From the outset of the Second World War, the citizens of Red Deer and the surrounding area were eager to support the war effort and to enlist in the military. Members of the local community were wholeheartedly disappointed when a decision was made to limit the role and capacity of Red Deer's 78th Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery. A mere 13 members of the 78th were transferred to a British Columbia artillery unit involved in coastal defence in September 1939. Not to be discouraged, numerous young men quickly joined units in Calgary and Edmonton.
As the war progressed, the young men of Red Deer, eager to join the fray, were given their chance. The 78th Battery was mobilized to full strength in the spring of 1940. Shortly thereafter, the Calgary Tank formed a company in Red Deer. Seventy volunteers signed up immediately and, within a few days, the company had met its quota of 150 men. Over the course of the Second World War, more than 1,000 men and women from Red Deer and district served in the Canadian military. Fifty-two citizens of the community died during the war and many more were wounded.
The nearby Penhold Airport, located south of Red Deer, was selected as a British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) training facility; officially, it was known as No. 36 Service Flying Training School. Another BCATP facility was located at Bowden, a small village situated 40 kilometres (24.85 miles) south of Red Deer.
In August 1940, the federal government announced the construction of a militia training centre in Red Deer. This 50-acre (20.23-hectare) facility situated in the northeast corner of the city consisted of more than 30 buildings and could house approximately 1,000 recruits at a time. Soldiers stationed at the new Red Deer militia centre underwent four weeks of basic training. With the announcement and construction of the training centre, members of the community prepared for the influx of soldiers. Plans to entertain the troops were put in place, and restaurateurs and beer parlour owners expanded their premises. Of interest, Red Deer’s population increased from 2,846 in 1941 to 4,042 in 1946; a 42 percent increase over five years.
By 1943, the population of Red Deer had doubled on account of the influx of soldiers and civilian workers arriving in the city. Military authorities announced, in March 1943, that the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps would be granted a new facility. Military personnel began training at the new and larger facility known as the A-20 Camp, located in the same place as the militia training centre built in 1940. Approximately 100 officers provided trades training to upwards of 500 recruits in preparation of their placement with Royal Canadian Army Service Corps; this included driving military transport vehicles, repairing vehicles, reading maps, and defending against gas attacks.
Red Deer’s civic officials and business community took an active role bolstering the city's war effort. Many in the community believed that federal authorities in the district were not doing enough. Accordingly, in 1940, the Red Deer Board of Trade took it upon itself to pass several resolutions that it believed would improve the overall war effort. Among the resolutions were calls for the internment of all subversives, the registration of foreigners, the conscription of manpower, and more stringent regulations on the sale of firearms. When the National Resources Mobilization Act was passed, the Red Deer Board of Trade shifted its tactics from criticizing the government to one of rallying citizens to the cause. An emphasis was placed on the need to stop Hitler at any cost.
One of the ways the citizens of Red Deer and other Canadian communities contributed to the war effort was to open their homes to British mothers and children who had been evacuated during the Battle of Britain. Not all of these situations worked out well: some in Red Deer looked upon these children as free labour. Most evacuees were met with kindness and given an opportunity to continue their schooling. The local branch of the Rotary Club raised funds for refugee relief. The Second World War created hundreds of thousands of refugees, and these individuals often arrived in communities like Red Deer with little more than the clothes on their backs.
As in most Alberta communities, local service clubs successfully promoted the sale of war savings certificates. Various local and national charity drives were established in an effort to raise funds for the servicemen. The Red Deer branch of the Canadian Red Cross managed to raise more than $1,500 by the end of 1939. The local branches of Knights of Columbus and the Royal Canadian Legion also pledged their support. In total, Red Deer raised over $8,000 for military supplies.
Victory Loan campaigns had great success in Red Deer. Every Victory Loan initiative exceeded the initial quota. Red Deer's financial generosity reflected its commitment to the war effort and the prosperity that engrossed the city as a whole. Mickey the Beaver, Red Deer’s town mascot, was created during the Second World War and appeared at numerous wartime fundraisers. A likeable figure, Mickey the Beaver even had a small cameo in a Hollywood movie.
The prosperity and progress associated with Red Deer during the war period was not without its problems. There was a growing shortage of affordable housing. The sale of gasoline was prohibited during evenings and on Sundays. Moreover, there was a serious shortage of basic goods such as coffee, tea, and meats. Meatless Tuesdays and Fridays were encouraged at homes and restaurants. Metals collection programs were established and the Red Deer Salvage Committee collected several tons of cast iron and steel.
For a more detailed examination of Red Deer during the Second World War, see Community in Transition: Red Deer in World War II by Michael J. Dawe.
Dawe, Michael J. Red Deer: An Illustrated History. Red Deer: Red Deer and District Museum Society, 1996.