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Elinor Florence (Company name) Elinor Florence

Hard Life on the Home Front

Life on the Home Front in wartime wasn’t just hard, it was crushing. While gathering on Remembrance Day to honour the men who fought for freedom, we tend to overlook the painful sacrifices made by the women and children left behind.

Black and white photo of little boy running alongside a column of men in Canadian Army uniforms, marching down a city street, reaching out his hand to one man who reaches back, while his mother in a black coat tries to restrain the boy.

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Home Front: Saying Goodbye

The most harrowing aspect of war was saying goodbye to the men, never knowing when and if they would be coming home.

“Wait for me, Daddy” is an iconic photograph taken in 1940 by newspaper photographer Claude Dettloff. It captured the touching scene of a five-year-old boy named Warren Bernard running after his father, Private Jack Bernard, as he marches off to war in New Westminster, British Columbia.

The good news is that Warren’s father DID come home, and he saw his son for the first time in five years. The boy looks happy but must be feeling a little apprehensive to be hugged by this man, who is by now almost a stranger!

Man wearing Canadian Army uniform hugs little blonde boy in his arms, both are grinning with delight.

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Home Front: Mail Was Vital

In the days before telephone or email, the only connection between the Home Front and the men overseas was by post. Families wrote literally tons of letters and sent millions of parcels overseas.

This Star Weekly cover tells the story: kids preparing a parcel for Daddy, who might have missed as many as six Christmases. To see my complete collection of Star Weekly covers: Star Weekly At War.

Star Weekly cover illustration shows little boy and girl wrapping gift for Dad in wartime, while his photo stands on the table beside them.

This photo from Library and Archives Canada shows some of those dedicated postal workers in Ottawa. There were no computers then — every piece of mail had to be read and sorted by hand. It was tedious, back-breaking labour.

Black and white image of a crowd of male postal workers wearing Canadian uniforms, sorting a mountain of packages wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.

The Royal Canadian Air Force created a special squadron to handle the enormous volume of mail. Their mission was to keep up morale on both sides of the ocean.

Members of ‘The Morale Squadron,” as they called themselves, understood that mail was a priceless commodity and a vitally important weapon in the battle for victory.

They flew the mail to Scotland, where it was sent by train to London, then sorted and flown to bases all over the Western world.

To read more about this: Morale Squadron Made Mail Their Mission.

Handsome blue circular crest with soaring eagle gripping a letter in its claws, reading Canadian Armed Forces Overseas, and surrounded with the words No. 168 H.T. Squadron Rockliffe.

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Home Front: Working Women

Almost one million Canadian women joined the work force during the Second World War. They manufactured tanks, trucks and aircraft, PLUS they filled all the jobs that the men had left vacant, many of them dreary and exhausting.

They were the single working mothers of today, responsible for earning a living, managing a household, and raising their children.

Rosie the Riveter, the bomb girl with the red kerchief and the bulging biceps, is an iconic Home Front image. But Canada led the way with our own glamourpuss: Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl. She was one of 800 Canadian women who worked in the Inglis factory in Toronto, manufacturing light machine guns known as Bren guns.

Young woman in a home front factory, wearing overalls, hair wrapped in blue kerchief, blows smoke out of her mouth, cigarette in one hand, and Bren machine gun propped on the table in front of her.

But the women in factories weren’t all glamorous, as this Star Weekly magazine cover shows. To read more about this: Bombshells and Bomb Girls.

Star Weekly cover illustration shows two women, one tall and blonde and the other short and wearing a kerchief, both in overalls, one carrying a lunch bucket that says Rosie, heading off to work in a home front factory.

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Home Front: Working Kids

Kids grew up fast in those days. Canadian kids were keen to defeat the enemy, and their enthusiasm turned them into valuable assets. Schools, churches, and government harnessed all that youthful energy and put it to work.

Encouraged by their parents and teachers, plus incentives such as free passes to movies, kids collected tons of metal, paper, rubber, and grease. These materials were in short supply and were recycled into weapons and war machines. Some kids even donated their own toys for metal salvage drives.

These two boys in Montreal were photographed in April 1942, collecting rubber tires and boots to be recycled as part of Canada’s war effort.

Black and white photo shows two boys, one smiling and the other solemn, carrying a load of rubber tires and rubber boots on a city street.

The government even coerced kids into emptying their piggy banks. Children used their pocket money (and in those days, every nickel was hard-earned) to buy War Savings Stamps, which they stuck into special booklets for post-war redemption. A child could buy War Savings Stamps for 25 cents each, and after saving $4 worth of stamps, the child would receive a War Savings Certificate worth $5.

Of the $5.5 billion raised in Victory Loans, millions were contributed by children!

