On November 14 1915 there was a short snippet in the Almonte Gazette about the Home Guard.The term Home Guard really didn’t come into being until WW2 and really they were originally known as Local Defence Volunteers. Carleton Place was busy taking steps for their own formation of a Home Guard as noted in the Almonte paper. In WWI men who became unsuitable for front line service through age or injury could be transferred to a home service battalion of their or another regiment for home defense. In all cases they would wear the badges and insignia relevant to the unit they were serving with.
The Gazette questioned why Almonte was not doing the same thing. The movement was spreading rapidly, with the objective being home defense. members were taught the use of arms and the principles of drill. A meeting was held in Carleton Place and was largely attended. An over-sized committee was then appointed to obtain information as to arms and instructions.
Decades before they were allowed in the military, when tending wounded soldiers was as close as they got to the front lines, hundreds of Canadian women picked up arms hoping to defend their country and free up men to fight in the First World War.
A century after the conflict, few records remain of the Women’s Home Guard, a “vibrant and popular, albeit brief, movement in wartime Toronto” launched to great fanfare in 1915 only to fade from public view following weeks of infighting and mounting backlash, according to an expert on the group.
In its first two weeks, the organization — led by a militant suffragette and a former concert musician — enlisted as many as 1,000 women eager to learn military drills, fencing and shooting. So when an ad was posted in the newspaper on Aug. 17, 1915, calling for women to join a new paramilitary group aimed at protecting home ground, it was welcomed by prospective members and observers alike. Enrolment in the first few weeks was so high that city council voted to provide the Home Guard with a tent to carry out its recruiting. Similar groups later cropped up in other cities such as Edmonton, Montreal and Hamilton.
No membership lists for the Toronto group have been found, but newspaper records show early recruits appeared to belong to influential families. As I typed this I wondered if any women made it into our local Carleton Place Home Guard.
Private Arthur John Simons dressed in the uniform of the 2nd Battalion (Eastern Ontario Regiment) in September 1914. Before joining up, Simons 18, was a stove mounter at Findlay’s in Carleton Place. He had emigrated from Somerset England. Photo- Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum