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Canada's Conscription Crisis of 1944

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  • Canada's Conscription Crisis of 1944

    I would like to start a conversation about Canada's Conscription Crisis of 1944 to get a better understanding of how this could happen, why were the French Canadians so reluctant to serve?
    In Pierre Trudeau explained his opposition to conscription and his doubts about the war in his Memoirs (1993):
    "So there was a war? Tough ... if you were a French Canadian in Montreal in the early 1940s, you did not automatically believe that this was a just war ... we tended to think of this war as a settling of scores among the superpowers."
    So I ask the Canadian forum members to enlighten the rest of us who believe the war was a very just cause, was Trudeau a supporter of Nazism?

    http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibiti...iption_e.shtml

    Conscription, or compulsory military service, divided the nation in the Second World War and threatened the survival of political leaders. In 1939 Prime Minister Mackenzie King, conscious of the opposition of French-speaking Quebec to conscription in the First World War, promised that there would be no conscription for overseas service. By mid-1940, however, there was enormous pressure from English Canada for total mobilization of manpower. King introduced the National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA), which called for a national registration of eligible men and authorized conscription for home defence. From April 1941 the young men called up were required to serve for the rest of the war on home defence duties.

    But this was not enough for some in English-Canada, which provided the bulk of the volunteers for the armed forces. They had an uncomplimentary name for the NRMA conscripts, calling them "zombies" - the living dead, only half human, who peopled horror movies. Increasingly, there was pressure on the "zombies" to volunteer for overseas service.

    With the entry of Japan into the war in December 1941 came further demands for overseas conscription. In a plebiscite of April 1942, King asked Canadians to release him from his 1939 promise. Overall, the "Yes" side won, with 64%, but Quebeckers voted 73% against and many other non-English-Canadians were also opposed. The NRMA was amended to allow conscription for overseas service, but for now King went no further because there were sufficient volunteers still available.

    Fighting in Normandy after D-Day led to high casualty rates among the infantry. J.L. Ralston, Minister of National Defence, was convinced that it was essential to send conscripts overseas as reinforcements. When his Cabinet colleagues could not agree, King forced him to resign and turned to General A.G.L. McNaughton as the new Minister in a last-ditch effort to avoid conscription. But McNaughton too, despite his great prestige, was unable to find enough NRMA men willing to volunteer. On November 22, 1944, King was forced to reverse his position and order conscripts overseas.

    Some 13,000 NRMA men eventually left Canada, but only 2,463 reached units in the field before the end of the fighting. 69 died in battle.
    Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

  • #2
    Canada's War

    Old Post,

    Going into WWII, the memory of WWI, in which Canada had a relatively huge military role (60,000 dead, 172,000 wounded), weighed heavily. Quebec, and French Canadiens in general, was even more isolationist than the U.S. and didn’t want to be part of another “British” war, they cared little for France too. When Conscription was introduced in 1917, largely by the Anglophone majority (French Canadiens made up around 1/3 of the population at the time), it brought bitter resentment. In bringing a deeply divided Canada into WWII in 1939, PM MacKenzie King pledged that there would be no Conscription. He promised that Canada’s effort would have “limited liability” – with volunteers, and without exerting itself militarily in the WWI sense. Canada’s role was seen to be as a provider of war materiel, not manpower. For a time it was debated whether or not to actually send troops, however on Sept. 19, 1939, a decision was made to raise 2 Divisions, and send 1 overseas. The 1st Canadian Div. began arriving in the U.K. in Dec. Canadian war production didn’t actually get into gear until after the fall of France, that’s when Canadian’s realised that it was a matter of Britain’s survival; Britain’s contracts arrived and Canada really got to work.

    The total war production was $10.9 billion by 1945, 4th among the Allies. The manufacturing sector of the economy doubled in 6 yrs., agricultural exports increased almost 350% between 1939 and 1944. Canadian forces however only used 30% of the war materiel produced. The remaining 70% was given away to Canada’s allies, or supplied under the Canadian Mutual Aid Plan, which had better terms than U.S. Lend Lease, and was a larger proportion of the Canadian gov’t budget than Lend Lease was to the U.S. Most of it went to the U.K. but the U.S.S.R., Australia, China, and India also benefited.

