War is Declared
On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. It was the latest in a series of increasingly aggressive – and increasingly worrisome – territorial expansions Germany had been making for a number of years, and, for Britain and France, it was the last straw. They declared war on Germany on 3 September.
Britain’s declaration of war did not automatically include Canada – but even on 3 September, there was very little doubt that Canada would join the war on Britain’s side, and quickly. In its first issue after the declaration of war, the Creston Review carried a lengthy article about Canada’s defence plans “should Canada become involved in a war,” detailing the role of the army, navy, and air forces and the plans for mobilising the militia, reserve, and volunteer units attached to all of them.
And when, on 10 September, the Canadian government did openly declare war, the Review commended the decision and followed it up with an assertion of what Canada’s role must and should be.
In that same issue, just five days after Canada had declared war, appeared the names of four local men who had already enlisted: Art Constable (army), George Everal, Tony Kunst (Veterans Home Guard), and Stephen Sherman (army, later air force). A farewell party was held that night for five more: Gunners Norris Biccum, Vic Gendron (army), Walter Hillier (artillery), George Eakin (army), and Mel Hagen (army). A special meeting of the Knights of Pythias, regarding a policy on how to support their members who were going overseas and the dependants left behind, implies that there were several others.
The following week, Col. Philpott of Cranbrook, in charge of several Artillery enlistment campaigns, was making his second visit to the Valley since war had been declared. The Review called on “every patriotic citizen of this province” to co-operate “to the fullest extent in the war which is being thrust upon us.”
And, by 29 September, 1939, the Red Cross Society and the International Order of Daughters of the Empire (IODE) had both been organised to support whatever fundraising, medical, and other efforts were required. They weren’t the only ones: the newly formed Lions Club stood ready to support any and all civic and patriotic causes, and the Grand Theatre was hosting a benefit for the Canadian Legion War Fund.
Patriotic fervour filled the Creston Valley – but so, too, did fear and worry and apprehension. Shortages of sugar were already significantly impacting the sale and distribution of fruit, and export bans would have an immediate impact on the sale of the Valley’s 1939 apple harvest. The wartime price and trade board was already acting to curtail hoarding and profiteering; local stores hastily assured their customers that merchandise was still available at pre-war prices.
By 22 September there was already a guard on the CPR trestle at Canyon, and naturalisation applications from Germans were already being rejected. It is not "the proper policy to approve the naturalisation of enemy aliens during war days,” commented a county court judge at Kelowna. The Review heartily agreed. “Many of these aliens have lived in Canada for years, “ declares an editorial, “and some would not at this time be applying for naturalisation if it were not for the outbreak of war and possible interment.” The implication was clear: anyone born in Germany, or, by extension, in any other country with which Canada was now at war, was not a real Canadian and must always be regarded with suspicion.
There were attempts at reassurance. Frank Putnam, Nelson Creston MLA, stressed the need to follow a “normal trend of life” while speaking to a meeting of the Creston Board of Trade. “The government at this time has its hands full,” he pointed out, “and was doing all in its power to keep businesses and other lines of endeavour on an even course.” Another article declared that, while the needs of the military services would be great, they would not be allowed to strip industry and agriculture of the labourers they required.
On October 6, the Review’s editor was even able to advocate for business as usual: “It was only natural that people should have become jittery when war was declared at Ottawa, but a month has just about gone and we are able now to get our balance somewhat again.”
It would be six long years before anything resembling “normal” returned.
Already, within a month of the outbreak of war, all of the elements were in place that would define day-to-day life in the Creston Valley until peace was finally declared in Europe on 8 May 1945: Enlistments of young men and women transformed families and threatened significant labour shortages. Fundraising for an astonishing array of war-related causes was a fact of life. Rationing and shortages, and all the thrift and make-do they required, had already become a reality. Always the threat of war on Canadian soil, or at least the potential for sabotage and espionage, hung over the community. Men, women, and children of all ages and abilities were being called on to engage in a total war that would permeate every aspect of their lives.
In the following pages, we explore each of these impacts in greater detail.