Cécile Grimard-Masson, Arsenal Québec

Biography

Cécile Grimard-Masson was born in Québec City on 20 April 1924. On the eve of the Second World War, Cécile met a young man whom she would correspond with throughout the war. He signed up in 1939 and served in Italy with le Royal 22e Régiment.

In 1941, Cécile found employment at the Québec Arsenal, manufacturing bullets and artillery shells. She was only 17 years old at the time but quickly rose to assistant foreman. Cécile was responsible for both the work and welfare of about 50 employees.

Cécile also joined the Women’s Volunteer Reserve Corps, where she looked after the welfare of Canadian servicemen. She served meals at the local YMCA, helped the men write letters home, and showed newcomers around Québec City.

In 1944, Cécile enlisted in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC). She trained in Kitchener, Ontario before assignment to a military equipment warehouse in Montréal. There she inventoried, packed, and shipped equipment around the country or overseas as needed. She met her future husband at the warehouse.

Cécile Grimard married Roger Masson in 1947. They had seven children.

Cécile currently lives in Québec City, and recently celebrated her 95th birthday. She remains very proud of her wartime service.

War Context

Munitions Manufacturing

Before the Second World War, Cécile’s war factory, the Dominion Arsenal in Québec City, was the only ammunition factory in Canada. It produced 750,000 rounds of ammunition per month.

In April 1940, the federal government established the Department of Munitions and Supply under C.D. Howe to control munitions production in Canada. His department converted and built plants across the country to build small arms ammunition and artillery shells. By war’s end, Canadian ammunition plants, staffed by over 30,000 workers, produced 72 million artillery shells and mortar bombs and some 4.5 billion rounds of small-arms ammunition.

For the entirety of the Second World War, Canada’s war workers produced 400 warships, 391 merchant vessels, 16,000 military aircraft, 251,000 machine guns, 850,000 military vehicles, and 900,000 rifles. By 1945, Canada was the fourth largest Allied munitions producer, after the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom.

The Canadian Women’s Army Corps

Cécile enlisted in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC). The CWAC was the result of two factors. First, when Canada went to war in September 1939 dozens of unofficial women’s corps sprung up across the country. Thousands of women wanted to serve their country. The Women’s Volunteer Reserve Corps, of which Cécile was a member, operated in Québec, Ontario, and the Maritimes. Their leaders lobbied Ottawa to create women’s auxiliary services.

Second, as the Second World War developed into a global conflict requiring the entire might of Canada’s economy, the armed forces needed more workers. The Canadian Army established the CWAC on 30 July 1941, with recruiting starting in September. In March 1942 the corps was integrated with the army. It adopted Canadian Army ranks and insignia, and its women were subject to Canadian military law.

To join the CWAC women needed to be British subjects (Canadian citizenship came after the war) aged between 18 and 45. They had to be single, without children or dependants. CWAC recruits must have completed grade 8, weigh at least 105 pounds, and be at least 5 feet tall. Physical fitness was a big part of their basic training, so excellent health was also mandatory.

CWACs served the Canadian Army in a variety of roles. Some were assigned traditional women’s duties like laundry, cooking, or sewing while others worked as clerical staff. Others became medical or dental assistants, mechanics, switchboard operators, radar operators, or drivers. Most served in Canada but from 1943 hundreds served overseas at various headquarters. In 1945, 156 CWACs served in northwest Europe and 43 served in Italy, both active theatres of war.

In total, 21,624 women served in the CWAC between 1941 and 1946. These women set precedents which led to the full integration of women in the Canadian Armed Forces. They also experienced discrimination: CWACs never earned more than 80 percent of the pay of their male counterparts. Some civilians (and military personnel) never approved of women working outside the home. Their attitude was that only “bad girls” would join the service.

Additional Resources

Newsreels & NFB Films

Women in Uniform
Canadian Women’s Army Corps: Major A. Sorbie meets Commander Riley in England; C.W.A.C.s in secretarial duties; a draughtswoman; kitchen duties at their barracks, relaxing.

Proudly She Marches
This film from the Second World War is a report on how Canadian women were trained to handle many kinds of work in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service. Basic training, everyday life in the forces and the contribution of women to Canada’s fighting strength are illustrated.

Proudly She Marches , Jane Marsh, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Proudest Girl in the World
This wartime short is a musical recruiting film for the Canadian Women’s Army Corp.

Proudest Girl in the World, Julian Roffman, provided by the National Film Board of Canada