Virginia Doucett says her mother and aunt would surely be pleased with — and humbled by — a new interpretive panel unveiled in their honour Wednesday.
Corporals Blanche and Rachael Thomas were the only two Mi’kmaw women from P.E.I. known to have served overseas in the Second World War.
“They were ordinary people who did extraordinary things — and, for me, they were heroes,” Doucett said. “I think they would be honoured… deep down, [they] would be very pleased.”
Blanche, who went on to become Doucett’s mother, and her sister Rachael were from Lennox Island First Nation off P.E.I.’s North Shore. Their family later moved to Stratford, P.E.I., where the tribute was revealed on Wednesday.
This week’s event wasn’t the town’s first recognition of the family, by the way. Stratford earlier erected a waterfront statue to their father Michael Thomas, a famous runner who finished 26th in the Boston Marathon in 1911 and went on to be inducted into the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame.
Just two years apart in age, Blanche and Rachael were stationed in Germany and London as members of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. According to the Canadian War Museum, the CWAC was formed in 1941 to replace men in non-combat roles so that the men could serve on the front lines.
Women in the CWAC were trained as drivers, cooks, clerks, typists, stenographers, telephone operators, messengers and quartermasters.
In an interview with Laura Chapin of CBC P.E.I.’s Island Morning on Wednesday, Doucett recalls her mother telling her about the day a soldier asked her if she wanted to see what his army truck was carrying through Germany.
“She said yes. He hoisted her up and they were full of bodies, Canadian soldiers whose graves were being relocated into neutral territory in Holland. But she said they were covered in thin blankets and you could see sometimes the outlines of their faces.
“That was the most impactful impression.… That one stuck with her, really, in a sad, you know, way.”
When the war was over, Blanche and Rachael came back to Canada and eventually went their separate ways.
Blanche moved to Saint John where she trained as a beautician, heeding the advice of her mother Mary Anne Peters that a woman should always have a trade to be able to support herself if necessary. She died on Sept. 21, 2009.
Rachael moved to Ontario, where she worked to help identify and repatriate victims of the Sixties Scoop, which saw Indigenous children taken from their families and culture and adopted into white families throughout North America. She died on Nov. 5, 1996.
War service inspired relatives
It’s been 80 years now since Blanche and Rachael enlisted. The impact of their decision to do so has trickled down through their family.
Blanche’s daughter served with the Royal Canadian Navy. Her granddaughter, Bridget Doucett, said it was the service of Blanche and Rachael that inspired her to join the Air Force.
They were trendsetters, whether they knew it or not.— Doug Kelly
“I love the lineage that I come from — a long line of women in the military,” she said. “It was pretty amazing.”
The interpretive panel, located in the Veterans Memorial Green outside Stratford Town Centre, features photos and newspaper clippings and a history of the sisters’ involvement in the war.
Doug Kelly, a member of the heritage committee of Stratford, said their contributions to the war were significant, and the display will help honour their memory.
“They were trendsetters, whether they knew it or not.”