Nearly 4,000 First Nations individuals served in the Canadian Army during WWII, including 72 women. Not all of these were sent overseas to fight on the battlefields and relatively few of them won medals. More often than not, their names occupy a very discreet place in our historical records. And this is particularly true for those 72 women. But their contributions to the war effort were nonetheless crucial for the success of our cause. This is the story of one such young brave aboriginal teenager who enlisted in 1944.
Marion Miller Hill was born and raised on the Six Nations reserve near Brantford, Ontario. She was the daughter of Norman and Lena (Martin) Miller. Little is known of her family and childhood.
Marion first tried to enlist in 1943. She recalls coming home from Buffalo one weekend and, seeing a recruiting office nearby, she decided then and there to sign up. But, as she was only 17 years old at the time, she was told to wait another year. So in 1944, she did return to the recruitment office in Brantford and was allowed to join the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) as a private. Some 66 years later, she would still laugh whenever she reminisced her parents’ displeasure at her enlistment. “They didn’t like the idea of me travelling, being away from home. My dad didn’t think too much of it.”
All across Canada, women were signing up for numerous reasons: a sense of duty, to further one’s education, for adventure or financial stability. Marion enlisted because she thought it would be a great experience. She was ordered to Toronto for a medical examination before being shipped to Kitchener, Ontario, for basic training.
Basic training for most women was hard. There were strict vestimentary rules, permissions were needed to leave base, curfew hours, early morning marching and parading which were particularly hard during the cold winter months, poor lodging conditions on the base, etc. Many of the recruits found these conditions very harsh. As for Marion, she didn’t find basic training so bad. She had been working on a tobacco farm on the reserve prior to her enlistment and was used to hard work on the farm, looking after the cattle, cutting wood and doing several other chores.
Initially, the Army offered only nine trades to women but training had expanded to over 50 trades or occupations by war’s end, and women acquired skills that previously had been confined only to men. And Marion wanted something different. She wanted to become a driver because she was an ‘outdoorsy girl’. Interviewed many years later by Grace Poulin, author of “Invisible women: Aboriginal service women in Canada's Second World War military”, she stated:
You told the Army what you wanted to be and then they administered a test and told you if you were eligible. One officer wanted me to be an officer, but I wanted to be a driver. She told me that I was too short. The requirements were five feet, five inches, but I was only five feet, three. The officer put me through anyway. I drove trucks, jeeps, staff cars, and station wagons. I had to change tires and do the weekly service by myself, and I weighed only 113 pounds going in and coming out.
After her basic training in Kitchener, she was sent to Woodstock, Ontario, for a driving course before finally being stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she spent the remainder of her two year service. Remembering those years, Marion always identified “discipline” as one of the most important things she learned. She enjoyed traveling and meeting many different people from all across Canada.
Grace Poulin also found that women were paid just two-thirds of what a man earned. “The feeling was that it would take two women to do a one-man job,” says Poulin. When asked by Poulin what kind of entertainment such scarce finances allowed, Marion said that she had a special friend with whom she would go to ball games and hockey games or tour the city on time off. These were simple, inexpensive activities. She also attended Service Club dances and those at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YMCA). There was very little drinking. There were places were “Army girls” were not allowed in, but MPs would sometimes let them in anyhow.
Following discharge, few aboriginal women veterans received compensation packages, but the Army did often help them find jobs. In Marion’s case, she received a six-month dressmaking course in Hamilton, Ontario, paid for by the Department of Veteran Affairs. And in 2003, upon seeing an advertisement in the “Legion Magazine”, she applied for and received an additional compensation package from the federal government to make up for what she hadn’t received after the war. She was happy with the amount which enabled her to pay off her house and pass it on to her family. Marion was among the lucky ones as many Aboriginal women veterans received nothing.
After the war, Marion married Clifford J. Hill who predeceased her. The couple had eight children: Audrey (Snooks), Barb and Wayne, Margaret, Doug (Hicks), Ally, Clifford Jr., and Stuart. Marion remained very much involved in Veteran activities and always enjoyed attending Remembrance Day ceremonies with her friends and participating in other Legion get-togethers and parades. She was a longtime member of the South Brant Legion in Brantford, and even served ten years as President. She was a member of the Hamilton Ladies Auxiliary (now defunct) for 10 years and of the Royal Canadian Legion for 50 years. She was also curator of Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks for 30 years. Originally called St Paul's, this chapel was the first Protestant church in Upper Canada and is now the oldest surviving church in Ontario. It is one of two Royal Chapels in North America but the only one located on a First Nation Territory. Marion was also an active member of the Silver Fox Club and remained an avid sports enthusiast all of her life.
Till the end of her life, she still recommended that young Indigenous women should join the military: “It’s educational, it teaches you how to care for yourself, it’s very helpful.” And, she would add, it’s something she would do all over again. Marion Miller Hill passed away peacefully, surrounded by her family, at her home on the Six Nations reserve on June 7, 2014. She was 87 years old. She is buried in the reserve’s Stumphall Cemetery.
|Full Name||Miller, Marion|
|Also Known As||Hill, Mariion (Married name)|
|Band Name||Lower Mohawk Band|
|Band Location||Six Nations Grand River, ON|
|Birthplace||Six Nations, ON|
|Date of Enlistment||1944-01-01|
|Location of Enlistment||Brantford, ON|