Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Mystique of the Conscription Crisis of 1944

The Mystique of the Conscription Crisis of 1944

By Furano Yukihira
The Daily Magi
November 19, 2059


The Conscription Crisis of 1944 was a political and military crisis following the introduction of forced military service in Canada during World War II. It was similar to the Conscription Crisis of 1917, 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.

After campaigns in Italy 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, and Quebec in general, did not trust Defence Minister James Ralston, and King felt it was politically sensible to replace him as Minister of National Defence with the anti-conscription General Andrew McNaughton 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, it resulted in the short-lived 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. The mutiny was triggered by the rumour that soldiers based on the home front would be deployed overseas.

Many of the officers of the brigade were in Vancouver when news that conscripts might be deployed overseas reached the soldiers stationed in Terrace. Many soldiers began to disobey orders of those officers present in Terrace. On November 24, 1944, members of the Fusiliers du St-Laurent, who were part of the 15th Brigade, resolved to resist any efforts to deploy them overseas and some men seized weapons. The mutiny spread to other elements of the 15th Brigade as news came in of resistance by conscripts of other units stationed elsewhere in the province.

By November 28, the mutiny had begun to wane. The officers, led by Major General George Pearkes, were able to regain control and restore order to the troops. Many of the men returned the seized weapons. By November 29, the mutiny had exhausted itself. Some units, such as the Prince Albert Volunteers, were already being shipped out of Terrace. The government and military were fearful that the mutiny would spread and impair the war effort. The authorities pressured censors to apply federal press censorship regulations more strictly. These efforts were largely successful. The mutiny did not come to be well known among the general public, and the event came to be an obscure event in Canadian 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 "zombies" both in Canada and overseas; Farley Mowat 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 and North-West Europe.

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