Halifax Women's Voluntary Services, 1943–1945

The records of the Halifax Women’s Voluntary Services (WVS) are a testament to the incredible organizing power displayed by the women of Halifax during the Second World War. Donated by Ms. Leslie Pezzack, these records (CR43) document WVS operations and the services provided by its volunteers, and its relationship with other social agencies in Halifax, Ottawa, and England.

Created in 1943 under the leadership of Mrs. Edith B. Girouard, the WVS recruited women to volunteer in the many wartime service agencies. Modelled after the British Women’s Voluntary Services, with local chapters across the United Kingdom and Canada, the Halifax WVS was run entirely by volunteers and depended on monetary donations from the local community and the British War Relief Society.

The WVS Centre registered the skills and availability of volunteers and requisitioned them to permanent and emergency volunteer positions as necessary. Volunteers served in many agencies including the Ajax Club, blood donor clinics, Canadian Legion Hostels and Library, the Central Magazine Exchange, the Children's Hospital, the Concert Guild, Jost Mission, Lady Ironside Knitting, Navy League Recreation Centre, North End Services, Nova Scotia College of Art, Protestant Orphanage, Salvation Army, Red Cross, YMCAs and YWCAs.

The Centre responded to urgent requests from any wartime effort. One notable project involved assisting the Department of National War Services with the distribution of Family Allowance funds to the families of Halifax servicemen.

WVS Registration Cards

Colour image showing the front of registration card

Sample Registration Card - front (anonymized for privacy). HMA CR43.2

Each volunteer was interviewed by a WVS board member to assess their aptitude. Registration cards were created for each interviewee listing details of her education, skills, and abilities, availability, and services they would like to offer.

Colour image showing the back of registration card

Sample Registration Card - back (anonymized for privacy). HMA CR43.2

Volunteers worked in a number of service areas depending on their abilities. Women with nursing skills worked with the Red Cross, other volunteers knit socks for the Navy, and some taught dance classes for servicemen. At the North End Services Canteen, volunteers worked in the kitchen providing meals, and also held dance classes where they had to contend with “men who really can dance, but who pretend they cannot” (CR43-11, January 12, 1945).

View a larger version of the anonymized sample Registration Card.

WVS Placement Cards

Colour image showing the front of a placement card.

Sample placement card, front (anonymized for privacy). HMA CR43.2

Once assigned, each volunteer's placements were tracked on a Placement Card, providing a detailed history of her volunteer service. Note the use of a punch card system to easily sort by name, availability and services.

Colour image showing the back of a placement card.

Sample placement card, back (anonymized for privacy). HMA CR43.2

The WVS records are a compelling testament to the energy, community spirit, professional organization and dedication of civilian volunteers intent on helping with the war effort.

View a larger version of the anonymized Placement Card.

Family history resource

As well as documenting the exemplary services provided by the women of Halifax, these records are a treasure for genealogists. The registration cards list each volunteer’s name, education details, birth, religion, number of dependents, work and volunteer experience, while appended cards also give details of their placements.

Another rich resource for genealogists is the Directory of Households provided by the postal service presumably so that the WVS could send out mass mailings. The directory covers the entire County and rural delivery routes for Bedford and Dartmouth, listing householders’ names and occupations, and identifying francophones.

More women's war-time service records

Read about the experiences of Halifax sisters, Marion and Louise Keshen, who served overseas during WWII with the Canadian Red Cross Corps .

The WVS records were featured in an article in the Summer 2013 edition of the Argonauta: The Newsletter of The Canadian Nautical Research Society.  

Thank you to Leslie Pezzack for donating this informative addition to the region’s documentary heritage.