Canadian Women's Army Corps

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Canadian Women's Army Corps
Goodwin House2.JPG
Goodwin House, former Canadian Women's Army Corps headquarters
Active1941–1946, 1948–1964
Role(Canadian Army) Permanent Active Militia
Publicity shot of CWAC member taken in 1943.
Private Lowry, CWAC, tightening up the springs on the front of her vehicle, Chelsea & Cricklewood Garage, England, July 7, 1944.
Detail of CWAC cap badge and fastener.

The Canadian Women's Army Corps was a non-combatant branch of the Canadian Army for women, established during the Second World War, with the purpose of releasing men from those non-combatant roles in the Canadian armed forces as part of expanding Canada's war effort. Most women served in Canada but some served overseas, most in roles such as secretaries, mechanics, cooks and so on. The CWAC was finally abolished as a separate corps in 1964 when women were fully integrated into the Canadian armed forces. The headquarters of the CWAC was based in Goodwin House in Ottawa.


The Canadian Women's Army Corps (CWAC) was authorized on 13 August 1941, in response to a shortage of personnel caused by the increase in the size of Canada's navy, army and air force. The founding driving force to the unit's creation was Mrs. Joan Kennedy, of Victoria, British Columbia. She initially faced a great deal of opposition from conventional (male) military authorities. One senior army officer sneered at the very idea of what he called a "petticoat army." At first the organization was named the Canadian Women's Auxiliary Corps and was not an official part of the armed forces. On 13 March 1942, female volunteers were inducted into the Canadian Army and became the Canadian Women's Army Corps. They wore a cap badge of three maple leaves, and collar badges of the goddess Athena.[1]

The CWAC Brass Band leaving for a concert in Apeldoorn, 1945.

A February 1943 CWAC advertisement in the Edmonton Journal noted that prospective recruits had to be in excellent health, at least 5 feet (152 cm) tall and 105 pounds (48 kg) (or within 10 pounds (4.5 kg) above or below the standard of weight laid down in medical tables for different heights), with no dependents, a minimum of Grade 8 education, aged 18 to 45, and a British subject, as Canadians were at that time. Since women were not allowed to enter in combat of any kind the CWACs worked as secretaries, clerks, canteen workers, vehicle drivers and many other non-combat military jobs. They were only paid two-thirds of what the men were paid in the same occupation (this figure later became four-fifths).

CWACs served overseas, first in 1942 in Washington, DC, and then with the Canadian Army in the United Kingdom. In 1944 CWACs served in Italy and in 1945 in northwest Europe, usually as clerks in headquarters establishments. After VE Day, more served with Canadian occupation forces in Germany. Approximately 3000 served Canada overseas. While no members of the CWAC were killed in action, four were wounded in a German V-2 missile attack on Antwerp in 1945. "The CWAC was the largest force with 22,000 members, followed by the Air Force Women's Division with 17,000 and the WRCNS with just under 7,000."[2] In August 1946 the CWACs were disbanded. The Canadian Women's Army Corps was re-designated The Canadian Women's Army Corps on 22 March 1948. The Canadian Women's Army Corps reverted to the Canadian Women's Army Corps on 18 Apr 1955. The CWACS were disbanded for good in 1964.


Members of the Canadian Auxiliary Women's Corps in August 1942.

The CWAC had many jobs with different uniforms. A canteen worker could wear overalls, a radioman could wear the battledress trousers and the battledress jacket (most common). Uniforms came in many different forms. Home front women usually wore dress skirts (or trousers) and round hats. If it was a job that meant getting your hands dirty, such as working on an engine of an airplane or vehicle, they would wear normal hardy clothing.[3]

Official regulations regarding uniforms were that the women must wear a: "Khaki greatcoat, barathea skirt and hip-length jacket, peak cap with high crown, and a cap badge with three maple leaves on a stem on which was inscribed 'Canadian Women's Army Corps'. Helmeted head of Athene appears on buttons and badges."[4]


After the Second World War, the CWAC and other military organizations were disbanded as women were finally incorporated into the Canadian Forces (CF). "The perceived unsuitability of women for military service, because of their alleged physical weakness and emotional instability in the face of danger, [was] an assumption which [had] been misused to justify the exclusion of women from active military duty."[5]

With the changing tide of Canadian culture towards equality of the sexes, women were finally able to achieve full access to combative roles. No longer believed to be too weak or fragile to be engaged in conflict and confined solely to their homes and families, women were finally given their chance to participate fully in the Canadian military.

