Over the next week, in recognition of International Women’s Day, Canadian Military Family Magazine will be profiling women in the military community who are making the most of their lives by making a difference in our community in various ways.
To kick off the week of articles we are featuring author Sherry Pringle and her book Extraordinary Women, Extraordinary Times: Canadian Women of WWI.
The majority of history books are splattered with images of brave soldiers of the Second World War and tales are told of heroic men who served valiantly on the battlefields for Canada. In the footnotes of these stories and faded backgrounds of these pictures are the women of this era. More than seven decades since the war ended, one woman decided to dig up the past and bring the stories of world war women to the forefront of history with a book entitled “Extraordinary Women, Extraordinary Times: Canadian Women of WWII.”
Ontario author Sherry Pringle’s book forever immortalized the lives of more than 60 Canadian women who made a contribution to the war effort in one way or another. From factory workers to message decoders and pioneers in aviation to Canada’s only female official war artist, the book weaves both the personal narratives and heroic efforts of women, showcasing a forgotten part of history.
“Oh my, where do I start? Every single one of them blew me away! Some tales are seemingly of ordinary service life, others are of building bombs, driving ambulance, folding parachutes, working as nurses, doctors and with the Red Cross. Some tales are dark. They tell us of inhuman treatment at the hands of the enemy, in camps, in occupied Europe, in the rubble of bombed out London and environs,” said Pringle.
Among the many women featured in the book is Beth Robinson, an occupational therapist during the war. Robinson’s story not only tells the tale of her work at St. Anne de Bellevue, a military hospital where servicemen were sent for rehab, but also her love story with an American soldier, who she never met again after the war yet corresponded with for seventy years after.
Coming from a family with several relatives in the Royal Canadian Navy, Pringle first was drawn to writing a book about naval disasters of the Second World War. It was while she was working on this book when she came across a woman who she suspected decoded secret messages at Bletchley Park during the war.
“When I asked her outright if she had worked at Bletchley Park decoding messages, it was the end of the conversation. She would not admit nor deny it–just end of conversation. I highly suspected she had worked there, and I realized then women of WWII had done far more than we ever realized,” recalled Pringle.
Realizing that the stories of the women from this era would soon be lost forever, Pringle decided to put pen to paper and preserve the stories for generations to come, and, thus, started a four and a half year endeavour. Three-quarters of the women featured in the book were personally interviewed while the rest of the stories came from diaries, letters, family members or archival material.
As Pringle began piecing together the stories, she realized that book had made a profound impact on her and began to change her.
“Many tales were written through tears of laughter, tears of joy and tears of gratefulness,” noted Pringle.
Pringle believes the stories recorded in her book are important for Canadians to read for generations to come so this piece of history is not forgotten.
“These women did things above and beyond anything they had ever done before, outside their comfort zones and the customs of the day. They were the real trailblazers, the first women’s libbers, and they did not even know it. They sought no accolades for their contributions, stepping back to let servicemen returning home take their jobs.
“They went home to pick up and resume the pieces of family life and put war behind them. Every single service woman said they would do it again in a New York minute. Big or small, every single tale is important to know. Women need to take their rightful place in Canada’s history books. It is time they stood tall, proud and were acknowledged,” said Pringle.