Journey of a Red Cross Parcel
“When war breaks out, a nation looks first to its armaments for the destruction of its enemies, and next to its Red Cross for the healing of its wounds and the translating into action of its sympathies and broad humanitarian impulses.”
So begins a pamphlet, “Canadian Red Cross in War and Peace,” published by the Canadian Red Cross in 1942. By then, 750,000 Canadian women were actively volunteering with the Red Cross, and well over $10 million had been raised to support its efforts. Well over a hundred people in Creston played a part in that contribution.
The Canadian Red Cross, supported by community chapters, undertook an array of projects to support diverse aspects of the war effort: providing clothing for military personnel, refugees, and people in bombed out sections of Europe; preparing food parcels for prisoners of war; making medical supplies for overseas hospitals and field stations; connecting people to friends and relatives in enemy-occupied territories.
Let’s take a look at how this process played out for the ladies (and occasional men) who worked tirelessly to support these efforts in the Creston Valley.
In September 1939, Mrs. E (Jean) Mallandaine, Mrs. D. Archibald, Mrs. Charles Murrell, and Mrs. F.C. (Alice Rodgers), along with an executive committee of six and forty additional members, revive the Creston chapter of the Red Cross, which had been disbanded following the end of the First World War. They hold their organisational meeting, actively recruit members (over a hundred by January 1940), secure headquarters in the Lamont building near what is now Gin’s Restaurant, and establish committees to undertake the various projects.
Clothing and Hospital Supplies: The National Work Committee purchases huge quantities of wool and fabric, and develops and tests over sixty patterns for knitting and sewing needed supplies ranging from socks to pyjamas. The supplies and patterns are distributed to provincial warehouses, including one in Vancouver, and from there are purchased by the Creston branch’s work committee. The local committee also puts out a call for materials that can be donated – leather items, for example, no matter how small, that can be sewn together to make the linings for seamen’s coats. The work committee distributes the supplies to its members and volunteers throughout the community.
Local ladies are knitting and sewing at remarkable rates. The shipments of completed goods between February and June are typical: 312 pairs of socks; 127 sweaters; 84 hospital gowns; 43 pairs of pyjamas; 64 slings; 67 binders; 13 bed jackets; 78 pillow cases; 19 balaclavas; 13 bed jackets; 59 surgical towels; 300 handkerchiefs; 5 pair bed socks; 5 hot water bag covers; 20 ice bag covers; 32 pneumonia jackets; 2 pairs of wristlets; and 18 scarves.
The finished items are sent back to the Vancouver warehouse, inspected for quality (the local ladies regularly got very positive reports on the quality of their work), packed very precisely into specially-built cases to make the best possible use of the space available in trains and transport ships, and sent from Vancouver to the National headquarters. From there, depending on the types of supplies, they are distributed to Britain, to the International Red Cross headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, or directly to Canadian military distribution points.
Food Parcels for Prisoners of War: There are six food-parcel-packing plants in Canada. Money raised by the community branches such as Creston and Wynndel is turned over to the provincial and national headquarters to purchase foodstuffs for these parcels, each of which contains $2.50 (about $40 today) worth of food:
- 16 ounces of sweetened, condensed milk;
- eight ounces butter;
- eight ounces fat pork meat;
- four ounces cheese;
- 12 ounces corned beef;
- ten ounces pork luncheon meat;
- eight ounces salmon or pressed rolled oats;
- three and a half ounces fish paste;
- eight ounces dried apples;
- eight ounces dried prunes;
- eight ounces sugar;
- 16 ounces jam;
- 16 ounces pilot biscuits (hardtack);
- four ounces pea and bean soup powder;
- one ounce salt and pepper;
- six or eight ounces coffee;
- two ounces soap.
Although Creston does not take part directly in preparing the food parcels, at least some of the fruit grown here almost certainly wound up in them in the form of dried apples and prunes – and certainly in the form of jam. In July 1941, for example, the Creston Review reports that the ladies of the Creston Valley are cranking out 150 pounds of jam a day.
The strawberry harvest is just about finished, but raspberries are starting and peaches will be next. Donate sugar.
The fresh fruit is shipped out, as usual, through the local packing sheds and distributed from there to processing plants. The jam is sent directly to the provincial warehouse in Vancouver and then to the parcel-packing warehouses. The completed parcels, each of which weighs eleven pounds, are packed sixteen to a case and sent by rail to Atlantic ports, where transport ships await them.
Convoys of transport ships are escorted by the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve to Lisbon. There, parcels are loaded onto specially commissioned and marked Red Cross ships such as SS Vega for shipment to Marseilles. Vega made forty-four trips between Portugal and France during the war. Military actions, such as Operation Dragoon in the summer of 1944, occasionally force the use of alternate ports in southern France such as Toulon. The parcels are sent by rail from the ports to the headquarters of the International Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland.
Geneva sends the parcels on to the prisoner-of-war camps in Germany and its territories, and sends its delegates out every two weeks to ensure that the parcels are being properly distributed. The prisoner who receives the parcel uses every part of it: the food to supplements the inadequate rations provided by the camp, and the tins get turned into utensils such as cups and plates, and the box itself might become a cupboard.
The prisoners receive a parcel every week and confirm its receipt by signing an enclosed card, which is then returned to Geneva and from there to the Canadian Red Cross offices. The grateful soldiers often add personal notes to these cards. Letters home from prisoners such as Wes Skerik also frequently convey the thanks of the soldiers to the ladies in their communities who work so hard to provide the parcels.
A detailed pamphlet, published in 1942 and outlining the work of the Canadian Red Cross is available here.