Pictured: Wait for Me, Daddy by Claude P. Dettloff. Taken on October 1, 1940, it depicts Warren Bernard running away from his mother to his father, Private Jack Bernard, who is marching with the British Columbia Regiment of Canada. The picture received extensive exposure and was used in war-bond drives (Private Bernard survived the war).
Many Americans are unaware of Canada’s extensive contribution to World War II. It was one of the first nations to declare war on the Axis, and by some accounts it fielded the largest volunteer army of any nation in the war: over 1 million Canadians — out of a population of only 11 to 12 million — joined the war effort, constituting 10 percent of the population and nearly 20 percent of all men.
Canada’s bountiful prairies and rich mineral resources were invaluable to the war effort (as well as to reconstruction efforts in Europe). For example, half of Allied aluminium and 90 percent of Allied nickel was supplied by Canada.
The Canadian Navy played a decisive role in the Battle of the Atlantic, and was given responsibility of covering two strategically key points in the ocean. Throughout the war it accomplished 25,343 successful escort voyages and delivered nearly 165 million tons of cargo, and also sank 52 German submarines. Meanwhile, Canadian airmen were some of the best performing in the Battle of Britain, comprising a disproportionate number of flying aces.
As in the First World War, Canadian troops served with considerable distinction in several campaigns. Most notable was D-Day, in which the Canadians faced the second-hardest landing point on Normandy, Juno Beach, yet were the first to break through enemy lines and the ones to reach the deepest into enemy territory. Canadians almost single-handedly liberated the Netherlands and Belgium, saving hundreds of the thousands of civilians from famine. Canada also fought in North Africa, Italy, and the South Pacific.
Canada was among the first nations to develop what are now known as special forces (through its cooperation with the United States), and was instrumental in the Manhattan Project, to which it supplied personnel, research, and resources.
By the end of the war, Canada possessed the fourth largest air force, third largest navy, and fourth or fifth largest army in the world. Much like the U.S., it had become shaped by the conflict and forever oriented towards global affairs, albeit with far less gusto (though it would become a major part of NATO, it reigned in on the size and funding of its military, and directed much of its diplomatic energy towards developing multilateral institutions and initiatives like U.N. Peacekeeping).