Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum
Canada 150 Vignette –    102 of 150
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

War Production and the Home Front

One Penny... Many Thoughts!
The Life and Times of a World War II Artifact
We deal with two commodities at the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum - history and artifacts. Although each is not dependent on the other for the purpose of creating a human thought or feeling, the two combined make for a much more meaningful human experience. An artifact gives tangible, sensory stimulation while adding understanding to the history related to that object while history provides purpose and meaning to the artifact. Without each other, history is an abstract concept... and the artifact is an old object with no meaning. We wouldn't be much of a museum if the effort to combine these commodities wasn't our primary goal - we must strive to make displays where artifacts and history merge.
Our artifacts are specifically related to the history of Canada in the Second World War. When they 
were new, they were available in quantities of hundreds (hangars), thousands (aircraft) and in some cases, millions (buttons and bullets. Sixty years hence, most have been lost to the scrapper, `the collector’, the attic or they have just disappeared.
Yet, as scarce as World War II artifacts may seem to be, they still can be found all around us, as was discovered on a recent trip to the grocery. Together with the essential food items which left the store was a 1940 Canadian penny in the change (this was 2007) .. It was dark brown and dirty from thousands of financial transactions over its 67 year life but in fine shape nevertheless and not yet ready to retire.
One has to wonder how many people it has touched. If it has been given as payment or change in one financial transaction for every day of its life, it will have been in contact with almost 25;000 people by now. It is impossible to accurately make this calculation as the penny may have averaged more than one transaction a day or sat in somebody's jam jar for 40 years until returned to public circulation. However, one has to wonder… was it in William Lyon Mackenzie King's pocket when peace was declared in September 1945? ... or was it in Ann Murray's purse that 1971 night when this singer received her first Juno award? ... or was it in Wayne Gretzky's locker on October 15, 1989, the night he broke Gordie Howe's NHL point record? Although it is not possible to verify these possibilities, our penny has undoubtedly been in existence for a large amount of Canada's historical events and touched many people – maybe some significant and famous. Our little 1940 penny is an artifact without a known history.
This Canadian artifact is from one of the country's most traumatic and triumphant eras and holds great meaning for those who know, or want to learn, the history of World War II. It provides tangible, sensory stimulation through sight and touch. It emits a power to evoke the history of World War II and all time thereafter. With literary license, we bring you parts of the history of Canada in World War II not normally seen in this publication. It is a story of the fictionalized experiences of our tiny copper artifact and some ordinary people it may have met along the way. It is the story of the citizens of Canada between 1939 and 1945 and their great sacrifices for war service and impressive contributions of labour, materials and manufactured goods.
Our artifact was one of 85,740,532 Canadian pennies minted in Ottawa in 1940 - the obverse side of the coin depicts King George VI, reigning monarch of the British Commonwealth at the time. The reverse side shows our beloved maple leaf and date of issue.

 After being carefully fabricated in a mechanical press at the Canadian Mint in Ottawa, our penny was shipped to the Royal Bank branch located in Fort William, Ontario... here it, and 49 identical uncirculated brethren, were separated from their paper roll swaddling and mixed in with the six other pennies in the teller's cash drawer.

It is introduced to the world outside of high finance on July 22, 1940 as a small, but important portion of the cash given to Mary Hutton in exchange for her pay cheque from the Canada Car and Foundry company. Her job is applying dope to the fabric skins of Hurricane aircraft produced by that company. Mary is the mother of two children and wife to a husband in the army training for battle at a camp somewhere in the Canadian west.

Of the 11,300,000 people living in Canada during World War II, Mary was one of 1,049,876 workers involved in essential war industries. Another 2,100,000 were employed in "essential civilian employment" which included agriculture, communications and food processing. Aircraft workers such as Mary produced over 16,000 aircraft in Canada during the course of World War II. Of these, 10,000 were shipped directly to Britain while the remainder went to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, local air defence and the United States. Remarkably, manufacturing capacity in Canada vaulted from 5,000,000 square feet in 1939 to 14,000,000 square feet by war's end.

Some aircraft were built by a single company while others were assembled by groups of companies as was the case for the venerable Mosquito aircraft. It was built in pieces by General Motors (fuselages), Massey Ferguson (wings), Boeing (tailplanes), the Canadian Power Boat Company (flaps) and Otaco (undercarriages) together with numerous smaller companies. De Havilland undertook final assembly completing 1,100 by war's end. Canada's aircraft industry peaked with 120,000 employees producing 4,000 aircraft a year during World War II.

