchment area expanded to women from Mission to Port Coquitlam.

Once a month, members gather at the Maple Ridge legion for lunch followed by a meeting. The women chat about the lives of current members and the activities they are involved in – many volunteer with the legion, the senior’s centre and various other organizations.

“Those meetings … I would just not miss them,” explains one member. “I love the comradeship and keeping in touch.”

The club runs a monthly raffle draw and a “bring and buy” table. Along with the yearly membership fee, these funds are used to help both members and the broader community.

The club donated a fund to the Ridge Meadows Hospice Society for the purchase of a fireplace and a washer-dryer, and is also an annual supporter of the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Christmas Hamper Society.

To help the women stay close, the club has a designated “Sunshine Lady,” who sends greeting cards to members confined to long-term care facilities, or who have found themselves in the hospital.

In 1990, membership stood at 55 members. However, “There are fewer and fewer veteran women each year,” one member noticed.

“We take cameras with us to our events, and I’ve noticed that through the years there are fewer of us in the photographs.”

There is hope in the club that younger women, such as those who served in Afghanistan or Iraq, will join the group in the future.

Sandra Borger is a researcher with the Maple Ridge Museum.

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