Volunteer War Service and Civil Defence
From the outset of the Second World War, Canadians, including Albertans, demonstrated a willingness to do their bit in any way required. Existing volunteer organizations expanded and new ones were created. This enthusiastic response resulted in the overlapping of responsibilities and considerable confusion. To rectify the situation, the federal government created the Department of National War Services in July 1940.
Volunteer organizations were required to register with the Department and to provide financial information and audit reports of their operations. In exchange, the Department used public information systems to advertise for volunteer organizations and to set up Voluntary Service Centres across the country to recruit and place new volunteers. In 1942, to coordinate the financing of volunteer organizations, the National War Services Department established the Volunteer Services Fund to distribute financial resources to registered organizations involved in war work. In addition, to avoid competition among volunteer agencies and Victory Loan fundraisers, offsetting schedules were established.
The provision of services provided to the military by the various organizations was closely monitored by the Department of National War Services. Auxiliary service organizations such as the Royal Canadian Legion, Knights of Columbus, Young Men's Christian Association, Salvation Army, Canadian Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, Navy League, and Victorian Order of Nurses served the Armed Forces both on the homefront and overseas. These groups operated canteens, leisure facilities, and hostels; organized events; provided medical services; and prepared home defence programs.
Home defence programs were organized by veterans and civilian volunteers. These individuals were trained to sound alarms in the event of an air raid and to oversee the subsequent evacuation procedures. Home defence groups such as the Veterans Volunteer Reserve (VVR) aided the Mounted Police by providing basic law enforcement services in rural areas. They also helped keep an eye on any suspect individuals, notably enemy aliens, and reported any fifth column activities. Members of the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance trained home defence volunteers in first aid.
The large number of women volunteers warranted the establishment of the Women’s Volunteer Division of the National War Services Department in 1941. Members of groups such as the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, the United Farm Women of Alberta, and the Young Women's Christian Organization contributed in many ways, making and sending clothing and food packages to soldiers as well as civilians of, and refugees from, war-torn countries. The members of these organizations also raised funds, organized salvage drives, and helped other women manage the rigours of raising a family, keeping house, working, and dealing with the anxiety caused by the long periods of separation from loved ones overseas.
Lautenschlager, Janet. “Volunteering: A Traditional Canadian Value.” Canadian Heritage. (accessed September 2007)
Merta, Charles. Knights of Columbus in Alberta, 1907–1980: A Dedicated History. Alberta: Knights of Columbus, 1980.
Zwicker, Donna Alexander. “Volunteer War Service in Alberta, 1939–1945,” in For King and Country: Alberta in the Second World War, ed. Ken Tingley. Edmonton: Reidmore Books, 1995.