Halifax's 1st monument for women pays tribute to war volunteers

As a young woman, Charlotte Guy Jeffries worked at a Halifax clothing store by day and entertained tens of thousands of Second World War servicemen on piano and accordion by night. She's just one of the thousands of women a new monument is paying tribute to.

'I didn’t expect to get any special recognition, so it’s quite an honour,' says Charlotte Guy Jeffries

The Halifax Women's History Society has unveiled a bronze monument, The Volunteers, paying tribute to women volunteers during the Second World War. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

As a young woman, Charlotte Guy Jeffries worked at a Halifax clothing store by day and entertained tens of thousands of Second World War servicemen on piano and accordion by night.

More than 70 years later, she and thousands of other women were recognized for their volunteer work during the Second World War when a bronze monument was unveiled Thursday morning on the Halifax waterfront.

"We'd be out every night. I don't know how we did it now when I think back, but we didn't think at the time. It just needed to be done," said Jeffries, 96. "The men needed to be entertained."

Charlotte Guy Jeffries, 96, entertained servicemen during the Second World War. She still plays the piano. (Bruce Bottomley)

She said Halifax had little to offer the servicemen.

"There were very few restaurants … nothing to entertain these men, so hostels were opened up. And people went and served sandwiches and cakes to try to make it a little bit happier for all these service people that had nothing to do in the city," said Jeffries.

When the servicemen were waiting to go home at the end of the war, Jeffries went to the United Kingdom, France and Germany as part of a performing group to entertain the troops.

The Halifax Women's History Society, which spearheaded the monument project, says the work of these women was never recognized until now.

The monument on the Halifax waterfront honours the work of thousands of women who volunteered. (CBC)

Society chair Janet Guildford said the volunteers played a crucial role in meeting the food and recreational needs of serving personnel.

The monument includes three figures: a young girl pulling a wagon full of salvage metal materials, a black woman working one of the many canteens that fed servicemen around the city and an older woman sitting in a chair knitting with a Mi'kmaq basket.

"[The monument] represents the thousands ... of women who knitted socks and hats and scarves and absolutely all of the nice, warm, cozy things that our military personnel needed in Europe," said Guildford.

Artist Marlene Hilton Moore made the bronze statues. (Colleen Jones/CBC)

Jeffries was one of three wartime volunteers who unveiled the monument on the boardwalk outside of the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market on Thursday. She was joined by Margaret Gordon and Joyce Purchase.

Purchase was just 17 when she and two friends stood behind a counter of the North End Servicemen's Canteen on Russell Street to serve a roast beef dinner to as many as 375 servicemen in one sitting. Purchase also helped salvage items from her Rockingham home to contribute to the war effort.

The monument features three figures, including a young girl pulling a wagon full of salvage metal materials. (CBC)

Gordon, now 96, sang on radio, in canteens and during concerts for the black servicemen waiting to be shipped out from Halifax. She even met her husband, Arthur, at a Halifax canteen.

Jeffries called the monument an honour.

"I didn't expect to get any special recognition, so it's quite an honour," she said.

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Sherri Borden Colley

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Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts.