Second World War: Canadian Red Cross Corps (CRCC), 1939-1945

Women in the Canadian Red Cross Corps (CRCC), 1939-1945

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3203404)

Personnel of the Canadian Red Cross Ambulance Convoy, Charlton Park, England, 7 January 1945.

641 CRCC members served overseas in Britain or continental Europe. Others were stationed in Newfoundland (a separate country until 1949) or aboard the ships that transported Canadian servicemen’s war brides and children from Europe to Canada at the end of the war. They drove ambulances, they served in hospitals, canteens, and Red Cross offices, and they attended to the welfare of sick and wounded military personnel.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4232808)

Three Canadian Red Cross Volunteers in North Africa,  No. 15 General Hospital, 1943.   Lieutenant Lyle Boyd, Montreal, on the left, Francis S. Scovil of Guelph, Ontario, middle, and Marion Kerry of Montreal on the right. Many wounded Canadian and Allied soldiers received their care during the campaign in Sicily and Italy.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4232809)

Three Canadian Red Cross Volunteers in North Africa, 1943.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4232813)

Red Cross Volunteer Miss Lyle Boyd Gives Book to Arnold Guaydon, RCAF, in North Africa, 1943.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3208025)

Visit of Hon. J.L. Ralston to No. 5 Canadian General Hospital, RCAMC. (Left to right): LGen. H.D.G. Crerar, Col. B.C. Leech, Canadian Red Cross Worker Barbara Ross, Col Ralston, 30 Nov 1943.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3208171)

Coralie Field and Peggy Leigh of the Canadian Red Cross at Charleton Park, 7 January 1945.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3203129)

Senior Welfare Officer Mary Wright of the Canadian Red Cross distributing reading material to patients at Nos. 6 and 8 Canadian General Hospitals, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC), Antwerp, Belgium, 27 November 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3201221)

Red Cross nurses giving cigarettes and reading materials to convalescing Canadian soldiers at No.8 Canadian General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC), Bayeux, France, 25 August 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3825164)

Canadian Red Cross Poster, 1939-1945.

During the Second World War (1939-45) thousands of Canadian women enlisted in a uniformed, disciplined group of volunteers specially trained for wartime service, known asthe Canadian Red Cross Corps.

Created in 1940, the Corps offered women a chance to train and give voluntary service in one of four sections: Transport, Nursing Auxiliary, Food Administration, or Office Administration. All members wore a distinctive uniform and underwent training(such as orienteering and military drill) to help them function as a team. InCanada, Corps members gave thousands of hours of service in hospitals, blood clinics, Red Cross offices, canteens, and anywhere else their special skills were useful.  

641 Corps members represented the Canadian Red Cross overseas during the war, working in England and Italy from 1943 to 1945. Overseas Detachment members did welfare work and occupational therapy in military hospitals, drove ambulances, cooked, and served as hostesses in servicemen’s clubs, and did administrative work at RedCross offices. A handful of members worked in Newfoundland, aiding sick, wounded, and torpedoed sailors as well as military personnel posted to theisland.

Corps members in England experienced nightly bombing raids; those who followed the Allied advances into Italy and France with military hospitals suffered the dangers and privations of the battlefronts. Regardless of their posting, Corps members served with compassion, dedication, and skill.

The Red Cross leaders who created the Corps envisioned these special volunteers as a group that could be called upon in case Canada was attacked by the enemy. Happily, Canada was spared such horrors during the war. Nonetheless, Corps members’ extensive training and readiness to serve make them forerunners of later Red Cross Emergency Services volunteers, prepared to respond in the event of any disaster.  (The Canadian Red Cross)

The outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 returned the Canadian Red Cross Society (CRCS) to its roots as a wartime humanitarian aid organization and returned it to the size and strength of 1918... and then some.  Although the Society continued to engage in its various public health activities at home, for the duration of the war the Society’s primary focus was on providing aid to sick, wounded, and captured troops.  The Society’s wartime work also expanded in this war to include aid to civilian victims of the war (particularly bombed out British civilians during the Battle of Britain) and comforts for combatant troops, rather than simply the sick and wounded.  These changes were mirrored in other British Commonwealth Red Cross societies, and in line with long-time American Red Cross practice.  Canadians responded generously.

