Civilians and the Battle of the Atlantic

While we usually talk about the effort of those in the military during the Battle of the Atlantic, the battle could not have been won without the efforts and sacrifices of Canadians not in uniform who worked on the home front.

Civilians worked in the Royal Canadian Navy Dockyard to maintain the ships so that they could go to sea, as well as in shipyards across the country to produce warships for Canada and England. Men and women worked in factories nation-wide to produce munitions and equipment. All were vital to the war effort.

In essence, civilian contributions allowed sailors to go to sea.

It is estimated that over three million Canadians were employed in various industries to support the war effort, an estimated 57,000 of which worked in merchant shipbuilding and a further 27,000 in naval shipbuilding, which including building destroyers, frigates, corvettes and minesweepers.

Women and children on the home front rationed food and other material. They collected metal, rubber and bones for the war effort, and knitted scarves and socks for sailors braving the frigid north Atlantic. And women’s role in society, in particular, changed drastically in order to free up men for service. While the men were at sea, women worked in every sector of the economy and every field of national service, laying the foundation for the fight for women’s equality in the decades that followed.

Civilian harbour pilots worked long hours to ensure that the cargo ships taking vital supplies to Europe were safely moved in and out of harbour.

Families in Halifax, Sydney and St. John’s opened their homes to sailors, both navy and merchant navy, sharing their meager rations to provide home cooked meals and to entertain the sailors on their all too brief time ashore.

The war touched all aspects of Canadian life, and victory would not have been possible if not for the efforts of every Canadian, in and out of uniform.