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Postwar Canada: Bringing the boys back

War is over, victory savoured. Now what to do with jobless soldiers streaming home? And how to get women out of the factory and back to the hearth? Such postwar fears evaporated as the economy boomed, a surge of immigrants transformed an increasingly confident nation and the social safety net began to take shape. In what's now viewed as a golden age, modern Canada was born.

The job of bringing troops home from Europe is one of never-ending surprises. To help with the massive undertaking, Allied forces have commandeered a huge range of vessels. As we hear in this radio clip, they've even built new ships just for the task. The new craft will bring home an extra 200 soldiers each month - a drop in the bucket, perhaps, but it means 200 more happy "repats" and 200 more happy families.

Some soldiers will try to get comfortable on lowly grain boats. Others will float in style aboard the refitted luxury liner Mauretania. The lucky chaps aboard the Montebello Park are in good spirits. They've even made a pact not to shave during the 14-day crossing. They should walk down the gangplank, the reporter observes, with a "nice set of chin cabbage." 
. Soldiers started coming home long before VJ-Day. They were repatriated throughout the war for reasons including injury and misconduct. About one-third of the Armed Forces had been shipped home before the fighting stopped.

. Canada brought home a total of 346,080 servicemen and servicewomen from Europe and 40,217 from the Far East and the Pacific. Most arrived back in Canada before the end of 1945.

. In addition to the repats there were:
- 6,332 ex-prisoners of war
- 10,254 sick and wounded soldiers
- 44,886 war brides and a handful of war husbands
- 21,358 children from those unions.

. The task of bringing troops home as quickly as they wished was frustrated by a worldwide shipping shortage. Many military and civilian ships had been torpedoed by German U-boats. Few Canadian warships were suited to large-scale troop travel.

. Faced with deciding who got to "demob" first, the military adopted a "First in, first out" policy.
. The policy used a point system to give priority to:
- those who volunteered to stay on for the Pacific campaign
- those who had served the longest
- servicewomen
- married servicemen
- the wounded
- ex-prisoners of war

. After complaints, the military admitted, however, that the "First in, First out" policy wasn't always followed. Some conscripts who had been in uniform only a few months got home quicker than volunteers who had signed up in the early days of the war.

. Some Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons intended for the war in the Pacific demobbed themselves, flying their Lancaster bombers home to Canada.

. Commanders in charge of overseas troops waiting to go home were afraid the homesick men would get unruly. They tried to keep soldiers occupied with drills, entertainment, sports and even university courses. One group of Canadians stationed in Aldershot, England, however, rioted and looted local shops two nights in a row.

. The military had to worry about what to do with more than just people. It had thousands of weapons, planes, vehicles and ships to dispose of.

. Planes that had been used for training in Canada were sold or piled up and burned. Some armoured vehicles left overseas were sold to civilians to be used as farm and construction equipment. Many, however, were sold for scrap, as were many Canadian ships.

. The Mauretania mentioned in this clips was the second Cunard liner to bear that name. The first Mauretania luxury liner also did a stint as a troop ships ferrying Canadian soldiers, in the First World War.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio Special
Broadcast Date: Nov. 16, 1945
Host: Bob Kesten
Duration: 2:15
Photo: National Archives of Canada PA-112367

Last updated: November 5, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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