The story was the same for other wartime needs as well. Canada's workers produced 800,000 military transport vehicles. They made 50,000 tanks, 40,000 field and naval anti-aircraft guns and 1,700,000 small arms. The list of companies converting production from peacetime products to those of war include Bombardier and General Motors (450 military snowmobiles), Canadian Pacific Railway (788 Valentine tanks with General Motors engines), CPR's Angus Shops and Canadian National's Montreal Locomotive Works (5,200 tanks) with the latter also producing 2,150 Twenty-Five pounder Sexton self-propelled guns. Canada's shipyard workers produced 348 10,000 ton merchant ships while cutting production time per ship from of 307 to 163 days.

Mary and her million co-workers produced $10 billion (World War II dollars) worth of war goods. The wizard-boss behind this phenomenal production was Canada Department of Munitions and Supply Minister C. D. Howe who worked his production magic with   

the 28 crown corporations within his department. Howe's "Bits and Pieces" program assisted existing manufacturers in the conversion of their factories to the production of military goods - the Canadian Cycle and Motor Co. Ltd. (CCM) converted from producing bicycles and skates to parts for anti-tank and Bren guns while the Liquid Carbonic Corporation converted from producing soda fountains to tank parts.
Howe's department came up with innovative measures to make labour available when and where it was needed. His Wartime Housing Ltd. produced two-bedroom houses for $1,982 and four-bedroom houses for $2,680. Agreements were established between Canada and the provinces for the first time to provide day-care funds for working mothers. As a result of the war production, Canada became the third largest trading nation in the world.

On the day Mary received our penny in her change, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan commenced operations at No. 1 Service Flying Training School at Camp Borden, Ontario. In England, 80 of 81 aircraft returned to base from seven operations in Europe including the largest night effort launched by the RAF since the fall of France. Twelve Blenheims attacked airfields in France, six Battles bombed barges in Dutch ports, eight Hamptons spent the night laying mines.
Five groups of aircraft were involved with OTU (Operational Training Unit) sorties. Amazingly, only one Whitley was lost (1).

In the air war over Europe, total United Kingdom losses of aircraft during the war were 22,010 - 10,045 fighters and 11,965 bombers.

Mary used our penny with her purchase of a basket of groceries. Unlike our 2006 transaction with Safeway, Mary was required to provide ration stamps for her purchases. Foodstuffs and other commodities rationed by the Canadian Government during the war included alcohol, gasoline and rubber starting in 1942. Eventually the list was expanded to include coffee, tea, sugar, meat and butter. Eleven million ration books were distributed to Canadians who all learned how to "make more with less."

Newly minted pennies are almost 98% pure copper today (2004) while WWII pennies were 94% steel, 1.5% nickel steel with 4.5% copper found mostly on its plated coating.

 Our penny next turns up in the pocket of Sergeant Fred Bailey, a drill instructor at Camp Borden, Ontario on October 31, 1940. He was one of over 200,000 soldiers who passed through this army training centre during World War II.

Camp Borden was also the site of Canada's first operating Service Flying Training School which graduated 2,728 pilots. Enlistment in the Royal Canadian Air Force exceeded 250,000 during World War II of which 18,000 died in the line of duty.

When Canada declared war on Germany in September 1939, we had 4,500 regular soldiers and 51 ,000 reservists in the army. By war's end, 731,000 Canadians had served in the army of which approximately 23,000 were killed. Of 150,000 troops involved with the D-Day invasion of Europe, 14,000 were Canadian soldiers.
October 31, 1940 is generally accepted as the day that the Battle of Britain ended. In defence of Germany's direct attack against the Royal Air Force on British ground, the RAF lost 792 aircraft to the Luftwaffe's 1,389. Two-thousand, three-hundred and fifty-three men from Great Britain and 574 from overseas served as RAF air crew between July 10 and October 31, 1940 in the Battle of Britain - of the total 2,927 airmen involved, 544 (18%) were killed during the Battle of Britain while a further 791 (27%) lost their lives in air combat in other actions by the end of the war.

