Conscription Crisis of 1944
Overview
 
The Conscription Crisis of 1944 was a political and military crisis following the introduction of forced military service
Conscription
Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names...

 in Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. It was similar to the Conscription Crisis of 1917
Conscription Crisis of 1917
The Conscription Crisis of 1917 was a political and military crisis in Canada during World War I.-Background:...

, but was not as politically damaging.
Because conscription was declared late in the war, only 2463 conscripted men reached the front lines. Out of these, 79 lost their lives.
Canada declared war against Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 on September 10, 1939 and sent one division to Europe, which had no chance for combat before France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 was overrun by Germany.
Encyclopedia
The Conscription Crisis of 1944 was a political and military crisis following the introduction of forced military service
Conscription
Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names...

 in Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. It was similar to the Conscription Crisis of 1917
Conscription Crisis of 1917
The Conscription Crisis of 1917 was a political and military crisis in Canada during World War I.-Background:...

, but was not as politically damaging.
Because conscription was declared late in the war, only 2463 conscripted men reached the front lines. Out of these, 79 lost their lives.

Background

Canada declared war against Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 on September 10, 1939 and sent one division to Europe, which had no chance for combat before France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 was overrun by Germany. In 1940, Prime Minister
Prime Minister of Canada
The Prime Minister of Canada is the primary minister of the Crown, chairman of the Cabinet, and thus head of government for Canada, charged with advising the Canadian monarch or viceroy on the exercise of the executive powers vested in them by the constitution...

 William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King, PC, OM, CMG was the dominant Canadian political leader from the 1920s through the 1940s. He served as the tenth Prime Minister of Canada from December 29, 1921 to June 28, 1926; from September 25, 1926 to August 7, 1930; and from October 23, 1935 to November 15, 1948...

 pledged to limit Canada's direct military involvement in the war. Many Canadians supported Mackenzie King's pledge, even as it became obvious the war would not be quickly resolved.

As in the First World War, young French-Canadians joined the few traditional French-speaking regiments of the Canadian army, such as the Regular-Army Royal 22e Régiment
Royal 22e Régiment
The Royal 22nd Regiment is an infantry regiment and the most famous francophone organization of the Canadian Forces. The regiment comprises three Regular Force battalions, two Primary Reserve battalions, and a band, making it the largest regiment in the Canadian Army...

, and several Militia regiments that were mobilized. In the Infantry, barracks life and most training was in French and only the command and radio language was in English.

In the rest of the military, however, similar French-speaking units were not created. Among the justifications for this policy were the predominance of the radio, and the fact that the technical instruction was only available in English. The Régiment de Trois-Rivières
12e Régiment blindé du Canada
The 12e Régiment blindé du Canada is a Canadian Forces armoured regiment based in CFB Valcartier, on the outskirts of Quebec City...

, a tank unit, was reorganized and fought as an English-speaking unit (the Three Rivers Regiment). Many French-speaking soldiers were sidetracked in this process. One of the most famous was Jean-Victor Allard who demanded a transfer from the Three Rivers Regiment to the Infantry; he went on to become a brigade commander in Northwest Europe and then in Korea, command a British Division in NATO and subsequebtly become Chief of the Defence Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces (where he took pleasure in creating the first French-speaking brigade). See "Mémoires du Général Jean V. Allard" 1985 ISBN 2-89074-190-7)

While units such as the Royal 22e Régiment
Royal 22e Régiment
The Royal 22nd Regiment is an infantry regiment and the most famous francophone organization of the Canadian Forces. The regiment comprises three Regular Force battalions, two Primary Reserve battalions, and a band, making it the largest regiment in the Canadian Army...

, Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal
Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal
Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal is one of the oldest surviving units of the historical regiments of the Canadian army. It celebrated its regimental centenary in 1969. The unit was created on November 5, 1869...

, the Régiment de la Chaudière
Le Régiment de la Chaudière
The Régiment de la Chaudière is a Primary Reserve infantry regiment of the Canadian Forces.-Insignia:The regimental insignia consists of two crossed machine guns, surmounted by a beaver supporting a fleur-de-lys...

 and the Régiment de Maisonneuve all had outstanding records during World War II, some feel that if they had been concentrated into the same brigade (as French-Canadians requested and as currently exists in the Canadian Armed Forces), it could have become a focus of pride for French-Canada, encouraging the war effort and political support in Quebec. These units were, however, distributed among the various English-speaking divisions of the Canadian Army overseas. Jack Granatstein
Jack Granatstein
Jack Lawrence Granatstein, OC, FRSC is a Canadian historian who specializes in political and military history.-Education:Born in Toronto, Ontario, Granatstein received a graduation diploma from Le College militaire royal de Saint-Jean in 1959, his BA from the Royal Military College of Canada in...

 in his book The Generals (1995 - ISBN 0-7737-2730-2), suggests that a shortage of French-speaking staff trained officers meant that any attempt to create an entire Francophone brigade would have likely ended in failure. However, the brigade could well have used English-speaking staff at the Brigade HQ; it would have been no different from the situation whereby these French-speaking units had to deal with English higher HQs in their various dispersed divisions.

