EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Friday, October 22, 2010

"Fingers were never idle" as Chapleau Red Cross Society branch served on home front in World War II

Work report more at http://www.chapleau.com/
Shortly after World War II started in September 1939, the Chapleau branch of the Canadian Red Cross Society was once again active and sending "comfort" boxes overseas to local troops.

At a meeting held in the Town Hall in January 1940, Mrs. Pierre Tremblay reported that she had inspected 1,127 pairs of socks, 156 sweaters, 128 pairs of mitts, 46 pairs of gloves. 36 helmets and 52 wool caps -- almost 1, 400 items in total all made by volunteer members of the Chapleau branch. It had also been very active in World War I.The auditor's report for the past year presented by Harry Searle, a World War I veteran after whom Branch Number 5 of the Royal Canadian Legion is named showed that the local Red Cross had received $4,446.46 all in donations and an amazing amount for 1940 from people in a small community like Chapleau and the surrounding area. The report was signed by T.R. Serre and John 'Mac' McClellan.


Mrs. Allen Austin, convener of sub branches reported there were 54 members in Dalton, 30 each in Lochalsh and Missanabie respectively, 12 in Nicholson, 53 in Sultan and one in Amyot.

As Remembrance Day nears, our thoughts turn to the men and women who served in our armed forces, and rightly so, but on the home front in Chapleau and many other communities across Canada were doing their part for the war effort through branches of the Red Cross Society, and other groups. As I looked though names of members of the Chapleau branch from information on www.chapleau.com, I realized that many of the workers had family members serving in the armed forces -- and some would not be returning home. Others had served in World War I. For example, there were 39 workers at a meeting in January 1944, and I recognized 25 of them at least as having family in Canada's armed forces in World War I or II.

Mrs. Maud Hands, who in 1947 became the first woman to be elected to Chapleau council was very active in the branch and served as its president.

In a report dated October 1943 to the Red Cross Society headquarters, the Chapleau branch called attention to the "wonderful work" of some of the local members who were over eighty and ninety years of age.

It noted that Mrs. McNair of Missanabie, 91, had knitted 150 articles while Mrs. Thrush, 92, had "made a knitted article for every week of the war" adding that "finding sweaters and scarves too heavy for her frail hands, Mrs. Thrush knit smaller articles" including 125 pairs of baby bootees for the British bomb victims.

Mrs. Anne H. Bell, who the report says was "shut in because of high blood pressure" had knit 180 pairs of socks. Another person mentioned was Mrs. McQuaig, Sr. 84, who was "a faithful worker for the Red Cross. Her fingers were never idle." Mrs. McQuaig also inspected work and made corrections as required.

At the annual meeting of 1945, Mrs. Boyd reported that in the past year the branch had provided 634 pairs of socks, 783 surgical pads, 400 mouth wipes, 867 suits of pyjamas, 189 pillow cases, 20 personal property bags, 34 surgical coats, six kit bags, 12 hot water bottles, eight day shirts and 17 pieces of children's underwear. The underwear was made by Mrs Flannigan and Mrs. Brownlee from odd ends of flannelette left over from pyjamas.

At the weekly work sessions there was often entertainment and one noted that a presentation was given by the local Glee Club under the direction of Miss Ruth Wedge. They sang 'O England'. Tea and cookies would also be served.

The Chapleau branch met weekly throughout the war in the Town Hall, except when a flu epidemic swept Chapleau and meetings had to be cancelled.

And so, when we pause to reflect and remember on November 11, let us include those dedicated citizens, volunteers all, who spent countless hours preparing comfort boxes not only for those who were serving in the forces, but for victims of war too. As I think back, I recall going to meetings of the Chapleau branch with my grandmother Edith Hunt, after she returned from England near the end of World War II where she had served as a nurse. Today I remember many of the members who were active in Chapleau life after the war, and the veterans, and I wonder why!

The best answer I ever got that explained how these ordinary people from communities like Chapleau became the exceptional generation came from Frank Coulter when I once asked him why he had served so long on the local school board. His answer was profound but simple. J.M. Shoup, a veteran of both world wars and long time principal of Chapleau Public School had said they had a "duty to serve." Frank, a World War II veteran , along with so many other men and women accepted the duty to serve, to make Chapleau a better place. Lest we forget! My email is mj.morris@live.ca

NOTE: Hugh McGoldrick sent me the following information. Thanks Hugh.

"Many years ago as I and my friends were exploring the soon-to-be torn-down town hall we found the book. It looked interesting so I took it home to my mother, (Anne (Zufelt) McGoldrick) who as a young girl was also noted as attending some of the meetings listed therein. Later she donated it to the Chapleau library. I am glad to see it being referenced today.

"Had we not been exploring that day that formal record would have surely been lost forever."

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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