Lady Warriors — women of Lake Cowichan, WWII

There was rationing, blackouts, fundraising, knitting and everyone pulling together for the war effort.

For this illuminating look at the Home Front we’re indebted to Barb Simpkins, curator, Kaatza Station Museum, who presented it in a talk in November 2006.

Cowichan Lake during the war years wasn’t much different from any other small community on the west coast. There was rationing, blackouts, fundraising, knitting and everyone pulling together for the war effort.

There were some remarkable differences, however.

We raised $8,000 (over $115,000 at the current exchange rate) for an airplane — not every community did that. Youbou and Lake Cowichan wanted to raise funds to purchase a training plane for the Air Supremacy Drive. Over 300 people showed up for the first meeting in June of 1944 at the Youbou Hall. A committee was formed, headed by Dr. Beevor-Potts and Col. Boyd.

By July 11, $5,000 had been raised and a week later they were just $200 short of their goal. All Industrial Timber Mill employees were asked to give up one day’s pay and the company matched [them] dollar for dollar. The committee at large contributed also. By Aug. 22, a plane was sent to the #8 Elementary Flying School in Vancouver. There was to have been a fly-over on Nov. 11, but there were engine problems with the plane.

 

The IWA Women’s Auxiliary, who were very involved in the war effort, decided that more could be accomplished by coordinating all the various groups in town.

They called it the United Organizations. Two delegates represented each group. Mr. Saywell was the first chairman and Edna Brown was the secretary. They held bi-weekly dances — 30 cents admission.

They also began Labour Day Sports, which evolved into Lake Days. The Auxiliary women sent magazines, cigarettes, Christmas presents, cards and letters to local men and women in the services.

They canvassed for war bonds, stamps and the Red Cross. They fought to improve the operation of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board Organization. They held an Island-wide campaign for canning sugar rations and would check local stores for inflationary prices and union label goods. The women lobbied Ottawa to extend rationing to all essential foodstuffs. They also conducted a campaign to extend the vote to all soldiers, regardless of race or birthplace.

At the beginning of the war a group of patriotic and energetic women wanted to do knitting as their part in the war effort but were discouraged from forming a Red Cross branch.

Eventually, in March 1940, they were registered under the War Charities Act as the Lake Cowichan Knitting Club.

There were 42 members and they met once a week to make quantities of knitted articles. They held rummage sales, accepted donations and held bridge parties.

They gave money to the Air Supremacy Fund, the Lord Mayor’s Fund and sent blankets to the Red Cross.

They sold chocolate bars and lemonade at the roller skating rink every Friday.

 

At Christmas they made up parcels of food and knitted comforts for the Cowichan Lake boys in the service. They knitted socks, turtleneck and sleeveless sweaters, mufflers, caps, mittens and 407 quilts. They sent 25 cartons of clothing for bombed-out victims and adopted a prisoner-of-war. By June 1946 it was requested that they wind up their activities and they shortly formed a local branch of the IODE.

The ration book contained coupons of various colours to be exchanged for different commodities — tea, coffee, meat, butter, sugar and jam. Trading coupons was illegal, but it was frequently done. Certain items disappeared from the shelves. Bananas — you could buy banana flakes — candy bars and chocolate were rare and expensive. There was also a shortage of milk, as it was too expensive to ship from Duncan. Canned milk was used in its place. Gasoline was severely restricted — coupons were issued to all motorists. It was hard to find new tires.

In 1941 the community was blacked-out at night — houses had heavy screens and thick drapery or plywood for all windows. There were tightly fitting black-out covers for car and truck headlights. Citizens gave up aluminum pots and pans to make planes.

Bacon fat and bones were used to provide glycerine for explosives. Rag and paper bag drives were held and children saved string and foil.

In November 1945, a Victory Show was held at Youbou and, in March 1946, a welcome home banquet was held for 70 return[ed] vets. The music was by the Swingettes and the guest speaker was Maj.-Gen. George Pearkes.

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