By Kes Murray, Registrar
With the start of the Second World War, women from all over Canada joined various volunteer groups. The best known is the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) which was formed in 1941 and aimed at replacing men in non-combat duties, freeing up men to serve at the front. However, many other volunteer women’s groups existed before the official formation of the CWAC. Reading through the handwritten account of the history of the Oshawa Fire Department, I came across some these women’s volunteer organizations.
With the war clouds ever darkening and the possibility of aerial bombing of our own land becoming more acute, organization of the Civilian Defense Committee A.R.P. began in Oshawa in April of this year , however during April and May only the organization and selecting of a proper Executive was accomplished, but during which time speakers were present each week to assist in the ground work. In June of this year with an enrolment of 25 Members the auxiliary fire Services came into being under the direction of the newly named Controller of Fire Services, Chief Elliot. Classes were held once weekly and included lectures, hose and ladder evolutions, chemical and their various uses, and fire department tools and their uses. A class in First Aid and artificial resuscitation was also started and this class was largely attended by the members of the C.A.T.S. an newlyformed volunteer Womans Organization. The membership of the auxiliary fire service increased to some 80 members in 1942, with ten members of the C.A.T.S. being attached to the fire services, and participating in every phase of the work.A019.2.7 Pg. 175
In this excerpt from 1941, we are introduced to two organizations. The Civilian Defense Committee A.R.P., or the Air Raid Precautionary, was a civilian defense organization created by the federal government to prepare civilians for an attack. Roles for volunteers included auxiliary fire fighters, fire-aid roles like driving ambulances and general care for casualties, and auxiliary police. The efforts of this organization were to train civilians for any situation.
What stood out to me in this passage was C.A.T.S., described as a newly formed volunteer women’s organization. C.A.T.S., or the Canadian Auxiliary for Territorial Service, was based off the British Auxiliary Territorial Service (A.T.S.). A Globe and Mail article from May 18, 1945 states that C.A.T.S. serve in any useful capacity to any branch of the Service anywhere. It went on to list the work these women participated in: transport, A.R.P., food administration, welfare, and clerical activities. Through this 1941 passage, some of the C.A.T.S. members were auxiliary fire fighters.
The excerpt from the fire department shows us a snapshot of what home life was like for civilians during the war and the incredible volunteer legacy that women had.