The CRCS’s work in the Second World War was much the same as its work in the First World War:  Canadians donated millions of dollars and countless hours of voluntary labour to fundraising efforts, the creation of comforts and supplementary medical supplies, and the packing of food parcels for Prisoners of War (all of which were then shipped overseas and distributed).  Another overseas headquarters was established in London, England, where the same type of visits to convalescing servicemen, tracking of missing soldiers, sailors and airmen, and records of Prisoners of War were maintained.  This time the Society focused its hospital-building efforts on one location:  a bigger, better Taplow hospital on the Astor family’s Cliveden estate.  One new development was the creation of the Canadian Red Cross Corps, a body of uniformed, trained, disciplined women volunteers ready for service in case of emergency; several hundred served with the Red Cross overseas in Britain or Europe, while others escorted war brides across the Atlantic after the war. Another development was the blood program:  across Canada, the Red Cross collected civilian blood for use in the relatively new, life-saving procedure of blood transfusion, in military hospitals overseas.  Canadians responded generously to this new opportunity to help save the lives of the sick and wounded. (CRCS.  Annual Reports, 1939-1945)

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3203127)

Personnel of the Canadian Red Cross comparing Kodak snapshots after visiting the wards of No. 10 Canadian General Hospital, RCAMC, Welfare Officers Margaret Ambrose and Susan Edwards, 19 Dec 1944.

The CRCS’s work in the Second World War was much the same as its work in the First World War. Canadians donated millions of dollars and countless hours of voluntary labour to fundraising efforts, the creation of comforts and supplementary medical supplies, and the packing of food parcels for Prisoners of War (al lof which were then shipped overseas and distributed).  Another overseas headquarters was established in London, England, where the same type of visits to convalescing servicemen, tracking of missing soldiers, sailors and airmen, and records of Prisoners of War were maintained.  This time the Society focused its hospital-building efforts on one location:  a bigger, better Taplow hospital on the Astor family’s Cliveden estate.  One new development was the creation of the Canadian Red Cross Corps, a body of uniformed, trained, disciplined women volunteers ready for service in case of emergency; several hundred served with the Red Cross overseas in Britain or Europe, while others escorted war brides across the Atlantic after the war. Another development was the blood program across Canada, the Red Cross collected civilian blood for use in the relatively new, life-saving procedure of blood transfusion, in military hospitals overseas.  Canadians responded generously to this new opportunity to help save the lives of the sick and wounded.  (CRCS.  Annual Reports. 1939-1945)

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3366167)

Mrs. M.A. Simpson of the Canadian Red Cross assisting Lance-Corporal L.D. Turner with needlepoint work, No. 11 Canadian General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC), Taplow, England, 14 December 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No.3395951)

Senior Welfare Officer Marjorie Harvey of the Canadian Red Cross lighting a cigarette for a wounded soldier, No. 7 Canadian General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC), Turnhout, Belgium, 10 December 1944.

Canadian Red Cross Poster, 1939-1945.

Canadian Red Cross Poster, 1939-1935.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 2999925)

Canadian Red Cross Posters, 1939-1945.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3208024)
Canadian Red Cross worker distributing craft supplies to patients at No. 7 Canadian General Hospital, RCAMC, 19 Nov 1943.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3208723)

Canadian Red Cross personnel on the staff of No. 2 Canadian General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC), Bruges, Belgium, 10 December 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3203404)

Canadian Red Cross Ambulance Convoy, Charlton Park, UK, 7 Jan 1945.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3208172)