    For the British, the aid was important “during the war we were never, from shortage of finance, prevented from securing all Canada could let us have for the war effort.” – some 80% of Monty’s transport in North Africa came from Canada.

    By 1945 Canada ultimately fielded 48 R.C.A.F. squadrons overseas, the R.C.N. was the 3rd largest Allied Navy and undoubtedly was Canada’s greatest contribution in the war but by WWI manpower standards, it was a smaller role. The Canadian Gov’t. was so sensitive about its status as a provider, and non- recipient of aid, when the R.C.N. crewed 2 Bogue/Attacker Class Carriers, built in the U.S. and provided to the R.N. under Lend Lease they wouldn’t authorise them being known as “H.M.C.S.” – H.M.S.’s Nabob and Puncher remained in the R.N.

    Relations with the U.S. were good. In Aug. 1940 King and FDR met and hammered out a plan for a “Permanent Joint Board on Defence”, then began to work out plans for defence on both shores. The U.S. and Canada would help defend each other; U.S. troops were allowed into Canada to build the Alaska Highway, 2 R.C.A.F. squadrons were based in Alaska when the 2 Aleutian Is. were occupied. The Hyde Park Declaration in April 1941, agreed between King and FDR, stipulated that Canada and the U.S. would provide each other with the materiel each was best able to produce. This was applied to Lend Lease, which kept Canada from going bankrupt in assisting Britain, and moved Canada closer to the US, and correspondingly away from Britain.

    In short, by the time the U.S. entered the war, Canada’s war effort had been small to date, but was growing exponentially. Given the level of co-operation between the 2 nations, actual sovereignty meant very little.
    "I am Groot"
    - Groot

    Comment


    • #3
      Good info Marmat,
      What is your take on Trudeau's statement?
      Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

      Comment


      • #4
        PET was no more Nazi, ...

        Originally posted by Urban hermit View Post
        Good info Marmat,
        What is your take on Trudeau's statement?
        ... than FDR or Mackenzie King were, in fact he was more to the left than either of them, and at the time was more Quebec Nationalist than Federalist. That would change, he would become a Federal Liberal, leading the same party as Mackenzie King, and a Canadian Sovereignist, whether that led him against foreign ownership in Canada, or against Quebec Separatists. That said,

        "So there was a war? Tough ... if you were a French Canadian in Montreal in the early 1940s, you did not automatically believe that this was a just war ... we tended to think of this war as a settling of scores among the superpowers."

        pretty much sums up what French Canadiens thought of the war, and the feeling that they were being forced to fight in it.
        Last edited by Marmat; 25 Jan 16, 08:32.
        "I am Groot"
        - Groot

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Marmat View Post
          ... than FDR or Mackenzie King were, in fact he was more to the left than either of them, and at the time was more Quebec Nationalist than Federalist. That would change, he would become a Federal Liberal, leading the same party as Mackenzie King, and a Canadian Sovereignist, whether that led him against foreign ownership in Canada, or against Quebec Separatists. That said,

          "So there was a war? Tough ... if you were a French Canadian in Montreal in the early 1940s, you did not automatically believe that this was a just war ... we tended to think of this war as a settling of scores among the superpowers."

          pretty much sums up what French Canadiens thought of the war, and the feeling that they were being forced to fight in it.
          Not to sound like taking a swipe, but they were rather unconcerned about the plight of the Jews or the atrocities of the Nazis then I take it.
          Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

          Comment


          • #6
            Trudeau's main focus as a young intellectual in the war was the embryonic beginnings of what would become the "Quiet Revolution" a revolution that would not come to the 1950's and 60's and one which he would be prominent in.

            Then, much more than now, English Canada and French Canada were two solitudes. Before the start of the 1st World War English Canada's population was almost 50% foreign born, mainly from the British Isles. Not true at all in French Canada. Going way back, after the French Indian War, the Nobility living in New France returned to France, as did the military, and much of the middle class. This only left the lower class les Habitants and the Roman Catholic Church. The basic deal with Quebec and English Canada that was made then was that the English would run commerce and the Roman Catholic Church would run everything else. Moreover, in order to get Quebec's allegiance to the British during the American Revolutionary War Britain passed the Quebec Act of 1774 giving Quebec protection over language, culture, and religious rights along with jurisdiction over their own french civil code. That was the deal.

