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Coming Home

More than a million Canadians served in the military during the Second World War. Roughly 10,000 of these individuals were assigned to the Asian theatre: Hong Kong, Burma (now Myanmar), Malaya (now Malaysia), Singapore, Java (now Indonesia), and India.

The Far East campaign was the longest of the war. 290 Canadians captured by Japanese forces following the fall of Hong Kong in December 1941 spent the rest of the war as POWs. 264 of these young men died while being imprisoned. A majority of the survivors suffered from ailments and disabilities – the result of their brutal treatment while imprisoned – and died prematurely following the war.”

Canadians reacted to the news of victory with mixed emotions: joyful celebration and reverent solemnity. All, however, shared a deep sense of gratitude and relief.
VE Day and VJ Day gave rise to celebrations across Alberta. Dances and street parties were common sights in Alberta's towns and cities. People filled Edmonton's and Calgary's downtown core, singing and waving flags.

Whether serving in the European or Pacific theatres, Canadian soldiers had one word on their minds: "Home". At home, friends and family members eagerly anticipated their arrival. Getting home was not an easy process: there were an estimated 282,000 Canadian servicemen in Europe and it took more than a year to safely transport everyone home. Furthermore, while serving in Europe some soldiers had married: their wives and children would also require transportation to Canada.

The Canadian government's official policy was "first in, first out." Those who had served abroad the longest were entitled to return home first. The military’s point system worked as follows: every month served equated to two points; every month served overseas equaled three points. Married men received bonus points. The seriously wounded and liberated POWs were prioritized.

Embarkation from Britain and the Netherlands began in June 1945. By October 110,000 Canadian troops had returned to Canada and been discharged, much to the delight of their loved ones. Some of Canada's military personnel had been in Europe for almost six years—most had been in Europe for at least two years. All had experienced events that would alter their lives considerably.

Large crowds turned out to greet returning soldiers in Calgary, Edmonton, and Lethbridge. Despite rain and inclement weather 50,000 Edmontonians turned out to welcome home the troops. The Veterans Guard Pipe Band welcomed home the Lethbridge-based 20th Anti-Tank Battery. The South Alberta Regiment remained stationed in Holland for six months following the end of the war, returning to Medicine Hat on January 18, 1946 to a large, raucous crowd. School children in the southeastern city were granted half a day off from school to greet their fathers.

The final section of this website examines the lives of soldiers upon their return to Alberta. These articles address family reunification, employment, casualties, and postwar economics.


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            For more on Alberta during World War II, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.
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