Acceptance of French-speaking units was greater in Canada from the start of the Second World War in comparison to the first. While the creation of the 22nd Infantry Battalion (French-Canadian)
Royal 22e Régiment
The Royal 22nd Regiment is an infantry regiment and the most famous francophone organization of the Canadian Forces. The regiment comprises three Regular Force battalions, two Primary Reserve battalions, and a band, making it the largest regiment in the Canadian Army...

 required large rallies of French-Canadians in 1914, accompanied by political pressure, to overcome Minister Sam Hughes
Sam Hughes
For other people of the same name see Sam Hughes Sir Samuel Hughes, KCB, PC was the Canadian Minister of Militia and Defence during World War I...

' abhorrence of the idea, this greater acceptance of French-Canadian units, as well as informal use of their language, diminished the ferocity of Quebec's resistance to the war effort.

In June 1940 the government adopted conscription for home service in the National Resources Mobilization Act
National Resources Mobilization Act
National Resources Mobilization Act is a Canadian government statute which enabled conscription in Canada during World War II. The bill, passed by Parliament on June 21, 1940, permitted conscripts to be used for home defence only and not to be deployed overseas but was modified lolin August 1942 to...

 (NRMA), which allowed the government to register men and women and move them into jobs considered necessary for wartime production, but did not allow them to be conscripted for overseas service.

By the late summer of 1944, the numbers of new recruits were insufficient to replace war casualties in Europe, particularly among the infantry
Infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

.

Conversely, the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, which did not enter the war until December 7, 1941, following the Attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

, instituted the Selective Service Act
Selective Training and Service Act of 1940
The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, also known as the Burke-Wadsworth Act, was passed by the Congress of the United States on September 17, 1940, becoming the first peacetime conscription in United States history when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law two days later...

 on September 14, 1940 and extended it by a single vote the following year. The law was not controversial during the war, however, and draftees served under the same conditions as enlistees.

The Plebiscite of 1942

By 1941 there were enough volunteers for five overseas divisions. Meanwhile the Conservatives
Conservative Party of Canada (historical)
The Conservative Party of Canada has gone by a variety of names over the years since Canadian Confederation. Initially known as the "Liberal-Conservative Party", it dropped "Liberal" from its name in 1873, although many of its candidates continued to use this name.As a result of World War I and the...

 were pressuring King to advise that the Governor General
Governor General of Canada
The Governor General of Canada is the federal viceregal representative of the Canadian monarch, Queen Elizabeth II...

 introduce conscription. In April 1942 a plebiscite was held, which asked the population not to support immediate conscription, but rather to allow the government to take back its promise made during the 1940 election. King's famous remark on the issue, "not necessarily conscription but conscription if necessary," reflected the ambiguous nature of the plebiscite. Unsurprisingly, the plebiscite was supported by most English Canadians as well as the banned Communist Party of Canada
Communist Party of Canada
The Communist Party of Canada is a communist political party in Canada. Although is it currently a minor or small political party without representation in the Federal Parliament or in provincial legislatures, historically the Party has elected representatives in Federal Parliament, Ontario...

 which established Tim Buck "Yes" Committees
Dominion Communist-Labor Total War Committee
The Dominion Communist-Labor Total War Committee was a front organization of the then-banned Communist Party of Canada. The Committees originated as the "Tim Buck Plebiscite Committees" which were organized by the party in 1942 to campaign for a "yes" vote in the 1942 referendum on conscription...

 to campaign for a yes vote. Across Canada, 63% of voters were in favour of conscription with English Canadians voting 83% in favour. The proposal received hardly any support from French Canadians, especially in Quebec
Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

, where anti-conscription groups (including one led by Henri Bourassa
Henri Bourassa
Joseph-Napoléon-Henri Bourassa was a French Canadian political leader and publisher. He is seen by many as an ideological father of Canadian nationalism....

, the most vocal opponent of conscription in 1917) encouraged 72.9% of voters to oppose the plebiscite. The government then passed Bill 80, repealing the sections of the NRMA that did not allow for overseas conscription. However, many Canadians still did not support immediate conscription; there were a few riots in Montreal
Montreal
Montreal is a city in Canada. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec, the second-largest city in Canada and the seventh largest in North America...

, although these were not on the same scale as the 1917 and 1918 riots. Even in Toronto
Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

, a strongly pro-conscription region, Conservative Arthur Meighen
Arthur Meighen
Arthur Meighen, PC, QC was a Canadian lawyer and politician. He served two terms as the ninth Prime Minister of Canada: from July 10, 1920 to December 29, 1921; and from June 29 to September 25, 1926. He was the first Prime Minister born after Confederation, and the only one to represent a riding...

 was defeated in a by-election
By-election
A by-election is an election held to fill a political office that has become vacant between regularly scheduled elections....

 after promising to help introduce conscription.