Canadian Red Cross Ambulance (St John's Ambulance) driver Salley MacKean, checking air pressure, 4 Feb 1945.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3203123)
Welfare Officer Dorothy Brooks of the Canadian Red Cross distributingcigarettes to Able Seaman I.M. Barnes at No. 11 Canadian General Hospital, RoyalCanadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC), Taplow, England, 14 December 1944.
 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3208031)
Senior Welfare Officer Mary Scott of the Canadian Red Cross preparing Christmas basket for distribution to patients at No.10 Canadian GeneralHospital, RCAMC, 15 Dec 1944.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3203122)
Welfare Officer of the Canadian Red Cross assisting patients using the library of No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, Andria, Italy, 2 April 1944.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3227681)
Arrival of the survivors of the sinking of HMCS Athabaskan off the coast of France in April 1944. They were then taken prisoner in Germany. The Canadian Red Cross girls were on hand to greet them with candy and cigarettes, May 1945.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3204397)
Miss Dilys Owen and Mrs. Roley Harris of the Canadian Red Cross looking after the babies of war brides en route to Canada, No.2 Maple Leaf Club, London, England, 4 December 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3352281)

Sally Cuthbert of the Canadian Red Cross pouring tea for Mrs. Ivan McArthur, a war bride, and her son Robert, who are en route to Canada to join Mr. McArthur, 4 Feb 1946.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3204398)
Lieutenant-Colonel D.A. Clarke of the Canadian Wives' Bureau and Miss M. R. Duff of Canadian Red Cross Hostels at train taking Canadian war brides and children to Liverpool en route to Canada, 4 Dec 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 31930790)

One day, the war ended - but not the story of Canadians overseas.  Many brought back a family...Mrs. Elizabeth Rae and daughter Anne aboard the train taking them to Liverpool, where they are to embark on the S.S. Mauretania as part of the first large group of British war brides to sail to Canada, 4 February 1946. This photo was taken by Sgt. Karen Hermeston, a photographer with the Canadian Film and Photo Unit (CFTU) who was tasked with documenting the FIRST official War Bride sailing on the SS Mauretania.

War brides were arriving in Canada as early as 1940 and up until 1944 about 1500 brides had come to Canada. But the official transportation scheme only began in Aug 1944 with the establishment of the Canadian Wives Bureau in London. For more info and stats visit www.canadianwarbrides.com

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3210426)

War brides and their children en route to Canada, England, 17 April 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3204395)

Senior Welfare Officer Dorothy King of the Canadian Red Cross delivering copies of Canada's Weekly to Signalman N.L. Grant at No.2 Canadian General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC), Ghent, Belgium, 11 December 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3208170)

Lieut. H.N. Young, R.C.A., Faith Watson, Canadian Red Cross Society, Lieut. L.L. Langsner, R.C.A., and Margaret Gilbert, Canadian Red Cross Corps at Maple Leaf 2 Club, 25 December 1943.

(Canadian Red Cross Blog Photo)

During the Second World War and for years after, some 15,000 women were recruited to form the Canadian Red Cross Corps. Some of these women went overseas to assist in hospitals and some drove ambulances. Many others helped out from Canada by assembling food parcels that were sent overseas.

(Canadian Red Cross Photo)

Canadian Red Cross Corps Uniform.

(Canadian Red Cross Photo)

Three CRCC Welfare Officers visit a convalescing soldier overseas (ca. 1943-45) while distributing “ditty bags” on a hospital ward.

Many Canadian Women served with the Far East Welfare Team (FEWT), which did similar welfare work for Canadian personnel on leave in Japan or South Korea during the Korean War (1950-53). Both the CRCC and FEWT consisted solely of women. Members were extensively trained, many had previous professional backgrounds in their areas of service, and all gave hundreds of hours of voluntary service.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3566999)

RCN sailors wearing woolen clothing supplied by The Canadian Red Cross Society, making a Carley raft ready for sea aboard a ship of the Royal Canadian Navy, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 5 February 1943.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3566994)

Able Seaman J.P. Clements, who is wearing woolen clothing supplied by The Canadian Red Cross Society, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 5 February 1943.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3203119)

A Canadian Red Cross Society worker distributing craft supplies to patients at No.7 Canadian General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (R.C.A.M.C.), Marston Green, Birmingham, England, 19 November 1943.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 2253093)

Canadian Stamp commemorating The Canadian Red Cross Society, 1909-1984.

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Women in the Canadian Forces