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There is little reference in history books to the war effort by French Canadians. This is unfortunate because it prevents us from truly understanding how we contributed to the current state of the world, and deprives us of heroes. It is also isolating because it leads us to believe that French Canadians were absent from the major events that shaped modern history.

This was not the case. During the Second World War, Francophones took part in numerous military campaigns. Proportionately, their war effort was just as impressive as that of the other linguistic groups in Canada.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to identify precisely the number of Francophones from the Canadian Confederation that served in the three forces (the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Army) during the Second World War.

The political context of the day as well as sparse statistics (which are open to interpretation) have distorted the picture for a long time. This has prevented many French Canadians from fully understanding, accepting and respecting the important role that their Veterans played in establishing the democratic, social and economic foundations of the world we know today.

Some would argue that it is obvious when comparing the total population of a province to the total number of soldiers enlisted that Quebec lagged behind. While in some other provinces the percentage of the male population between 18 and 45 enlisted during the Second World War reached as high as 50.47 per cent, only 25.69 per cent of men in the same age range enlisted in Québec.

Such figures make it easy to believe that the French Canadians did not participate fully in the war effort, but two factors merit close attention:

  1. All statistics cannot be interpreted equally. These figures do not take into consideration the larger number of men available in the other provinces-that is, all the men between the ages of 18 and 45 deemed fit for wartime service by the government. For example, British Columbia, with a much smaller total population than Quebec, had a much higher coefficient of available men. In other words, this province could provide a higher percentage of military personnel, despite its smaller population.
  2. All Francophones were not necessarily from Quebec. Just like today, there were Francophones living all over the country! Statistics that only look at Quebec to determine the number of French-speakers in Canada (especially at that time) distort reality at the outset.

In actuality, there were 57 French-speaking or bilingual units, battalions and batteries during the Second World War, just in the army and infantry alone! Some of the most famous were:

  • the Royal 22e Régiment
  • the Régiment de la Chaudière
  • the Régiment de Maisonneuve
  • the Fusiliers Mont-Royal

In a nutshell, there were enough French Canadian infantry forces in the Second World War to form an entire division of the Canadian Army, had circumstances so permitted!

Add in the navy, the air force (including the famous 425 "Alouettes" Squadron, attached to the British Royal Air Force), the merchant navy and the Veterans Guard of Canada (over half of whom were Francophones), and it becomes eminently clear that Francophones did their part.

In French Canadians and Bilingualism in the Canadian Forces, a book we heartily recommend to grasp the full scope of a situation that is impossible to describe here in just a few lines, Serge Bernier and Jean Pariseau estimate that, of the some 730,625 Canadian military personnel, both men and women, who served overseas or on the home front, over 139,550 were Francophones.

And if we take into consideration the civilian war effort (see the Civilians section of this Web site), the gap between the actual contribution by French Canadians and what we know about it widens considerably.

Though French Canadians generally viewed the war much differently than English Canadians, particularly in terms of their denunciation of conscription and their indifference to the British Crown, they proved they were ready to defend their homeland. And, many of them had to do it in English, a language that was completely foreign to most of them.

Not only were there French Canadian heroes whom we can all be proud of, but there were many of them! We hope that their stories will lead you to see things as they really were, differently. . .

N.B.: We realize that this portrait of French Canadian soldiers in the Second World War is incomplete. For example, the historical and social context in Canada at that time has barely been touched upon. This is why we suggest you consult the books and hyperlinks indicated below to find out more.

Complementary Information:

Many photos used in this project were provided by Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Explore their photo collection.

Bibliography

Jean Pariseau and Serge Bernier. French Canadians and Bilingualism in the Canadian Armed Forces; Volume 1 1763-1969: the Fear of a Parallel Army, Department of Supply and Services (Canadian Government Publishing Center), 1986

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