Equal to the Challenge

Equal to the Challenge

An Anthology of Women's Experiences During World War II

Book - 2001
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Publisher: [Ottawa] : National Defence, 2001.
ISBN: 9780662300373
Characteristics: xviii, 552 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.
Additional Contributors: Banister, Lisa


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Sep 03, 2017

This book captures the often-missed histories of women during war time. The individual stories are compelling and varied in place of origin, type of occupation, impact, and all the elements that comprise the story of each woman, presented in their own words. It is an amazing collective resource for anyone doing research on the era, and would serve as both a stand-alone text as well as a supplement to the experiences of others (mostly men) during the Second World War that are covered elsewhere. And it includes all the things people would expect, which I won’t cover in detail, as well as some surprising elements that transcend the ordinary.

First and foremost, the book does a fine job of avoiding over-stating the impact of WWII on the women’s movement…the tendency in many publications of this sort would be to say “this era is important, these women are important, and therefore this time was the sole catalyst for changing the world forever for women”. However, as many of the stories note, a lot of changes were already underway. This doesn’t discount the impact or added impetus of the time, but also places it in a larger context, where women were no longer only being considered as second class citizens. Many of the women left decent jobs to join the Armed Forces, putting a lie to the often-popular view that the women simply “left the house” for the first time during WWII. Second, the small details from individual stories are particularly riveting, golden nuggets of their experiences:

- the experience of women’s rifle training and teams (Jacqueline Laplante, p.28);
- the role played by French priests in some family decisions in Quebec, with many of the priests trying hard to prevent the women from joining up or calling them home claiming their birth certificates were forged (Mary Saunders, p.28, et al);
- the commonplace / matter-of-fact way of dealing with notifications of deaths in the family (Ruth Ralston, p.72);
- the drafting of women in England (Elizabeth Hunt, p.134);
- the impact on the economy in Quebec in 1939 with many farming families suddenly having boosts in their family income with many sons and daughters working in factories, and for families in general with work plentiful and banks willing to give loans again (Olive Villeneuve, p.166); and,
- the two government employees explaining to them in 1941 that there were going to be new deductions from their wages for something called “income tax” and “unemployment insurance” (Olive Villeneuve, p.168).

My favourite though is the impact of reading Lorna Stanger (p.161) talking about VE-Day in Europe. For the first time since the war started, they could have the lights in the city on at night, and had it all lit up. For the youngest children, many had only known black-outs and air-raid sirens, and seeing the lights at night actually scared them.

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