Canadian Women's Army Corps

Canadian Women's Army Corps, established 13 August 1941 to answer the Canadian Army's need for manpower and the demand of volunteer women's paramilitary groups to render official uniformed service. Except for nursing sisters, women had not previously been admitted into the Canadian ARMED FORCES. CWAC was separate from and supplementary to the Canadian Militia until 1 March 1942, when it became an integral part of the defence forces. CWAC officers thereafter could hold commissions and use military titles and badges. Initially the army needed women in uniform as clerks. All occupations open to CWAC women were noncombatant, although their diversity and number increased to include technical trades. Nonetheless, in 1945 as in 1941, the clerk or secretary in uniform was the typical CWAC.

In 1941 basic pay was set at two-thirds that of servicemen of equivalent rank. Trades pay was substantially lower than that for servicemen, and servicewomen could not claim dependants' allowances. These inequalities were cause for complaint from both uniformed and civilian women. In July 1943 the government raised basic pay to four-fifths that of men of the same rank, equalized trades pay and granted allowances for dependent parents and siblings, but not for dependent husbands or children. Although inequalities remained, the services were ahead of most private industry in narrowing the gap between men's and women's pay and benefits.

A 1943 public opinion survey revealed that only 7% of Canadians regarded joining the women's forces as the best way for women to serve Canada's war effort. This attitude accompanied widespread resistance to the breaking down of sexual divisions of labour and authority. Braving the opposition, 21 624 women served in CWAC before its dissolution in 1946. Almost 3000 were stationed in the UK; starting May 1944, select groups of these were dispatched to operational areas in Europe to serve as support staff for Canadian invasion forces. When Germany surrendered in May 1945, the CWAC constituted 2.8% of the total strength of the Canadian Army.

Colonel Margaret Eaton headed the corps April 1944-October 1945 in the position of Director General, CWAC. Thereafter, this position was gradually downgraded in preparation for the disbanding of the corps. Servicemen as well as women proposed inclusion of women's corps in postwar RESERVE FORCES, but Cabinet did not give approval. Only in 1951, during the KOREAN WAR, was the decision taken to enlist women again in the regular forces.