Canadian women who now rightly enjoy full equality in every walk of life may not realize how much they owe to an almost forgotten housewife who was instrumental in forming the Canadian Women's Army Corps [CWAC] early in World War Two.
The British Columbia women were first, then similar groups formed in other provinces across Canada. Each proved their foresightedness and value after the Second World War was declared in September, 1939. Few, if any, women in Canada at the time expressed the slightest desire to go into front-line combat. Nevertheless. they held strong patriotic feelings. and were determined to serve in any vital support roles opened to them.
Meantime, Joan Kennedv was admitted into the army with the rank of major -- the first Canadian woman to receive an Army commission - and appointed Staff Officer CWAC: Military District 11, headquartered at Work Point Barracks, Victoria. Because of Kennedy’s obvious suitability Chief Matron Smiellie soon recommended her to be appointed as commander of the CWAC, promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
Even more of a novelty in Canada was the innovative sight of women in military uniform. CWACs were outfitted in well-cut khaki tunics, shirts, and skirts, plus trousers usually worn only while on such duties as driving trucks. Each individual woman's clothing measurements were forwarded to Army Central Stores in Ottawa, so individual uniforms were tailor-made. Officers were allowed silk stockings, while other-rank legs wore lisle, and an allowance was paid for the purchase of civilian lingerie.
One newspaper gushed, “Those smart Canadian gals in khaki stole the show!"
After being posted to Britain for a while in 1944, Lt.-Col. Kennedy returned to Canada to be appointed General Staff Officer in charge of training for the CWAC. Her ability was further recognized by being appointed to an army board to organize formation of the new Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, a highly technical regiment. Having demonstrated her versatility yet again, she returned to administering the CWACs until after war's end in August, 1945.
Many ex-CWACs stayed in close contact with each other for many years after their demobilization in 1946, to keep alive the memory of their service together. One such group of women in Kitchener, Ontario, proudly arranged a statue to their corps.