The citizens of Lethbridge wholeheartedly supported the war against Germany. Well aware of the dangers that lay ahead, local citizens openly displayed their desire to serve “King and Country” and to defend their community and their homes against all enemies.
Recruiting parades were organized as early as 1939. Thirteen percent of Lethbridge's population—a number that reached over 1,700 men and women—enlisted in the military. Although this was higher than the national average, enlistment numbers were significantly lower when compared to those in the First World War.
Uniformed soldiers were housed at a downtown barracks. The 160 members of the 20th Anti-Tank Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA) was the first Lethbridge-based unit to be mobilized. As a result, members of the Battery spent a significant amount of time in the city. Lethbridge business owners, notably pub owners and restaurateurs, reaped the benefit of the military's presence in the form of increased sales and added income.
Recruiting parades planned for the 20th Anti-Tank Battery served to generate awareness and stimulate interest in military service. Other local units included the 39th Battery, 55th Light Aide Brigade, 6th Field Park Company (Members of Royal Canadian Engineers placed in 4th Canadian Armoured Division), and 112th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery (2nd Canadian Division); all of these were formed or mobilized in 1941.
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) operated two schools in Lethbridge. The No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School began operations in June 1940 and was located at the recently built (1939) Kenyon Field. Local newspaper reporters dubbed it "one of the finest airports on the North American continent." Students assigned to this facility attended for six weeks; the curriculum consisted of lectures and hands-on light aircraft training (light aircraft refers to airplanes that have one or two engines and seat only a few people and whose normal loaded weight is below 2750 kilograms or 6,062.71 pounds). The No. 8 Bombing and Gunnery School began operating at Kenyon Field in 1941. This facility could train 1,500 personnel at a time; students attended classes and completed multiple exercises over a three-year period.
Members of most Commonwealth countries' air forces attended the two schools in Lethbridge. This influx of personnel from around the world exposed the citizens of Lethbridge to new cultures. It also led to the creation of many new civilian support jobs and to newfound prosperity for the community as a whole.
The other major wartime initiative associated with the city of Lethbridge was the operation of a Prisoner of War (POW) camp. The Lethbridge Camp commenced operation in late 1942 and, with a holding capacity of 12,500 internees, it soon became the largest POW facility in North America. Unlike the BACTP schools, and for obvious security reasons, the POW camp interacted very little with the rest of the city. The camp was equipped with its own barracks, mess halls, administrative buildings, and recreation facilities. The prisoners—mostly Germans captured in Africa—remained confined under strict supervision. Those deemed less of a threat were assigned to farms to assist with field work or to work in various local industries.
The citizens of Lethbridge supported numerous initiatives aimed at furthering the war effort, including rationing and conserving and generously contributing to each of the Victory Loan campaigns held between 1941 and 1945. Five times, the city of Lethbridge was recognized as a per capita leader for contributions among all cities in Canada. On average, over the course of the nine campaigns, the citizens of the city gave over $1,000.00 per person. The city’s five service clubs—Gyro, Lions, Kinsmen, Kiwanis and Rotary—played an integral role in raising funds. Local businesses such as Ellison Milling & Elevator Company and Sick’s Lethbridge Brewery made significant financial contributions.
Lethbridge residents quickly established a respectable record as a giving and supportive community during the Second World War. The local Community War Chest was created in 1941 as a means for all citizens to contribute financially. It consolidated various fundraising efforts into a single annual appeal and raised close to $50,000 a year for the remainder of the war. Its efforts culminated in popular parades in which such groups as the Salvation Army, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, Red Cross, YMCA, and IODE staged their causes on colourful floats.
Various forms of entertainment were used in garnering support for Victory Loans. Hollywood actor Ian Hunter and California Sunshine Girl Evelyn Dinsmoor made appearances as goodwill ambassadors in the community. Crowds flocked to see the Hollywood celebrities and eagerly donated to the Victory Loan drives. Rallies and parades were frequently held to generate enthusiasm and support for the war. Canada’s famous Second World War flying ace George Beurling visited Lethbridge in the summer of 1943, promoting the fourth Victory Loan campaign. Lethbridge's wartime experience was very similar to that of other cities in the province, in which citizens were united in their efforts to help the Allies win the war.
Viel, Aimée. Lethbridge on the Homefront, 1939 to 1945. Lethbridge: Lethbridge Historical Society, 1998.