            So something like 6 or 7 generations had grown up in Quebec, isolated from Europe, and somewhat isolated from their own country. An example of that is my Mother worked at Montreal General as a nurse during the war and the way she describes it is French was the language you would only hear from the lower class on the subway on the way home. English was the language of commerce. Quebec was deeply isolationist because it was deeply isolated. Not so for English Canada.

            Trudeau's mindset was deeply rooted in modernizing Quebec, and he became an important leader in that fight. He would also be an important leader in the fight to keep Quebec in Canada when the Quiet Revolution went too far.

            Even as it was , conscription did not tear apart the country like it had in the 1st WW. That was because of King's shrewd leadership, also a better sensitivity to the French language in the Army, and because of an understanding of the villainy of the enemy. The Holocaust wasn't really known about by the population until after the war.
            Last edited by Sparlingo; 24 Jan 16, 18:28.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Sparlingo View Post
              Trudeau's main focus as a young intellectual in the war was the embryonic beginnings of what would become the "Quiet Revolution" a revolution that would not come to the 1950's and 60's and one which he would be prominent in.

              Then, much more than now, English Canada and French Canada were two solitudes. Before the start of the 1st World War English Canada's population was almost 50% foreign born, mainly from the British Isles. Not true at all in French Canada. Going way back, after the French Indian War, the Nobility living in New France returned to France, as did the military, and much of the middle class. This only left the lower class les Habitants and the Roman Catholic Church. The basic deal with Quebec and English Canada that was made then was that the English would run commerce and the Roman Catholic Church would run everything else. Moreover, in order to get Quebec's allegiance to the British during the American Revolutionary War Britain passed the Quebec Act of 1774 giving Quebec protection over language, culture, and religious rights along with jurisdiction over their own french civil code. That was the deal.

              So something like 6 or 7 generations had grown up in Quebec, isolated from Europe, and somewhat isolated from their own country. An example of that is my Mother worked at Montreal General as a nurse during the war and the way she describes it is French was the language you would only hear from the lower class on the subway on the way home. English was the language of commerce. Quebec was deeply isolationist because it was deeply isolated. Not so for English Canada.

              Trudeau's mindset was deeply rooted in modernizing Quebec, and he became an important leader in that fight. He would also be an important leader in the fight to keep Quebec in Canada when the Quiet Revolution went too far.

              Even as it was , conscription did not tear apart the country like it had in the 1st WW. That was because of King's shrewd leadership, also a better sensitivity to the French language in the Army, and because of an understanding of the villainy of the enemy. The Holocaust wasn't really known about by the population until after the war.
              So he did not care about the death camps, being an "intellectual" put him above the suffering of 6 million Jews and the French, Belgium, Norwegian, British and Russian people.
              Must be nice to be an "intellectual".
              Last edited by Urban hermit; 24 Jan 16, 21:50.
              Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Urban hermit View Post
                So he did not care about the death camps, being an "intellectual" put him above the suffering of 6 million Jews and the French, Belgium, Norwegian, British and Rusdian people.
                Must be nice to be an "intellectual".
                I thought you "would like to start a conversation about Canada's Conscription Crisis of 1944 to get a better understanding of how this could happen"

                Comment


                • #9
                  No swipe, ...

                  Originally posted by Urban hermit View Post
                  Not to sound like taking a swipe, but they were rather unconcerned about the plight of the Jews or the atrocities of the Nazis then I take it.
                  ... because at the time, most of the Western Hemisphere was likewise unconcerned, or ignorant of the extent of "the plight of the Jews or the atrocities of the Nazis", across the Atlantic. The US joined the war when attacked by Japan, and when Hitler subsequently declared war on the US in turn, the dissenters were largely eliminated. In comparison, U-Boat sinkings in the St. Lawrence weren't without effect, but weren't as polarizing in Quebec, and Canada was in the war for different reasons entirely, & not to the liking of most Francophones.

