Turning Point – 1943

Wartime Balance Sheet

The War’s Effects

The Second World War lasted 2,076 days and caused some 40 million deaths world wide, mostly civilian. On 8 May 1945 newspapers across Canada announced the end of war in Europe and published a list of the latest Canadian military casualties: 76 dead and 169 wounded. Between 1 January and 8 May 1945 some 8,000 Canadians perished in a war that everyone thought was all but over.

War has its very personal dramas. Cabinet minister Ernest Lapointe saw his son, Hugues, for the last time when they said their goodbyes in Halifax on 21 July 1941; Hugues would die before the end of the year. Family stories like that of the Lapointes were told tens of thousands of times. Canada's three services suffered overwhelming losses between 1939 and 1945: The navy sustained 2,343 casualties including 2,024 deaths; the air force 21,000 casualties including 13,589 deaths; the army 75,596 casualties including 22,917 deaths. The dead included a nurse and three members of the Women's Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force. A total of 45,423 women served in the three arms, and another 4,518 in the Medical Corps. Most were in junior positions far from the front, as it was believed women had no place in or near combat units.

These armed forces began from nothing, as we have seen. For example, in 1939 the Permanent Militia had some 4,000 men and 500 officers; by June 1944 it had 450,000 non-commissioned men and women and 50,000 officers. This sharp increase could not have occurred without the conflicts and mistakes that arise in all armies, at all levels. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan is a case in point. In 1939, to save money, Canada abandoned its aviation manpower to British control. When Canada later wanted to make full use of an article in the agreement to establish Canadian squadrons, it would encounter reluctance among both its English allies and the Canadian crews, who were by then used to the existing esprit de corps. The Canadianization of the air force would actually be a qualified failure.