Orange poster shows illustration in white of a boy and a girl licking stamps and glueing them onto a card, with the lettering We're Doing Our Bit, We're Buying War Savings Stamps.

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Home Front: Eating Less

For five long years, our food intake was rigidly controlled: one cup of sugar per person per week, one-quarter cup of butter, five ounces of meat, etc.

But there were few complaints on the Home Front. Not only were we shipping food to one million members of our own armed forces, but we were feeding the desperate British population, who would probably have starved otherwise.

To supplement their diets, Canadians hunted and fished and picked berries and plowed up their lawns to grow enormous Victory Gardens. Children helped, since even the youngest kids could tell the difference between a weed and a vegetable.

Mothers became extremely good at meal planning to keep their kids healthy. Kids didn’t eat a lot of sweets, nor did they expect any. Since Canada was unable to import food from other countries by sea, many of them grew up never having seen an orange or a banana.

This little tyke is presenting the storekeeper with his ration book, in which a record was kept of all food purchases. To read more about this: Rations and Recipes.

Adorable smiling little boy wearing cloth fedora stands behind counter, handing over his ration book to an unseen man.

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Home Front: Knitting

Knitting socks and scarves for the fighting men, who were often filthy and freezing, became a patriotic duty on the Home Front. Everyone knit, even cab drivers, hospital patients, and convicts. Schools and children’s organizations led the way, with knitting taught in many classrooms. In this photo from the Canadian War Museum, there is only one girl on the left; the rest are boys.

To read more about this: Knitting for Victory.

A group of boys and one girl are shown seated and standing around a table, all knitting socks for the Canadian men overseas in wartime.

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Home Front: Staying Home

Just like those for food, ration books were issued for fuel, and each time you filled up in Canada you had to fork over a number of your precious coupons.

And I do mean precious. Owners of non-essential vehicles were allowed just 120 gallons of gas a year. Bus and train travel wasn’t allowed unless you were on war work. Civilian ocean travel was banned. People walked, rode bicycles or horses. Holidays away from home were pretty much out of the question!

To read more about this: Saving Fuel for the War Effort.

Propaganda poster shows a man driving his car while a ghostly image of Hitler sits beside him int he passenger seat: When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler!

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Home Front: Playing War

It wasn’t possible to shield children from the terrible reality, since war infiltrated every aspect of their lives. Toys, games and even comic books revolved around war.

War was a common game played on the streets. Boys, with sticks for guns, pretended to be the uniformed men they saw everywhere. And they were encouraged by their families to be “just like Dad.”

You could even order miniature uniforms so kids could dress like soldiers.

Lovely little girl in nurse's pinafore and white cap bandages the wrist of a little boy dressed as a Canadian aviator with cap and goggles.

However, there was no talk of losing. Hitler was a comical figure, easy to defeat.

To read more about this: Children on the Home Front.

Star Weekly illustration shows a group of boys throwing snowballs at a snowman meant to resemble Hitler, with an old jacket with swastikas on the sleeves, and a funny little moustache.

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Home Front: Grief and Loss

Forty-five thousand Canadian men died in the Second World War, and their next of kin was generally notified with the arrival of a stark telegram like this one.

Yellow Canadian National Telegraphs telegram dated February 4, 1944 informs family of a serviceman's death.

This beautiful illustration by Andrew Loomis, “In Memory,” depicts a valiant widow and her children in church. She is wearing her dead husband’s posthumous Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award presented by the American armed forces for valor.

Illustration of mother flanked by her little son and daughter in church holding hymn book, all wearing black.

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Home Front: Home at Last

At war’s end, the survivors returned home. The repatriation of Canada’s armed forces, involving nearly seven per cent of its population, was perhaps the largest movement of people in Canadian history.

In this photo from Library and Archives Canada, relatives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, greet returning Canadian soldiers aboard a troopship.

To see more heartwarming homecoming photos: I’ll Be Home for Christmas.

Mother and child, waving pinwheel, wait on the dock while a ship full of shouting, waving Canadian soldiers approaches.

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My TV Interview

I discussed this very topic with Elizabeth Heinz, host of Coast Connections, a television program that will air on Vancouver Island during the month of November.

Click here to watch: Life on the Home Front.

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Waiting for the Winner

Friends, last month I sponsored a draw of $100 for one lucky blog subscriber, to be spent at an independent bookstore of his or her choice. I made the draw (the random number was generated by a computer) on Sunday morning, November 12, and immediately emailed the winner. If you did not receive an email from me, you did not win. But if I don’t hear back from the winner in seven days, I will draw another name next Sunday. 

Coming next month: a peek at my first trip to the Big Apple!

Affectionately, Elinor




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