Today, Canadian women still represent only a small fraction of the total population of the Canadian Forces.[5] However, the CF is committed to following the principles laid out in the Canadian Constitution, guaranteeing "that every citizen has equal rights and responsibilities", which has led the "Canadian Forces to expand employment opportunities for women. The ultimate responsibility of the CF, however, remains the maintenance of national security."[6]

Effect on equality within Canada[edit]

Mary Greyeyes, a Cree from Muskeg Lake Reserve, served in the Canadian Women's Army Corps in Canada and Britain

The CWAC and other military organizations were aimed at attracting young women into the Canadian forces during the Second World War, and paved the way for women's future involvement in combat. With tens of thousands of women involved in these organizations, it provided Canadian women with the opportunity to do their part in a global conflict. Although their involvement was critical to the Allied victory, it did not change the power dynamics within Canada regarding military involvement.[7] Sexism returned following the war, forcing women in Canada, and across the world, back into their homes and kitchens. "Women's admittance to the army in World War II had not brought about a change in the distribution of power between the sexes in Canada."[8] The freedom they had experienced during the war was over—it was time to return to their "normal" and "proper" domestic duties. Other scholars[who?] argue that the Second World War provided women with the first large-scale opportunity to leave their parents' homes, husbands, and children to engage in paid labour. Never before had this happened at such a high rate for women. This mass exodus of women from Canadian households allowed the women to forge new identities as military service women and munitions workers because of their newfound ability to earn a paycheque doing work in the public sphere.[9] This brief period of freedom provided women across the world with the ability to enter into the public sphere and would eventually drive some to become part of the women's liberation movement—a key aspect of second-wave feminism.

Related organizations[edit]

This corps was allied with the following:


Canadian Women's Army Corps (2000) by André Gauthier is a 6-foot-4-inch (1.93 m)-high bronze statue in front of the Kitchener Armoury in Kitchener, Ontario.

Erected by local ex-servicewomen, a memorial in Salmon Arm, BC, was dedicated on 14 August 2000 to all Canadian women who served in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ D. Collett Wadge (1946). Women in Uniform. Imperial War Museum. pp. 257–. ISBN 978-1-901623-61-1.
  2. ^ Gayle Thrift, "This is our war, too," Alberta History 59, no. 3 (Summer2011 2011): 7, America: History & Life, EBSCOhost (accessed October 4, 2011).
  3. ^
  4. ^ Collet Wadge, D., Women in Uniform, (London: Imperial War Museum, 2003), 262.
  5. ^ a b Patricia Bowley and Kris Wright, "Canadian Enlisted Women: Gender Issues in the Canadian Armed Forces Before and After 1945," Minerva: Women & War 15, no. 1 (March 1997): 9. America: History & Life, EBSCOhost (accessed October 4, 2011).
  6. ^ C. D. Lamerson, "The Evolution of A Mixed-Gender Canadian Forces," Minerva II, no. 3 (Dec 31, 1989): 19. (accessed October 4, 2011).
  7. ^ Ruth Roach Pierson, "They're Still Women After All": The Second World War and Canadian Womanhood (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986), 13.
  8. ^ Ruth Roach Pierson, "'Jill Canuck': C.W.A.C. of All Trades, but No Pistol-Packing Momma", Historical Papers (1978): 116, (accessed September 27, 2011).
  9. ^ Joy Parr, A Diversity of Women: Ontario, 1945–1980 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995), 179.
  10. ^ "Canadian Women's Military Service". Archived from the original on 2013-12-02. Retrieved 2013-11-26.


  • Auger, Geneviève and Raymonde Lamothe. De la poêle à frire à la ligne de feu: La vie quotidienne des Québécoises pendant la guerre '39 - '45. Montréal: Boréal Express, 1981.
  • Bowley, Patricia, and Kris Wright. "Canadian Enlisted Women: Gender Issues in the Canadian Armed Forces before and after 1945." Minerva: Women & War 15, no. 1 (March 1997): 9-25.
  • Bruce, Jean. Back the Attack! Canadian Women During the Second World War - At Home and Abroad. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1985.
  • Conrod, W. Hugh. Athene, Goddess of War: The Canadian Women's Army Corps - Their Story. Dartmouth: Writing and Editorial Services, 1984.
  • Gossage, Carolyn. Greatcoats and Glamour Boots: Canadian Women at War (1939–1945). Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1991.
  • Lamerson, C. D. "The Evolution of A Mixed-Gender Canadian Forces." Minerva II, no. 3 (Dec 31, 1989): 19-19.
  • Parr, Joy. A Diversity of Women: Ontario, 1945-1980. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995.
  • Pierson, Ruth Roach. "Jill Canuck": C.W.A.C. Of All Trades, But No Pistol Packing Momma." Historical Papers (1978): 106-133. (accessed September 27, 2011).
  • Pierson, Ruth Roach. "They're Still Women After All": The Second World War and Canadian Womanhood. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986.
  • Roe Kathleen Robson. War Letters from the C.W.A.C. Toronto: Kakabeka Publishing Co., 1975.
  • Thrift, Gayle. "This is our war, too." Alberta History 59, no. 3 (Summer2011 2011): 2-12.
  • Wadge, D. Collet. Women in Uniform. London: Imperial War Museum, 2003.

External links[edit]