Reality can often place second to sentiment. As a lover of history, I have always valued my education and awareness of the horrific statistics that affected millions during the Second World War. And yet, with all the facts I have learned of wartime in the 1940s, I continue to imagine this era as a period of romantic sentiment.
When I think of the forties, I picture a couple’s silhouettes walking, hands held in the moonlight. I have images of teary goodbyes on a doorstep or an embrace after loved ones have been reunited. Perhaps I picture this time in such a picturesque form due to films like Casablanca or novels like The Notebook. But the truth of it is; I imagine the era this way to the credit of well told stories that have been passed down by my relatives. The war affected so many lives. Those who lived through it saw and felt death at their doorstep. And yet, despite the way of life that the war created, for my family that lived through the war, their stories capture the sentimental images I picture from that time. Despite the facts we learn today about WWII, storytelling is what brings the harsh realities of that period to a place of reflection, where sentiment takes precedence.
What I find to be most captivating about this era was its generation’s resiliency. In a recent blog post, I attempted to capture a day in the life of a young Canadian Mother during wartime. Initially, it seemed only natural to write a love story of a couple torn apart by war. However, after writing a first draft, I realized that my words didn’t capture the emotion like the stories told by my family members. The history of the time wasn’t apparent and it made me realize that having not lived through this period, I was in no position to invent a fictitious love story.
With a new sheet of paper, I started writing again and I thought about the war’s participants. Canadian soldiers shipped out shortly after Canada made its declaration of war on Germany. While Canada was never under attack during WWII, the nation still underwent fear and trauma. While the army was shipped out, women at home were given an almost unrealistic amount of responsibility. Due to the Great Depression in the thirties, both the U.S. and the Canadian economies were still recovering. With men off at war, Canadian women had to take over in the workforce to ensure that the economy would remain stable. There were campaigns to recruit women in both traditionally male and female jobs and Canadian women took the initiative. This initiative doubled the presence of women in the workforce by the end of the war.
Apart from employment needs, volunteer efforts were also in high demand in Canada. The army needed volunteers to collect and sort items that could be recycled, assist in the distribution of rations and make household items that could be made by hand. Young women rose to the occasion and in addition to working part-time or full-time jobs, they made time during off hours to organize volunteer committees and distribute tasks by level of priority. On top of that, women in Canada were in charge of running the family household, finances and raising children.
While this lifestyle would be hectic under safe circumstances, in wartime, it is difficult to imagine the exhaustion that women of this period went through. Apart from their female comrades, women were left in a position to make decisions alone without the comfort or knowledge that their loved ones would return to safety.
The story of my heroine in The War at Home expresses how much responsibility and stress that rested on a woman’s shoulders at that time. Burdened by the thought of being alone, she escapes in a panic to find herself in a nearby forest filled with peace and quiet. After taking a few moments to collect her thoughts, she pulls herself together and returns to her baby boy and spends the rest of her evening as a volunteer for the war effort.
Like this heroine, many women in Canada also had to just keep on going. Despite the stress, mental and physical exhaustion of juggling priorities and bringing food to the table; they continued without complaint. Since writing this story, my romantic imagination of this era has changed. I now think about this era by applying the facts and have painted a more realistic portrait. Going forward, I shall leave the romantic reflections to that of our courageous storytellers who, though they experienced the reality of war, can still recollect and share the sentimental moments to future generations.