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Canada and World War 2

Canada Declares War
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On the 11th of May 1939, Canadian citizens were greeted with the headline: Canada Declares War! on their newspapers.

Many Canadians were shocked that Britain and France were at war with Germany yet again. In World War I, many Canadians paraded the streets at the declaration of war, but now, very few did. Many Canadians did not relish in the idea of having more lives lost.

The tragedy of war, however, had already been brought to the home front. On the 3rd of September 1939, one week before Canada declared war, a passenger liner called Athenia was torpedoed by German submarines. 200 of the 1500 passengers on board were Canadian. Several of them were killed, including ten-year-old Margaret Hayworth of Hamilton, Ontario. A state funeral was held for this young girl and her death helped to convince Canadians of the Nazi threat.

Canadian Preparations

When Canada declared war in 1939, the army only had about 10 000 soldiers. For much of the Depression during the 1930s the Canadian government cut back on military spending. That year [1939] the military defence funding was only $35 million. The army only had 14 tanks, 29 Bren guns, 23 anti-tank rifles, and 5 small mortar guns. The navy had 10 operational vessels and the Air Force only had 50 aircrafts.

Prime Minister King at this time hoped that Canada's involvement would be limited in the war. He hoped in terms of sending 40 000 troops to Britain and acting as a supplier of food and war materials to them as well. He did not want to lose many lives again and he wished to avoid conscription at all costs.

The Canadian government began to move quickly by making the War Measures Act. Orders were quickly being placed for war materials and soon all factories began producing equipment to boost Canadian troops and aircrafts. Funding for this was not easy however, so the government introduced a new series of taxes, the War Tax, on the 12th of September 1939.

By the end of September, over 58 000 men and women had enlisted in the Canadian forces. Many men were unemployed from the Depression and grateful for the $1.30 pay a day as well as free food, clothes, and shelter. As in 1914, all these recruits were volunteers, but they went off to war in a more sombre mood.

On the 16th of September, the first convoy left Canada for Britain. By January 1940, 23 000 -mainly untrained soldiers- were in England. Hopes were high that the war would end quickly. Events would soon take place to erase them.

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Created by Sarah Lucas. Final History Assignment 2005-2006.