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Remembrance Day research shows majority of Canadians know more about European WWII battles than attacks closer to home

TORONTO, ON – November 2, 2020 – Leading up to Remembrance Day, a new Leger Marketing survey[i], conducted on behalf of Ancestry®, the global leader in family history, reveals that only a quarter (26%) of Canadians are familiar with how their ancestors contributed to World War II efforts on the Canadian ‘home front’.

In a year that marks the 75th anniversary of the Second World War, most Canadians associate our country’s role in the conflict with the brave contributions on the front lines in Europe. However, Canada’s military and civilians played a key role supporting the Allied victory on Canadian soil and in waters close to home - something that not many of us are aware of.

Ancestry is encouraging Canadians to find a deeper personal connection to Remembrance Day by discovering the untold stories of how their ancestors contributed to the World War II effort, at home and overseas.

According to the research, Canadians are most familiar with prominent World War II battles from the history books, including the D-Day landings in Normandy (56%), the Dieppe Raid (27%) and the Liberation of the Netherlands (20%).

However, very few know of Second World War events that took place much closer to Canadian shores, such as the Battle of Saint Lawrence (familiar to just 5%) where German U-boats infiltrated the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and Saint Lawrence River, sinking 23 naval and merchant ships. Similarly, a mere 1% of Canadians today are familiar with the Aleutian Islands campaign that saw the Canadian army, navy and air force join the US to regain control of the small island chain off the coast of British Columbia.

As well as serving in these conflicts, many of our ancestors may have been involved in the Canadian home front, which included a nation-wide effort to manufacture and ship war materials, including munitions, airplanes and boats for the front lines. Another key WWII initiative was the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), which trained more than 130,000 pilots and aircrew from around the world on Canadian soil. However, more than half (59%) admit they don’t know about Canada’s home front contributions during World War II.

Simon Pearce, military genealogist from Ancestry ProGenealogists comments: “Canada played a key role in some of the Second World War’s most well-known battles, but let’s not forget the ways Canadians served closer to home - bravely defending the country’s borders from attacks, training pilots to serve overseas and facing treacherous waters to deliver essential supplies across the Atlantic. Canada’s efforts on its own doorstep and on home soil played a vital role in the war effort and these stories should be honoured alongside those from the European front lines.”

As World War II falls deeper into the history books, Canadians are becoming less connected to how their own family contributed to the global conflict. More than a third (37%) have no idea if their ancestors participated in World War II or where they may have served.

However, Canadians are curious about their home front family history - 42% say they wish they knew more about what life was like for their ancestors in Canada during World War II and a third (32%) said that knowing more about the lives of their family during World War II would help them feel more connected to the women and men who served.

Lesley Anderson, family historian from Ancestry comments: “Learning about the role our ancestors played in World War II can provide many of us with a personal, poignant link to the Remembrance Day commemorations and help us understand how the conflict shaped our families’ lives. Now is the ideal time to search through historic records and images that bring home the humanity and individual stories of wartime.”

Just one of these stories was John Willard Bonner, who was tragically killed in 1942 at the age of 44, in the Battle of St. Lawrence:

- John’s occupational history records highlight his 22 years of at-sea experience, previously commanding RCMP patrol ships and sailing all over the world with the United Fruit Company, before he served on the home front.
- As Acting Lieutenant-Commander of the HMCS Charlottetown, John was charged with protecting merchant ships from enemy U-boats as they traversed Canadian waters in the Saint Lawrence. On September 11, 1942, the Charlottetown was sunk by the German submarine U-517, claiming the lives of 10 crew members, including John.
- During World War II, it was common to delay and withhold information about losses in battle. John’s military service records on Ancestry show that his wife, Mary, was alerted of John’s fate in a telegram two days after his death, stating ‘It is for the public interest that the name of his ship and the fact that she has been sunk should not find its way to the enemy until such time as it is decided to publish the fact in a Naval Casualty List.’

To commemorate Remembrance Day, Ancestry is opening up free access to all global military records on the site from November 2nd to the 11th, allowing Canadians to search through records and images to discover the untold stories of how their ancestors supported the country’s World War II effort.