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Canadian War Museum Oral History Project Explores War Aftermath

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Halifax — The pride in Blanche Bennett’s voice was evident as she vividly recounted the day she volunteered for the Canadian Women’s Army Corps 80 years ago.

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Bennett, who turns 100 on November 12, was only 19 when he signed up in 1942. She said in a recent interview that she immediately returned home and told her surprised mother of her plans.

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“She said, ‘You’re not going,’ and I said, ‘Of course I’m going,'” Bennett recalls. “She said, ‘You can’t do that. There are no women in the army.’ They got me.

Originally from Summerside, Pennsylvania, Bennett currently resides in a long-term care facility in Charlottetown and is one of approximately 120 veterans and their families interviewed as part of the Canadian War Museum’s ongoing oral history project. is. The project takes a unique approach by focusing on the events that followed rather than the wartime experience.

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The research project’s lead historian, Michael Petrow, said In Their Own Voices will help advance the study of war history by highlighting the positive and negative impacts of veterans and their families as they navigate their way through life. We believe we can fill the gap.

“Military service isn’t over when it’s officially over. “People forget the massive social changes that military service and conflict bring.”

Bennett says her pride in serving influenced her post-war life, and it’s one of the reasons she joined the project.

“Honestly, I think it’s great that people ask me to talk about the war because for so long after the war, so many people didn’t even know women served,” she said. rice field.

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Bennett was a member of the Signal Squadron and worked as a telephone operator in Halifax until the end of the war. She met and married her husband Murray during that time and raised a family of her three daughters as her husband embarked on a post-war career in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

“I don’t think I ever became a civilian, because after the war I was a civilian again,” she laughs warmly.

Upon retirement, the couple actively participated in Remembrance Week activities and often gave lectures at schools on the island. said.

“Things have changed,” she said. “People started to realize that we were something and that we did something. For me, it was the highlight of my life.”

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In contrast, Toronto-area author Jonathon Reed’s experience as the son of a World War II veteran captured after the fall of Hong Kong is primarily one of pain, bewilderment, and loss.

The 74-year-old decided to interview Petrou for his own journey to understand his father, John Reid, who died in 1979 at the age of 65.

“I grew up under the influence of his war experience. The family was broken, the father was absent most of the time, and the mother was very sad,” Reed said. “I realized that this project was a more general version of what I was trying to do on a personal level.”

In his 2020 book, The Captain Was a Doctor, Reed discusses his father’s service as a military doctor and his family’s post-war experiences. The book details how John Reed heroically led his men through nearly four years of prisoner of war, including over two years of forced labor in Japan.

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After the war, he returned home and started a family with his wife, but Reed’s father was far away and refused to talk about his experiences.

He worked hard to ensure that both he and his brother lived happy and productive lives, despite the trauma it caused.

“There’s a big impact that spans at least one generation, and I’d say two,” Reid said. “You have to accept it and keep going. Your job then is to understand as best you can, but get up and keep going.”

Petrou said stories like Bennett and Reid are the essence of what the project is trying to achieve.

“I want veterans to see all the complexities, the flaws and the successes,” he said.

Petrou said he hopes to do as many as 200 more interviews, including online video exhibitions, books and conferences scheduled for 2025. He also plans to provide teaching materials for schools.

“My hope and suspicion is that these interviews will be reflected in the museum in ways that are still poorly understood over the years,” Petrou said.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published on November 3, 2022.

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Canadian War Museum Oral History Project Explores War Aftermath

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