The First Canadian Losses of WWII

The first Canadian losses of the Second World War did not take place where or when most people would have expected. Rather than taking place on the battlefield in Europe, or even in the Pacific Theater, they took place aboard a civilian vessel in the Atlantic. As such, the first Canadian losses to be recorded following the outbreak of the war involved the deaths of ordinary people rather than members of the military.

It was early in September, not long after Germany invaded Poland and Britain subsequently declared war. This set off a chain of alliances. France declared war, and Canada was soon to follow. Canada’s own declaration of war, however, had not occurred at the time of the first Canadian losses. It happened when a British civilian liner called the SS Athenia had been notified of the war declaration and began taking evasive maneuvers on the off-chance they might run into a German submarine. As it would happen, such a submarine saw their maneuvers and took them to be signs that the liner was a military vessel. The Athenia was sunk, and many civilians were killed.

At the time of its destruction, the Athenia was on its way to Montreal. There were a number of citizens onboard from Montreal, Winnipeg, and other cities throughout Canada. The ship took some time to sink, but when all was said and done there had been over fifty Canadian losses as a result of the ship’s destruction. This was nearly half of all deaths that occurred due to the attack. Luckily, more than nine-tenths of the civilians aboard the ship were able to survive.

Many of those who died did not actually die as a result of the explosion caused by the German torpedo. They were instead killed during the ship’s evacuation. One of the most tragic of the Canadian losses aboard the Athenia was that of a young girl named Margaret Hayworth. She did not die during the attack, but rather afterward as a result of her injuries. She was only ten years of age at the time of her death. Her death was widely mourned as Canada rallied behind the war effort, the Epoch Times reports.

With dozens of Canadian losses taking place before Canada had even entered the war, it became clear to many people that the horrors of war could not be avoided as easily as many would have believed. The war had only just begun, and already the hostilities were underway. It would not be long before Canadian losses would increase as the nation formally entered the war.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE