The Second World War was a war of peoples and machines. After the high blood price of the First World War, nations like Britain, the United States, and Canada turned to technology to defeat the Axis powers. Steel, not flesh was the mantra, and Canada became the fourth-largest Allied producer of war material. The Allies would outproduce Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan by huge margins. The consequence was overproduction. As Canadian veterans began returning to civil society, what happened to the weapons, equipment, and supplies they relied on to fight and win the Second World War?
Today’s guest, Alex Souchen, joins us to answer this intriguing question. We begin by discussing the scale of Canadian wartime production — 800,000 military vehicles, 16,000 aircraft, and 800 ships for starters. Then we shift gears to examine how the Canadian government disposed of its war junk — surplus vehicles, equipment, supplies, and ammunition. Junk to some was treasure to others. The government created a disposal regime that sold to established businesses, local governments and nonprofits, and even other countries. Thrifty Canadians found new uses for wartime goods. Most ammunition was destroyed or dumped in the ocean. Canada’s war junk became a vital part of the nation’s postwar relief, reconstruction, and rehabilitation efforts.
All proceeds support the Juno Beach Centre, Canada’s Second World War Museum in Normandy, France and allow us to continue to offer this content to listeners across Canada!
3:40 Why War Junk?
7:00 Canadian Munitions Production
11:55 The Need for Disposal
16:00 Disposal Policy
21:22 War Junk & Social Welfare
25:25 Swords into Ploughshares
28:45 Overseas Disposal
34:30 Ammunition Disposal
39:20 War Junk Legacies
Alex Souchen is a historian specializing in warfare, society, and the environment in Canada. He received his PhD from the University of Western Ontario and is currently based in Kingston. His first book, War Junk: Munitions Disposal and Postwar Reconstruction in Canada, was published by UBC Press in spring 2020.
The following links offer more information on the topics discussed in this episode:
Juno Beach & Beyond is hosted and edited by Alex Fitzgerald-Black, the Juno Beach Centre Association’s Operations and Outreach Manager.
Mackenzie King’s speech to British Parliament from the British Pathé YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SlEvclY5LE&t=48s
Artillery firing sounds from the CBC News: The National YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsCSQ4uWR1Y
Female veteran’s voice (Eileen Green, née Short) Courtesy of The Memory Project, Historica Canada: http://www.thememoryproject.com/stories/383:eileen-green-nee-short/
Winston Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech from Jonathan Thomas’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jB5wZtV1MWM
Spitfire sound effect from Jason Kirby’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgZI4tAoMN0
Dramatic Interlude by Alexander Nakarada | https://www.serpentsoundstudios.com
Music promoted by https://www.free-stock-music.com
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
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