On 13 August 1941, the Canadian government authorized the formation of the Canadian Women's Army Corps (CWAC) for the enlistment of several thousand women in support roles for the armed forces. Despite the Corps not being a formal part of the army, woman trained as drivers, cooks, typists, clerks, stenographers, messengers, telephone operators, and quartermasters.
Since the CWAC was not an infantry regiment, its pipe band did not take part in the Massed Bands playing at infantry parades. However, it did play a significant role among the Canadian 1st Army pipe bands which played in Europe.
The band was formed on 8 August, 1942 and accomplished piper Lillian M. Grant of Victoria, BC was recruited as its pipe major. The intention of the pipe band and its sister ensemble, the CWAC Brass Band, was to improve the perception of women in the military and encourage more ladies to join the forces. At its strongest, the band consisted of 27 drummers and pipers.
Here is a letter written by Pipe Major Grant to former band members in April 1992:
“I shall be pleased to give you information on the Canadian Women's Army Corps Pipe Band of which I was the organizer and Pipe Major.
The nucleus of the band came from British Columbia where six pipers and four drummers began practising in the old Hotel Vancouver. In 1943 we went transferred to Ottawa where we picked another six pipers and four drummers.
The band played a heavy role in recruiting and morale building for the Canadian Forces. After a recruiting tour of Canada covering over 100 cities and towns, we repeated the same tour, more extensively, the following year. In the spring of 1945 we were sent to Pennsylvania U.S.A. to promote their War Bond Drive. While there we played in 25 cities and towns to hundreds of employees outside factories and indoors at concerts and rallies.
On returning to our base in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada we were given the great news that we were to be transported to Holland! Apeldoorn was "home" for seven months. We were put up in a place called "Jasper Lodge" which was across from Wilhelmina Park, if I can remember correctly. I do not recall the street name as the roads all had army connotations and ours was known as "London Up".
The band was deactivated in 1946 following the conclusion of the war. The CWAC Pipe Band had the distinction of being the only active-service women's military pipe band in the Commonwealth during the second World War, and it remains the only women's military pipe band in Canadian history.
|Edmonton, May 31, 1987: 6th. Reunion of the C.W.A.C. Pipe Band|
If you're interested in reading more about the band, including personal memoirs and photos by Lillian Davis and the nominal roll of the pipe band, check her out at http://pipesforfreedom.com/webtxt/0500THE_CANADIAN_WOMEN'S_ARMY_CORPS.htm
Thanks so much for reading about this amazing group of ladies who faced adversity from both the home front and the Western Front. Theirs is one of my favorite stories of the Second World War, and their legacy is a huge inspiration.
Until next week,