Following the plebiscite, Public Works minister Pierre Joseph Arthur Cardin
Pierre Joseph Arthur Cardin
Pierre Joseph Arthur Cardin, also known as Arthur Cardin was a Canadian politician who quit the cabinet of William Lyon Mackenzie King over the issue of conscription....

 quit the King cabinet to protest his plan to introduce conscription. A number of other Quebec Liberal MPs also left the party in 1942 over the conscription issue, many of whom joined the Bloc populaire canadien
Bloc populaire canadien
The Bloc populaire canadien was a political party in the Canadian province of Quebec from 1942 to 1947. It was founded on September 8, 1942 by opponents of conscription during World War II...

 when it was formed in the fall of 1942 to campaign against the government.

Introduction of conscription

After campaigns in Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 in 1943 and the Normandy invasion in 1944, combined with a lack of volunteers, Canada faced a shortage of troops. A brigade from one of the three "home defence" divisions in Canada was sent to the Aleutian Islands Campaign in 1943 (the islands were technically North American soil and thus deployment there was not considered "overseas"). These divisions were made up largely of conscripts, other than officers and NCOs, and desertions before embarkation were noted. However, no further combat employment was made until early 1945, when 12,908 men were sent overseas, most of whom were from the home service conscripts drafted under the NRMA, rather than from the general population.

The French-Canadian ministers in Cabinet
Cabinet of Canada
The Cabinet of Canada is a body of ministers of the Crown that, along with the Canadian monarch, and within the tenets of the Westminster system, forms the government of Canada...

, and Quebec in general, did not trust Defence Minister James Ralston
James Ralston
James Layton Ralston, PC was a Canadian lawyer, soldier and politician.Born in Amherst, Nova Scotia, Ralston graduated from law school at Dalhousie University in 1903 and practised law in Amherst...

, and King felt it was politically sensible to replace him as Minister of National Defence with the anti-conscription General Andrew McNaughton
Andrew McNaughton
General Andrew George Latta McNaughton, CH, CB, CMG, DSO, CD, PC was a Canadian army officer, politician and diplomat.- Early life :...

 in November 1944. McNaughton was unable to produce large numbers of volunteers for the army, although there were numerous volunteers for the navy and air force. Some members of King's cabinet threatened to resign and bring down the government. King finally agreed to a one-time levy of 17,000 NRMA conscripts for overseas service in November 1944. When word of the decision reached soldiers stationed in Terrace, British Columbia
Terrace, British Columbia
Terrace is a city on the Skeena River in British Columbia, Canada. The Kitselas people, a tribe of the Tsimshian Nation, have lived in the Terrace area for thousands of years. The community population fell between 2001 and 2006 from 12,109 with a regional population of 19,980 to 11,320 and...

, it resulted in the short-lived Terrace Mutiny
Terrace Mutiny
The Terrace Mutiny was a revolt by Canadian soldiers based in Terrace, British Columbia during World War II. The mutiny, which began on November 24, 1944 and ended on November 29, 1944, was the most serious breach of discipline in Canadian military history...

.

Few conscripts saw combat in Europe: only 2463 men reached units on the front lines. Out of these, 79 lost their lives. Politically, this was a successful gamble for King, as he avoided a drawn-out political crisis and remained in power until his retirement in 1948.

The NRMA men who refused to "go active" were derisively called "zombie
Zombie
Zombie is a term used to denote an animated corpse brought back to life by mystical means such as witchcraft. The term is often figuratively applied to describe a hypnotized person bereft of consciousness and self-awareness, yet ambulant and able to respond to surrounding stimuli...

s" both in Canada and overseas; Farley Mowat
Farley Mowat
Farley McGill Mowat, , born May 12, 1921 is a conservationist and one of Canada's most widely-read authors.His works have been translated into 52 languages and he has sold more than 14 million books. He achieved fame with the publication of his books on the Canadian North, such as People of the...

 recalls in his volumes of war memoirs savagely disliking those who wore the uniform but refused to make the same sacrifices he and his brothers-in-arms were called on to make in Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 and North-West Europe.

See also

  • Conscription Crisis of 1917
    Conscription Crisis of 1917
    The Conscription Crisis of 1917 was a political and military crisis in Canada during World War I.-Background:...

  • Conscription in Australia
    Conscription in Australia
    Conscription in Australia, or mandatory military service also known as National Service, has a controversial history dating back to the first years of nationhood...


Further reading

  • Allard, Jean V. . "Mémoires du Général Jean V. Allard". Ottawa, Les Éditions de Mortagne, 1985. ISBN 2-89074-190-7
  • Dawson, R. MacGregor. The Conscription Crisis of 1944. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961.
  • Francis, R. Douglas, Richard Jones, Donald B. Smith. Destinies: Canadian History Since Confederation. Toronto, Harcourt Canada, 2000. ISBN 0-7747-3665-8
  • Granatstein, J.L. . Conscription in the Second World War, 1939-1945: A Study in Political Management. Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1969. ISBN 0-7700-0249-8
  • Granatstein, J.L. and J.M. Hitsman. Broken Promises: A History of Conscription in Canada. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1977. ISBN 0-19-540258-8
  • Mowat, Farley. The Regiment
  • Mowat, Farley. My Father's Son


External links

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