Home fires burning: Civilian fundraising in the First World War

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As the men in small Canadian communities left to fight the war in Europe, those at home looked for ways to contribute to the war effort themselves. The civilian mobilization of the First World War, and after it the Second, was all encompassing and those on the Home Front found themselves collecting scrap materials, knitting socks and making parcels for the Red Cross, all to support the war effort.

As countries ran out of money they began asking for loans from those they governed, with the promise to repay the money at the end of the war, and adverts for the loans played largely on the “support your boy” theme to garner support. War Bonds and Victory Bonds were sold by the Canadian government throughout the war, and raised millions of dollars to pay for weapons, uniforms, and shells for the troops in Europe.

In addition to official government efforts, civilians also participated in more community based activities. One of the ways that civilians could contribute was to raise money through the auctioning of special goods, such as the quilt on the right. The proceeds raised could go to charity canteens on the front, like those run by the Salvation Army and the YMCA, or to help provide food for refugees or packages for prisoners of war.

The quilt shown above was made by members of the community of Bethany, Ontario, and auctioned off on 6 July 1917. It includes the names of over 400 community members, including service men on leave, all of which were hand embroidered. Bethany, a small community near Peterborough, would not have raised its own battalion, as larger towns did, but most of its male population would have joined up at nearby recruiting stations, like the one at Uxbridge for the 116th Battalion.

Civilian fundraising and charitable work would continue to play a large role in the war; many women rolled bandages and knitted for the front, and those who were able joined organizations like the Voluntary Aid Detachment, serving as hospital aids and ambulance drivers. Communal fundraising often came as the responsibility of the church parish of the area, since most pre-war charitable work was done in association with local churches. Our quilt names Reverend S.W. Mabow as the organizer of the project, his name appears on the edge along with the date of the auction.

Like the volunteer soldiers who enlisted with the CEF, community support and a sense of obligation to those around them heavily influenced Canadian participation in wartime activities. Those who did not participate were not only letting their country down, they were also judged morally lacking, making it very difficult for those who did not support the war to continue to exist within their communities.

 

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