Wednesday, September 6, 2017

World War Wednesdays: "The Fine Accomplishments Which Have Attended its Growth": Cowal W.I. During WWII

     As a historian of both local history and broader subject matter, I often find myself developing obsessions with certain topics and stories (as evidenced by this blog). One such fascination this summer has been with the community of Cowal, a formerly bustling village between Dutton-Dunwich and Southwold Townships that has been reduced to ghost town status in recent years. I find the Cowal Women's Institute's edition of the Tweedsmuir Histories to be one of the most interesting and exhaustive, and enjoy flipping through and learning about the place it once was. In so doing, I came across an account of the Institute's service during the Second World War, and thought I would share some excerpts in recognition of some outstanding local women.

     "In 1939 War was declared. Many homes were affected and again every woman in the Community did War work of some kind. As well as quilting at the regular Institute meetings, the Community divided into four groups, namely Valley Group, 4th Group, 5th Group, and West Group, and quiltings were held in the homes and Red Cross sewing and knitting done." The Farmers' Club joined with the Institute to sponsor dances, auction sales etc., to raise money for overseas work."

     The Knitting Report for the March Meeting 1940 read that the following articles had been completed: "92 sweaters, 43 scarves, 116 pairs of socks, 43 pairs of 18" socks, 6 pairs of 25" stockings, 35 pairs of mitts, 34 pairs of gloves, 10 washcloths, 4 aero caps, 4 pairs of women's stockings, 2 women's vests, 21 pairs of ankle socks, 15 pairs of women's knickers, 1 helmet, and 1 pneumonia jacket." 
     The Sewing Report from that same meeting accounted for "19 bed gowns, 16 pillow slips, 16 sling bandages, 9 pneumonia jackets, 6 abdominal binders, 5 suits of pyjamas." For May and June: "11 hospital gowns, 2 pairs of pyjamas, 8 pneumonia jackets, 4 pillow cases, and 5 bandages."
     Mrs. Hugh Carroll, the writer of that section, rightly reflects that "The ladies never ceased their sewing and knitting as long as there was a need for it."

     Other volunteer efforts organized by the ladies included selling tickets on quilts, afghans, hope chests, blankets, and other items; salvage drives; door-to-door canvassing; teas at quiltings; and developing "numerous ways to raise money so badly needed to provide the necessities for our boys overseas."

     Mrs. Carroll writes further that "Boxes were sent regularly to our soldiers. 85 boxes were sent overseas in 1943-1944 alone. Total expense was $217.77. We were a very fortunate Community- all our boys returned. In appreciation of their sacrifice, the Institute presented each one with twenty five dollars in cash, or an equivalent gift."

     In addition, "We did not forget the people of Britain who gave so much. Boxes were sent after the war for distribution. In 1940 each member was asked to give 50 cents towards furnishing a Ward in a Canadian hospital in England. In 1941 the Institute was asked to send jam to Britain. It was decided to use the surplus fruit to make jam. A committee of 3 members reported making 96 pounds of jam to be sent overseas through the Red Cross. For several years the Institute sent 100 pounds of honey to England as a food supplement to their tight rationing."

     The last of the account states that "In their busy schedule the Women's Institute still found time once a month for two members to help serve the boys of the Airforce at Hostess House, Fingal Airport... In July 1944 a garden party was held at the Cowal Hall sponsored by the Women's Institute assisted by the Junior Girls and Junior Farmers to raise extra money for the Overseas Bof Fund, and these were continued later as a social event until 1952."

     The incredible contributions made by these women were in not exceptional in relation to those made by Institutes across the province, and they represent just one example of local community organization in support of the war effort. What I find unique is the depth of their records and use of existing social structures to adapt and develop ways of raising funds. 
     Thanks for reading,

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