A forgotten anniversary

If you’re a Canadian born after 1961 or thereabouts, you probably don’t know what our government did on this date in 1939. (And no matter when you were born, I’ll bet you didn’t know we Newfoundlanders beat Canada to it by a week.)

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8 thoughts on “A forgotten anniversary

  1. I had no idea Newfoundland time was a week ahead of us out here on the west coast.
    Which is my joke.
    God guard ye, Newfoundland.

  2. Let me describe, as briefly as I can, what my father did on that day 70 years ago. A friend at work had been pestering him to join the Militia for some time, and my father and another friend always replied, “get yourself a war and we will”. Then he went to work one day, and the two of them said to each other, “well, Pete’s got his war, we’d better do what we said”. And they headed downtown to enlist.
    (RIP Sgt Peter Birnie, 48th Highlanders of Canada, d. Sicily, August 1943.)

  3. Oh, sure, you guys beat Canada by a week in going to war with Germany, but I’ll bet you didn’t recruit a Zombie Army like Canada did!

  4. The Zombie cannot suffer pains,
    No bloody guts, no bloody veins,
    No bloody heart, no bloody brains,
    No re-pro-ductive or-gans….

  5. The Left in Canada in World War II
    Socialist History Project http://www2.cddc.vt.edu/marxists/history/canada/socialisthistory/Docs/History/Left-in-WW2.htm
    Over time, the Zombies’ refusal took on an air of dogged heroism. They enjoyed support in the general population, where 50% of those in their 20s opposed conscription for overseas service.
    In November 1944, King ordered that 16,000 conscripts be sent to Europe. In B.C., where most of them were stationed, there was a wave of demonstrations and mutinies. At a base in Terrace B.C., French- and English-speaking troops joined forces, armed themselves, took over the camp, and mounted guns to command the approaches. Popular slogans were “Down with conscription” and “Conscript money as well.” One placard read, “We can end the war here at home.” Another, “Zombies strike back.”
    These disturbances died down, but there were recurring bouts of rioting and sit-down strikes. Half the 16,000 went AWOL and only a fifth of the missing men were ever retrieved—a sure sign of strong community support.
    The hunt for deserters proved hazardous. In Drummondville, Quebec, on 24 February, a 100-man raiding party was attacked by a mob, their vehicles overturned and smashed, while fighting lasted on the streets for three hours, and scores required hospital treatment.
    Even after sending conscripts to Europe, opposition was so high that King had to promise not send them to fight in the Pacific unless they agreed. Result: when Canada’s most powerful and prestigious warship, the HMCS Uganda, was ordered to move against Japan, the crew voted overwhelmingly to end their participation in the war and sailed back to a Canadian port.

  6. Bruce:
    Intriguing stuff — I remember when I was a kid John Riddell ran for mayor on a sort of Trots ticket (Young Socialists, IIRC). Definitely a hard-core reality-challenged dude.

  7. WWII is often referred to as the “good war”, and the people who lived during that time as the “greatest generation”, but that is putting a gloss on a complicated period.
    Pearl Harbor united Americans against a common enemy, but prior to that the anti-war movement was strong on both the right and left. For example, Dalton Trumbo, a communist, published the anti-war novel Johny Got His Gun, in 1939, to keep America out of the war. (He suspended publication after the German invasion of the Soviet Union.)
    Canada never had a Pearl Harbor, and there was always opposition to the war. Many people who did sign up for service were promised they would never have to serve overseas – the so-called Zombie Army.
    Consider the man who was to remake Canada:
    “as a young man [Piere] Trudeau had fascist sympathies, was prone to the routine anti-Semitism of mid-century Quebec francophones, blamed Britain for the Second World War, and spent it riding around Montreal wearing a German helmet.” http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/article.jsp?content=20060605_127892_127892

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