OTD: Canadian Women’s Army Corps established to assist with growth in country’s armed forces

On today’s date in 1941, the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) was established by the federal Department of National Defence to allow women to volunteer for official uniformed service.

In 2000, as part of its “Millennium” issue, Canada Post issued a 46-cent stamp (Scott #1825b) commemorating Canadian nurse Elizabeth Smellie, who was one of the organizers of the CWAC in 1941 alongside fellow nurse Pauline Vanier, who’s also featured on the stamp.

The wife of former Governor-General Georges Vanier, Vanier served as a Red Cross volunteer in Paris during and after the Second World War while Smellie was the first female colonel in the Canadian Army and headed nursing services at home and abroad during both world wars.

The Canadian Women’s Army Corps was established in response to a personnel shortage during the growth of Canada’s army, navy and air force.

Smellie died in Toronto in 1968 at the age of 83. She’s buried in Thunder Bay, Ont., where a historical marker was erected by the Ontario Heritage Foundation.

“This celebrated Canadian army nurse and public health authority was born in Port Arthur, Ontario. In 1901 ‘Beth’ Smellie became night supervisor at McKellar General Hospital,” reads the marker.

“Joining the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps in 1915, she served in France and England. Elizabeth Smellie was demobilized in 1920 and three years later became Chief Superintendent of the Victorian Order of Nurses for Canada. She re-entered the army in 1940 and a year later supervised the organization of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. The first woman to attain the rank of Colonel in Canada’s Armed Forces, Col. Smellie achieved many honours, including Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and the Royal Red Cross Medal. After World War II she returned to the V.O.N., and retired in 1947.”

In 2011, Smellie was named a National Historic Person by the federal government after a recommendation from the country’s Historic Sites and Monuments Board.

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