Two more reads from our Museum Library that might interest you:


Greatcoats and Glamour Boots ~ Canadian Women at War (1935 – 1945)

“Many young Canadian women desperately wanted to be of service to their country, ‘to free a man to fight’, as the recruiting posters urged and by the war’s end almost 50,000 of them had enlisted ‘for the duration’.”  This book is a collage of anecdotal and documentary material; it includes photos and sketches from public and private collections as well as from military archives.

In the Chapter “Joining Up”, women reflect on the reasons for enlisting. Not all of them ended up being happy with their choice, however.  One former member of the WD (Women’s Division) recalls, “I was in nine months and ten days exactly, and ten days after I got in, I wanted to get out.  My purpose in joining up was to get away from home, period!  It was the routine I hated…I didn’t like being told what to do…I was too independent to enjoy being in the service.”

“Preparing to Serve” was also an interesting chapter.  A woman remembers that “they processed people like a sausage machine.  You got your medical, did your aptitude test and were classified and slotted.  Then you were sworn in and told to report on such-and-such a date…I’ll never forget it, what did they serve us for dinner but cold macaroni with gravy on top of it!  There were no cooks on duty!  That was just the beginning.  I lay down on my bunk that night thinking, ‘What have I done?’… I really did!”


To Spread Their Wings was written for the 50th Anniversary of the RCAF (WD) 1941 – 1991. This is a personal memoir of the three years that Sara Thomson Johnson spent as a photographer in the RCAF Women’s Division during World War II, from March 1943 to March 1946. It’s interesting to note that 17,001 Canadian women joined the WDs between 1941 and 1946 “to serve their country and to find a new life and opportunities together; finding life long companions… spreading their wings!”

Johnson reflects on her time at the Photo School, “Every morning at the Photo School we were lined up in the general workroom at the west end of the building and given our riboflavin capsule.  We had been asked to volunteer as guinea pigs to test its effect on our eyesight.  We had no idea whether we were the ones taking the actual riboflavin or the ones who were taking placebos…once a month some men came and took pictures of the inside of our eyes using a special camera and a strobe light.  Afterward we went around seeing spots before our eyes for an hour. They never told us anything about the results, but some years later I noticed that riboflavin was one of the things they put in vitamin pills so I guess we didn’t get spots before our eyes for nothing.”