While small-town Saskatchewan may have been separated from the war by distance and oceans, the ripple effect seeped through Swift Current’s borders in many ways.
There were no bombs dropping, no bodies strewn about, and yet the earth still shook under the feet of the city’s residents.
History Teacher at the Swift Current Comprehensive High School, Riley Sharp, has researched and studied Canadian veterans extensively over the past several years and detailed what it might have been like to live in Swift Current during World War II.
One of the first aspects he explained was that Swift Current was home to #39 Service Flying Training School.
“It was a process by which a whole complex system was set up to train pilots for the Second World War,” Sharp said. “And not just pilots, really aircrew. They specialized basically all across the country into different types of schools—air gunners, bombers, all sorts of stuff.”
Not only did this bring with it a large amount of building and construction in the city, but also an influx of people from all across Canada and the British Commonwealth.
While new people were coming in to train, there were still simultaneously people leaving to enlist in the war.
In the prairies, as folks were coming and going, there was one major thing on everyone’s mind—crop production.
According to William Shepherd, the collections officer with the Swift Current Museum, the farms would have seen a lot of young males leaving to sign up at that time, assuming the war was an adventure.
"It would have been a struggle when it came to farms, as they were typically family-run and children were a source of labour,” Shepherd wrote. “This would have extended to other sectors of the economy; as people (generally males) left for the war, the people remaining would have to make do. To fill, and to make ends meet themselves, women and homemakers filled many of these gaps.”
This gave women more of a voice locally, but men still would have dominantly been in positions of power in the workforce and on the farms.
“There was definitely a conscious effort to either retain some of the men needed [to farm], to get younger males that wouldn't be serving to do that, or to get women involved,” Sharp said. “Of course, there are lots of famous examples of women in factories—around Swift Current it probably had more to do with what our local economy was based upon.”
When it came to food in Swift Current during the Second World War, Sharp said he found in his research that it was common for a lot of the people who came to the city to feel astonished.
“They were quite amazed at how good the food was, how plentiful it was,” he said. “When my grandfather moved here (I was just reading some of my dad's notes from talking to him), he moved from England shortly after the war, and he told my dad that he could not believe how much food there was and how good the food was."
Another common feeling from visiting soldiers was feeling isolated from the war itself, even though it was impossible to not know what was going on.
“Think about what’s going on with Ukraine and Russia today,” Sharp reflected. “Sometimes we forget even what’s going on; there’s stuff happening in other parts of the world all the time, and the further away you are from it geographically, sometimes the harder it is to really wrap your head around it. I don’t think people were dismissive of the war effort, but I think we are so far away from anywhere that the fighting happened, that it was a different atmosphere.”
The exact number of men and women from Swift Current that enlisted in the war remains a bit of a mystery.
Sharp said it’s a question he's asked and sought out but has never been able to find a solid answer for.
“I asked the Museum, the Legion and other sources, ‘Is there a list of Swift Current residents who served in the first or second World War?’ and as far as I know, there really isn't,” he said. “And that's quite interesting. In a lot of smaller communities, you go to the cenotaph and there are actually names there. In Swift Current, you go to Memorial Park and our cenotaph and it's not like that. There aren't names carved into it or plaques.”
He added that the Museum, along with other organizations, have done a good job of drawing attention to specific people and that a larger-scale project about the involvement of the city in the war would be interesting to see.
Shepherd attributed this to the fact that those who came to Swift Current to train were lumped together with locals who enlisted, making it difficult to decipher exact numbers. He wrote that many WWII files are still sealed and those that aren’t may still need to be listed in various archives.
Interestingly enough, Swift Current had a bit of a buzz during those five years, and Sharp said there was almost an excitement in the air.
"There were so many young people from all around the world and in a small, sort of sleepy, prairie community, that was pretty darn exciting,” he said. “The locals were very welcoming. There were a lot of relationships forming, both romantic and friendships between newcomers and the residents. And of course, the economic development, so it would have been fascinating to be here at the time. Watching people go out to social events and dances, and the traffic between the airport and here, and despite the ravages of war, it was probably an interesting time to live in Swift Current.”