Sgt. Bailey bought a package of Player's Navy Cut cigarettes with the change in his pocket which included our penny. 

The term 'cent' comes from the French word for 'hundred.' The term penny comes from British coinage which utilized the terms 'pounds' and 'pence.'
 Our penny next shows up in Halifax, Nova Scotia on April 4, 1942 in the pocket of Robert ``Bobby" Fletcher, single and one of 14,000 to serve in Canada's Merchant Marine navy. Canada's merchant seaman received training at four manning pools established in 1941 and 1942. From 1,400
merchant seaman in 37 ships, Canada's merchant navy grew to 14,000 seamen by war's end with 180 ocean-going cargo vessels - the largest merchant navy in the British Commonwealth. One-thousand, one-hundred and forty-six died of which 1,059 are remembered on the Halifax memorial which is dedicated to those whose place of burial is unknown.

 Of the 106,000 sailors to serve in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II, 6,500 were women. When Canada declared war, the navy had six destroyers. By war's end, the RCN had 471 warships and smaller fighting vessels and was the world's third largest navy. The RCN sank 28 enemy submarines and numerous surface vessels while losing 24 of its own warships. Close to 2000 Canadian sailors died during hostilities. Canada contributed 110 warships and 10,000 sailors to the D-Day invasion.

On April 4, 1942, an RCAF aircraft spotted the Japanese fleet en-route to Ceylon. Prior to the Japanese invasion, the air crew was able to give warning in time for a successful defence of the island. Winston Churchill cited this episode as "the most dangerous moment of the war."

In Europe a total of 208 aircraft were involved in a raid against Dortmund  Germany. This force, which was greater than any previously sent to this city, included 142 Wellingtons, 34 Hamptons, 20 Stirlings, eight Halifaxes and four Manchesters of which five Wellingtons and four Hamptons were lost. The bombs fell across a 40 mile stretch of the Ruhr Valley. The reports included one unspecified industrial building destroyed, one military establishment severely damaged, four dwelling-houses destroyed and 31 damaged with four people killed and 27 injured. It is possible that other Ruhr cities and towns were hit but no details are available. Also that night, minor operations included 23 aircraft to Le Havre (one Wellington lost), five Blenheim Intruders to Soesterberg Airfield, one Stirling minelaying near Heligoland. Of the 237 sorties that night, 10 aircraft (4.8%) were lost. (1)

Bobby used the penny in payment for a $10 war savings coupon.

According to numismatic experts, our penny has a value today of 75 cents to a collector willing to part with the cash.

By the end of World War II, over 1 ,000,000 Canadians served in the country's armed forces. They brought home 48,000 war brides and 22,000 children. Of the 1,000,000 serving, 50,000 were women. Of the 1,000,000 serving, 45,363 died in action, 53,174 were wounded and 9,334 were held as prisoners-of-war. Canadian service men received 16 Victoria Crosses during combat of which two were given to men enlisted in the RCAF - David Hornell and Andrew Mynarski.

Of the 19,000 who served in the armed forces for Newfoundland, 700 were killed in World War II.

A great number of Canadian civilians contributed to the Allied war effort in a paramilitary manner. Serving in No. 45 Wing and No. 45 Group of the RAF Transport Command and the Atlantic Ferrying Organization an unknown number of Canadian men and women flew aircraft from North America to Britain to be used for the war effort. Standard wage for this activity was between $500 and $1,000 per trip with the pilot being required to find his/her way home. The casualty rate for this activity was 20%.

Other Canadian civilian activities aiding the war effort in Britain were firefighting (422 men with 11 casualties), canteen and reading room volunteers (585 with 71 casualties), Red Cross and St. John Ambulance assistants and ambulance drivers, and Newfoundland Foresters who served in the British Home Guard.

All facts and statistics were gleaned from various internet web sites and a book. We wish to offer special gratitude to one, incredibly interesting site - the Veterans Affairs Canada web site ( from which a huge amount of the information in this article was acquired

Also to be thanked are the following organizations and book from which information for this article was obtained. The Canadian War Museum Canadian Coin Club
www.rootsweb.coml-camillww2/homelration.htm -
Canadian Military Heritage Project Wikipedia Royal Canadian Legion
(1) --The Bomber Command War Diaries, Martin
Middlebrook & Chris Everitt, 1996.