                  It's important to understand that in the introspective Quebec of the day, the lines between church and state were blurred, Premier Maurice Duplessis and the Union Nationale party in power most of the period, if not most of the war itself, ruled under a right wing cloud of perceived Anglo anti-Catholic bias i.e. us vs. them. If the Church of Rome in WWII can be charged with racist, anti-communist, pro-fascist leanings, then that can be said too of some elements in Union Nationale Quebec, as it can be said of other states, Roman Catholic and otherwise. Recent Separatist Party Quebecois govt's have found it hard to defend themselves against accusations of their own racist policies.

                  Still, many of those nations of the Western Hemisphere referred to above, remained nations of immigrants, and had taken in immigrant Jews fleeing Germany before WWII, Montreal has a large Jewish community, French Canada had taken in and absorbed a large group from the Irish exodus of nearly a century earlier.
                  "I am Groot"
                  - Groot

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Well, that ...

                    Originally posted by Urban hermit View Post
                    So he did not care about the death camps, being an "intellectual" put him above the suffering of 6 million Jews and the French, Belgium, Norwegian, British and Rusdian people.
                    Must be nice to be an "intellectual".
                    ... wasn't a swipe up above, but this is trash, and completely uncalled for.
                    "I am Groot"
                    - Groot

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Marmat View Post
                      ... wasn't a swipe up above, but this is trash, and completely uncalled for.
                      I apologize, it was more of a swipe at those who dismissed his actions as the privilege of intellectua,
                      Pierre Trudeu did finally serve, becoming a training officer Trudeau said he was willing to fight during World War II, but he believed that to do so would be to turn his back on the population of Quebec that he believed had been betrayed by the government of William Lyon Mackenzie King.
                      Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Marmat View Post
                        ... than FDR or Mackenzie King were, in fact he was more to the left than either of them, and at the time was more Quebec Nationalist than Federalist. That would change, he would become a Federal Liberal, leading the same party as Mackenzie King, and a Canadian Sovereignist, whether that led him against foreign ownership in Canada, or against Quebec Separatists. That said,

                        "So there was a war? Tough ... if you were a French Canadian in Montreal in the early 1940s, you did not automatically believe that this was a just war ... we tended to think of this war as a settling of scores among the superpowers."

                        pretty much sums up what French Canadiens thought of the war, and the feeling that they were being forced to fight in it.
                        Perhaps if they had lived with just the English Channel between them and the Germans they would have thought differently. Sorry, I will now leave you Canucks to it. lcm1
                        'By Horse by Tram'.


                        I was in when they needed 'em,not feeded 'em.
                        " Youuu 'Orrible Lot!"

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          In Quebec's defence there were 175,441 Quebecers who were taken into the armed forces during WW2, I'm not sure how many of these were conscripted but there were only 100,000 constripted during the war for the entire country.
                          The Vandoos were pretty good fighters too. The 175,441 figure was 25.69% of the male population between 18 and 45 in Quebec. Not as high as other provinces but Quebec's population was very rural and there were exemptions for farmers There were other countries where conscription was controversial, in both wars.

                          http://www.canadaatwar.ca/content-7/...d-information/

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by lcm1 View Post
                            Perhaps if they had lived with just the English Channel between them and the Germans they would have thought differently. Sorry, I will now leave you Canucks to it. lcm1
                            Well, at least one (1st Canadian) division moved to the shores of this channel already in December 1939.
                            This division included French-Canadian units as well.
                            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1st_Ca...9.E2.80.931945
                            "Keep Calm. Use Less X's"

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Sparlingo View Post
                              Moreover, in order to get Quebec's allegiance to the British during the American Revolutionary War Britain passed the Quebec Act of 1774 giving Quebec protection over language, culture, and religious rights along with jurisdiction over their own french civil code. That was the deal.
                              OTOH, the Quebec Act was one of the reasons for the Colonies to start their rebellion in 1775. They were unhappy with the territorial division, IIRC.

                              But, no relation to WWII. Just a side note.
                              "Keep Calm. Use Less X's"

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