Women at Work - Fannie Messinger
The twentieth-century notion of “total war” meant that all Canadians – be it soldiers or civilians – were expected to help out with the national war effort in any way they could. Francis Messinger was one of those people.
It is no surprise that women played a significant role during the war – both at home and on the front. However, much of the official work that was available to women was age restrictive. The Canadian Women’s Army Corps, for example, actively recruited girls and women in British Columbia, with promises of travel, new friends, and good food, all the while doing a vital job behind the lines.
Creston resident Daisy Trevelyan enlisted with the C.W.A. Corps, while both Ethel Holmes and Corinne Doneau joined the R.C.A.F. women’s auxiliary. There is no doubt that adventure awaited the women who filled these important positions… but only for those between the ages of 18 and 43. So for women like Fannie who were still able-bodied, yet had surpassed the typical age limit for war-related jobs, in what capacity were they to help?
On October 13, 1939 the Creston Review reported that “Mrs. Fannie Messinger has been nominated to the provincial committee in connection with the Voluntary Registration of Canadian Women.” The purpose of the VRCW was to recruit age-appropriate women who were willing to serve their country through positions in which they were already trained and qualified, such as cooks, telephone operators, and drivers, to name a few. Along with Mrs. Alf Palmer, Fannie served as district representative for this project. As the first contact for local women wishing to register, Fannie helped fill important jobs that she herself was no longer eligible for – like those held by Daisy, Ethel, and Corinne.
But Fannie’s efforts spanned far beyond her VRCW work. Perhaps her most notable contribution on the home front was the boarding house and restaurant that she ran across the street from where the Post Office is today. During the World Wars, boarding houses offered accommodations to men and women working far from home, offering a sense of community in an unfamiliar place. Fannie’s great granddaughter notes that teachers frequented her boarding house and restaurant the most, but other workers made use of it as well.
Every day, Fannie toted the vegetables that she grew at her home victory garden all the way to the restaurant to feed her guests. And whenever soldiers came home from war, she fed them for free. Victory gardens (also known as war gardens and even food gardens for defense) were encouraged by the government during wartime as a means of supplementing rations and also boosting morale. By growing her own produce and providing it to those who were also helping out with war efforts, Fannie was most certainly participating in this local call-to-action. Victory gardens empowered the gardener who contributed his or her labour, and rewarded them through the produce that came from it. But for Fannie – whose labour filled the bellies of those in need – this reward was twofold.
On top of the extensive work Fannie did in both her garden and restaurant, she also helped conduct local metal and rubber drives. Yet another popular measure taken on the home front, scrap drives (or the “Salvage for Victory,” as it was known in the United States) aided in the production of war-related equipment. Unused or unwanted metal was recycled for ships, airplanes, and tanks, to name a few. For many women like Fannie, these drives provided an opportunity to contribute to the war effort, and the people of Creston were happy to comply; there are many reports in the Creston Review of rubber drives happening here in town. Again, such an initiative actively boosted morale and created a sense of unity amongst those who remained at home.
But food waste was called for as well! Ever hear of a “fat drive”? Later on in the war, the government publicly declared the need for fat and bones from every kitchen in Canada to create explosives that were “urgently needed to win this war.” There is no doubt that Fannie, along with other Canadian homemakers and restauranteurs, gladly donated to this cause. After all, everyone was responsible to help win the war, regardless of your education, religion, or marital status.
Nonetheless, the greatest sacrifice made by Fannie and nearly every other woman during the war was, arguably, watching her loved ones leave the safety of home for active duty. Her son saw combat while fighting as an aeronautical engineer, and her husband performed guard duty against the threat of German attack at the Cominco mine in Trail.
And when Canadian soldiers returned home, it fell on the women to maintain a sense of pre-war normalcy and comfort. As Fannie’s grandson noted, “there was not much else she could do other than feed people, collect metal and rubber for guns and machinery, send her sons to war, and take care of soldiers (by feeding them) once they returned.”
Just as the war required all Canadians to do their part, it also impacted each and every person who survived it. Though the return to daily life in post-war Canada was likely no easy task, the perseverance of strong individuals like Fannie Messinger made it possible.