Canadian Women’s Army Corps established (1941)

On today’s date in 1941, the Department of National Defence authorized the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) for women who wished to volunteer for official uniformed service.

In 2000, as part of its Millennium issue, Canada Post issued a 46-cent stamp (Scott #1825b) commemorating Elizabeth Smellie, who helped organize the CWAC in 1941, alongside fellow nurse Pauline Vanier. The multi-coloured stamp was printed by Ashton-Potter Canada on Tullis Russell Coatings coating paper and has general tagging along each side. Margaret Susan Issenman provided the design, which was based on photographs provided by the National Archives of Canada as well as an illustration by Bonnie Ross.

The wife of former Governor General Georges Vanier, Pauline Vanier served as a Red Cross volunteer in Paris during and after the Second World War. Smellie was the first female colonel in the Canadian Army and headed nursing services at home and abroad during both World Wars. She also helped to organize the CWAC.

The CWAC was established in response to a personnel shortage experienced during the growth of Canada’s army, navy and air force.

The CWAC was established in response to a personnel shortage experienced during the growth of Canada’s army, navy and air force.

Smellie died in Toronto in 1968 at the age of 83. She’s buried in Thunder Bay, Ont., where a historical marker was erected by the Ontario Heritage Foundation.

“This celebrated Canadian army nurse and public health authority was born in Port Arthur, Ontario. In 1901 ‘Beth’ Smellie became night supervisor at McKellar General Hospital,” reads the marker. “Joining the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps in 1915, she served in France and England. Elizabeth Smellie was demobilized in 1920 and three years later became Chief Superintendent of the Victorian Order of Nurses for Canada. She re-entered the army in 1940 and a year later supervised the organization of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. The first woman to attain the rank of Colonel in Canada’s Armed Forces, Col. Smellie achieved many honours, including Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and the Royal Red Cross Medal. After World War II she returned to the V.O.N., and retired in 1947.”

In 2011, Smellie was named a person of National Historic Significance by the federal government after a recommendation from the national Historic Sites and Monuments Board. Although a federal plaque is usually erected to these persons, Smellie’s commemorative plaque has yet to be erected.

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