Lest We Forget: The Fortitude of Women
To Hitler, she was the most dangerous woman in Europe.
Queen Elizabeth, the charming consort of King George VI (and mother of our current queen, Elizabeth II), had plenty of common sense, a sympathetic nature – and a backbone of steel. Her reaction to bomb damage at Buckingham Palace even garnered the admiration of Londoners who had lost homes, friends and family during Luftwaffe raids.
“I’m glad we’ve been bombed,” she commented. “It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.”1 (Because of its many wharfs and warehouses, that area was a particular target.) To Hitler’s chagrin, the Queen’s resolute stand boosted British morale.
By doing war work on the civilian front, women freed men to join the Armed Forces. While husbands, brothers and sons were away conducting the business of warfare, women like Veronica Foster were slogging it out in factories, producing war materiel. “Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl,” who did indeed make Bren guns, became Canada’s answer to America’s “Rosie the Riveter.”
While non-traditional, their work was valued by people in high places. Humphrey Mitchell, federal labour minister, commented, “I do not think we could win this war without the women.”
One ad that recruited women for the work force urged: “The humblest job in a home front service is as important as victory itself.” But in Edmonton, young Margaret Littlewood’s job wasn’t so mundane. A licensed (civilian) pilot instructor, she was a rare bird – teaching student RCAF pilots to fly in a Link Trainer, the flight simulator of the era.
Rural women, like Mrs. W.W. Roberts, of Woolford, southwest of Lethbridge, Alta., often added plowing, hauling grain and other farming chores to an already crushing list of jobs while nine of her sons were either in the military or doing war work.
Through the war’s five years, there was the constant worry about loved ones, and even fear that all would be in vain and the war lost. In fact, it is difficult to comprehend the global scale of the war. The world seemed larger than it seems now because travel and communication was more difficult.
During the Second World War, there was no television. Radio and newspapers delivered the news, while film of war events was shown at local movie theatres. Today, computers allow much closer contact with family and friends serving in areas of conflict, such as Afghanistan.
In 1939, Queen Elizabeth told the women of the Empire, “We, no less than men, have real and vital work to do – Be assured that in carrying on your home duties and meeting all these worries cheerfully, you are giving real service to your country.”