Remembrance Day – Oft-forgotten heroes

Poppy field at sunset

This Remembrance Day, we remember Indigenous soldiers, women and other heroic Canadians who contributed to the war effort.

On November 11, we honour and remember those who have served in Canada’s armed forces, who have died in service, and who have made great sacrifices for this country.

While many Canadians do a wonderful job remembering the veterans, we thought we’d highlight Canadians who are sometimes overshadowed by the more common narrative.

Women

Women who served may get a mention, but never enough of one. Most Canadian women contributed to the effort on the home front, by taking over the men’s work in factories, by sewing quilts, bandages and uniforms or by raising money.

Elsie MacGill - Queen of the Hurricanes
Photo credit: Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada

Canada’s own version of “Rosie the Riveter” was Elsie MacGill, the first woman to receive an electrical engineering degree in Canada and the first female aircraft designer in the world. She even inspired a comic book story called “Queen of the Hurricanes”.

Many women also served with the military overseas. Nurses were vital to the Canadian armed forces in both World Wars. In the Second World War, women’s roles in military expanded to include traditional male jobs. They worked as mechanics and radar operators, and drove trucks and ambulances, among other jobs.

People of colour and First Nations people

Private Jeremiah
Private Jeremiah “Jerry” Jones

Thousands of Aboriginal people voluntarily enlisted in the Canadian military in the First World War, over 50 of whom earned medals for bravery. During the Second World War, Indigenous people from all regions served in the Armed Forces, overcoming unique cultural challenges.

Black Canadians, Chinese and Japanese Canadians and other people of colour who served also faced challenges, even just to enlist in the military. Many, like Private Jeremiah Jones, should have been awarded medals but weren’t – likely because of the pervasive racism at the time. In 2010, Jones was posthumously awarded a Canadian Forces Distinguished Service Medallion for his heroic actions in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Canadian Forces members who defended our borders

The stories of soldiers who served overseas in battle make it into movies like Passchendaele, but military members who served within and along Canada’s borders get left out of popular culture.

Protecting Canada’s coasts, and training and recruiting new members, these men and women are often overlooked in favour of highlighting the more dramatic tales abroad. But during the Second World War, the threat of attack by German and Japanese submarines was very real. Royal Canadian Navy ships constantly patrolled the coastlines, ready to defend.

Animals

Animals like horses and pigeons were integral to battle in the First World War, pulling equipment to the front lines and sending messages. Others, like cats and dogs, served as companions in the trenches.

Muggins the Red Cross Dog
“Muggins” – photo credit: Saanich Archives PR-149-2015-028-013

Animals also served on the home front. Muggins was a white Spitz dog who became famous for his fundraising efforts as a Red Cross volunteer during the First World War. He would set off each day on a tour of the downtown Victoria, BC area with two Red Cross donation boxes tied to his back. A tireless little worker, he is credited with raising thousands of dollars for the Red Cross and other wartime causes.

Families

The Memorial Cross was first commissioned in 1919 as a medal presented to mothers or wives (next of kin) to honour their sacrifice in losing a son or husband in the Great War. Almost one hundred years later, this medal is still awarded – members of the Canadian forces can now designate up to three Memorial Cross recipients.

This year we also remember the family members and loved ones of those who served and died.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”  – Robert Laurence Binyon