The Canadian Homefront
Letters to and from home are a good way to see what life was like on the Canadian home front. Click on the links below to explore collections of letters.
An Echo in My Heart
The idea of a home front, or civilians supporting the war at home, was solidified during the First World War. While military soldiers were fighting the enemy on the Western Front, their loved ones at home were fighting the war in civilian ways. Often this involved rationing food so that adequate supplies could be sent to the front lines, buying bonds to finance the war and having women take over soldier’s jobs at home to keep the economy strong. These efforts as well as constant news and propaganda about the war going on so far away from home made for a unique culture for soldier’s loved ones. The Canadian home front that Mary was experiencing during Charlie’s service was particularly unique as there was some opposition to the war. Canada was only involved due to its colonial connections to Britain and many Canadians, particularly the French Canadian population, didn’t agree with the decision to aide Britain. Along with the political climate, there were particular challenges and activities that were unique to the home front atmosphere. These are some ideas and events that Mary would be encountering while Charlie was away.
Bonds – “Victory Bonds” as they were called in Canada, were designed to increase the government’s, and consequently the military’s, capital while helping civilians feel as though they were contributing to the war effort. There was a 5.5% return on the savings bonds and they were issued in 5, 10 or 20 year increments.
Rations – Food was being rationed in Canada to in order to send enough food to the front lines. Sugar, butter and other “luxury” food items were limited in amounts by families and therefore became very expensive during the war.
The Telegram – When a soldier was wounded or killed in action, his family would receive a telegram from the Army office, sending their condolences. Often a returned letter also told the news, with “Killed in Action” stamped across the address and returned to sender.
Conscription Crisis – In 1917, near the end of the war, a large number of the original volunteers for the Canadian Expeditionary Force (the Canadian military overseas) had either been killed in combat or severely wounded, leaving CEF with greatly reduced numbers. The country debated and eventually voted in a Conscription Act, which forced able bodied men to leave home and enlist. Few of these conscripted men actually made it to the front lines, as the act was put into effect on January 1, 1918 and the fighting ended less than a year later.