Rachael Thomas (back left) and Blanche Thomas (front left), Photo credit: Canadian Women’s Army Corps, Germany.
Among the communities on PEI, the Mi’kmaq had the highest percentage of their population who served in the First and Second World Wars Among the Mi’kmaq who served, there were but two women: sisters Rachael and Blanche Thomas.
Rachael and Blanche Thomas, daughters of Michael and Mary Ann Thomas, led parallel lives until the end of World War II. They grew up on Lennox Island, moved to Southport for better education opportunities, and attended Rochford Square School in Charlottetown. After completing their education at Union Commercial College, both sisters joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC).
Rachael served overseas in England, while Blanche worked on repatriating the army in northern Europe. They were discharged in July 1946 as Corporals.
During their time off, the sisters enjoyed traveling together, exploring Scotland and Paris and creating cherished memories. However, their lives were deeply affected by the tragedy of war.
While most Indigenous personnel were treated as equals while in uniform, upon discharge things were different. Despite their service, Status Indians did not receive equal access to Veterans’ benefits or the right to vote. Mi’kmaw Keptin John Joe Sark observed, “These great men and women showed exceptional loyalty to Canada…for a country and flag that did not recognize them as citizens.”
At the end of their service, both Rachael and Blanche Thomas received two military medals: the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with the Overseas Service Bar — granted to persons who voluntarily served on Active Service; and the War Medal 1939-1945 — awarded to all full-time personnel of the Armed Forces.
Rachael Thomas dedicated her life to seeking justice for victims of the Sixties Scoop. She remained proud of her Indigenous heritage and was involved in her community until her passing in 1996.
Blanche Thomas, a proud Mi’kmaq woman, married Gerard Thomas Doucett after World War II. She worked as a beautician before becoming a homemaker and mother. Blanche later joined the workforce and was an active member of various organizations.
Amendments to the Indian Act restored her Indian status and applied it to her children. Blanche passed away in 2009. Her legacy includes her daughter’s service in the Royal Canadian Navy and her granddaughter’s service in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Today, many Indigenous people continue to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces with pride and dedication.
Lest We Forget.
Written by Grace Biswas, Editor-in-Chief