While some readers of these blogs over the past several months have had a look at the page on this site entitled... "About the Author", I suspect others have not. If you take a few minutes to read it you will soon see where I come from on this topic.. and why. So, after reading today's blog, you have two assignments. Read the bio and follow up on the petition you are about to learn about.
To begin, I have often made references to women in the military in past blogs. Here you have learned about women spys and soldiers and those impersonating men to serve. You hade read about Mary Walker and even about a Confederate Medal of Honor that went to a woman. If you have missed these here are a few links to help bring the point home that women need to be recognized as much as the male heroes we become aware of.
Having said the above, it was natural for me to take interest in an email I got a few weeks back asking that I lend support to an up and coming local author and seasoned historian who's work had culminated recently with two very successful books about women heroes. Her name is Myrna Forster and she operates the web site... www.heroines.ca
At her site... http://www.heroines.ca/news/latest.html you are encouraged to read about her concern, shared by many, that while the population of Canada is more than 50% female, that sex received so little in the way of acknowledgement of the role women have played in Canada's history dating back to day one... and before. Her current issue, a most valid one, is that women have not been depicted nearly enough on our Canadian dollar bills. Her site lays out the issue, and she asks, and I have complied, in signing a petition in the hopes that it will gather enough support for the decision makers at Ottawa to review the issue and take steps to resolve the past and current indifference to the issue.
Please consider signing the petition. Thanks.
And now I would like to share with you a story of two other women you have probably never heard of before. Their names were Margaret Hayworth and Hannah Russell and they were among the FIRST CANADIANS KILLED in WW11. But sadly few know of them and so little is known about their lives, one only lasting 10 years.
On 1 September Germany rolled their tanks across the Polish border under the false premise that the Polish had earlier crossed the border and attacked German facilities. England was livid as were people all around much of the world. They'd be even more livid if they heard the truth about the German tactic but I'll leave it at that. England had earlier promised the Poles that she would come to their defence and on the 3rd gave Germany an ultimatum. Pull out by 11 a.m. or Britain will declare a state of war with Germany. Germany was unimpressed and continued its aggression. At 11.15 a.m. Britain's PM Chamberlain went on the air waves to advise that a state of war from that minute existed between the two countries. On 10 September, seven days after Britain declared a state of war, so did Canada, her oldest colony.
This unarmed civilian ocean liner made its living plying its trade back and forth between the Glasgow and Liverpool ports with those at Quebec and Montreal.
On 3 September she was enroute to Canada with some 1300 hundred passengers plus another 300 and more crew.
Her trip would be cut short by a German U Boat that had been trailing her for several hours. She was about 250 to sea when the U Boat decided he had had enough. The vessel had a darkened bottom so it must be hiding from the Germans... in his mind. It also was zig zaging on its route and not taking a direct sailing. It must have been avoiding the Germans...thus it must be the enemy... in his mind. He fired two torpedoes at the ship and the first was a direct hit. The second was a dud. After firing he dove lower as the dud might have made a circle back to its start point and taken out the sub.
Within minutes the Athenia started to take on water and the order given to abandon ship. By then the Sub commander discovered that through consultation with onboard manuals AFTER THE FACT...it became was obvious that he had just attacked an unarmed civilian cruise ship. Knowing this was a true crime he immediately sailed off and left it stranded with no efforts being taken to save the innocent civilians, many being women and children. In fact he was so cowardly he refused to even make any notation in the ship's log about the firing. Worse yet, he ordered his crew to secrecy.
All of which did nothing to help fix the disaster he caused.
When the distress call came out several vessels immediately responded. All except another German vessel in the area that was documented as ignoring the call for help.
The sub did not return to port for about a month, but in the mean time had legitimately taken out a few of Germany's enemies and therefore the authorities did not punish him and kept the incident quashed. It was later revealed at the Nuremburg trials that not only did this U Boat hit and run and abandon those crying out for rescue, but that the powers to be, conducted a campaign of denial and accusations placed at the Brits, who they said did it to themselves to get the Americans into the war sooner.
Many of the women and children on the vessel were said to be heading out of England for safety reasons. The school aged were being sent to America for schooling, but 10 year old Margaret Hayworth, from Hamilton Ontario was killed from a blow to the head. Her mother was rescued and among over 100 brought into Halifax days later by the American freighter "Flint."
Hannah Russell Baird was from Quebec, and en-route back home and working her passage whilst serving in the Canadian Merchant Navy. She would later be declared the first women in service in WW11 to perish at the hands of the enemy. And this was a day before Canada was even at war. Her vessel would be the first of the war lost to the enemy. Even though it was not even a military one at that.
It commemorates the gallant soldiers and sailors and merchant marines who lost their lives at sea and contains no less than 3,000 individual names placed throughout 23 panels. Above is panel 17 and the forth name therein is stewardess Hannah Baird.
Ninety eight passengers and about twenty crew were killed that day back in 1939, when the Athenia slipped under the water line about 14 hrs after being torpedoed.
Later in the war the same captain that commanded the U Boat gave the order to abandon ship when his U Boat was badly damaged by a barrage of depth charges. Many escaped. But not so for the Captain. He got off the boat and as he swam away he looked back and realized his ship was not sinking as fast as expected. And he abandoned her while leaving very important papers... AND an enigma Machine on board. He began to swim back but either drowned or committed suicide when he realized not only what he had done, but that the allies had boarded his vessel... And THEY CAPTURED THE ENIGMA MACHINE.
This cyphering tool was thought by the Germans to have sank with the ship, but it was in fact now in British hands and used throughout the rest of the war to keep tabs on what the enemy was doing. It was later said that its possession may have actually resulted in chopping about two years off the actual length of the war.
And the Germans were in for another surprise. On board the Athenia was a young man by the name of James A Goodson who was an American born youth but grew up in Toronto Ontario. Shortly after getting his feet back on Canadian soil he joined the Royal Canadian Airforce. When the Americans later came into the war he switched over to serve with them and went on to become an air ace having shot down 15 German planes. He would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross... just one down from the Medal Honor for his deeds.
So folks, please give some thought to the above two ladies, over 2800 Canadian nurses that served in WW1 (over 40 being killed in the service) and the 4500 nurses with another 45,000 who served in the CWAC's, the WRCNS, and the RCAF during WW11 when remembering to check out Myrna Forster's site and petition at www.heroines.ca