Scrappers on the home front

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Lucille Barrett
Lucille Barrett
Future teen idol. Hardcore tv lover. Social media guru. Zombie aficionado. Travel scholar. Biker, shiba-inu lover, audiophile, Mad Men fan and proud pixelpusher. Working at the junction of minimalism and elegance to answer design problems with honest solutions. I'm fueled by craft beer, hip-hop and tortilla chips.

TODAY’S go green movement promotes such words as conserve, reduce, renew, and reuse, among others, to get Canadians less wasteful.


However, during the Second World War, such actions were second nature to most people on the Home Front. Contributing recyclable materials to the war effort became a normal way of life.

As the global conflict restricted various raw materials from the Far East to Canada’s shores, other means were examined to help fill the resources gap. In 1941 the Department of National War Services set up a salvage division to collect discarded items that could be recycled for war purposes.

Local community committees were established, and collection drives were implemented.

Partners in the mix included service groups, scrapyard businesses, and other recovery industries.

Various means were used for advertising the salvage drives, including multi-colored patriotic posters, postage stamp slogan cancels, newspaper ads, and catchy slogans such as “dig in and dig out scrap” and “save food, waste nothing.”

Scrap metal, such as aluminum, was needed to make an allied fighter and bomber aircraft, and iron and steel were accumulated for melt-down and re-use in the production of naval ships and vehicles such as jeeps and tanks.

Older, derelict automobiles and trucks, farm tractors, and other implements were pulled from backyards, farmers’ fields, and old bush road vehicle dumps, which also helped clean up the surrounding countryside.

Gathering some of the smaller bits of metal was something that children could do, and, as depicted in various wartime photographs, the junk piles they created included such items as old ornaments and decorative items, pots and pans, kiddy cars, plush toys, and doll carriages My True Care.

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Interestingly, by mid-September 1942, the Department of Munitions and Supply deemed it illegal for persons to remain in their possession scrap iron or steel “weighing a total of 500 pounds or more,” unless they had a permit to do so.

In September of 1941, a Geraldton district scrap drive netted a “half truckload” of aluminum as an example of local salvage efforts. According to the chairman of the local Red Cross drive committee, that was enough “to help to build at least one plane.”

Housewives were encouraged to save and turn over waste fat/grease to produce explosives. Children would bring their family’s container of grease to school on fat collection days and pour the contents into a large steel drum, often with a local newspaper photographer present to record the event.

The drums would then be sealed and shipped to a factory for processing. Even though the fat was often needed at home, patriotism usually won out in the end. Bones were similarly saved from manufacturing airplane glue, while rags were used to make blankets.

Worn out tires, tubes, and other old rubber items were taken to reclamation centers, often situated at local garages and gas stations.

As bush workers left their jobs to join the armed forces, the production of paper was hindered. But children could gather old newspapers in small bundles and drop them off at a centralized spot for recycled into new domestic and armed forces newspapers. Other types of paper were also used for packing military items for use on the front lines. Citizens were also asked to hand in their magazines and books, which were given to soldiers.

By 1944, the shortages diminished, the scrap drives slowed and eventually stopped. After the war, prosperity emerged, and people slowly went back to throwing things away.

Many decades later, the save, don’t throw away campaign has resurfaced but for a different purpose.

This time around, it’s being promoted to save Mother Earth and not help contribute to a worldwide military conflict.

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