Most of the conscientious objectors came from rural communities. Often, if was the eldest son who was called away for alternative service. How would the farm survive?
For many families, the war was an economic catastrophe. Besides the emotional loss suffered by the family, now they had one less man to work and earn money. When Anton Dyck left for alternative service, his sisters had to learn how to operate the heavy farm machinery and do his chores. This scenario was repeated across hundreds of farms.
David H. Neumann explains the COs' financial situation.
“In addition to being unpopular with our government and general population we suffered considerable financial loss. We got fifty cents a day while the men in the military were getting full pay. Their wives and children received full support, whereas the wives of those of us who were married received no support. We also forfeited any post-war government help such as war veterans enjoyed. [ASP, 137-138]
If a CO would earn $182 if he worked for one year at 50 cents a day. By comparison, in 1937, someone at the low end of the payscale would earn $730, or four times what a CO earned. Also, in December 1939, the average family could expect to pay $24 per month on housing costs and nearly $9 on food. Those expenses were hard to pay when a CO only made $15 a month.
The CO wage was confirmed by Order-in-Council P.C. 2821, 7 April 1943:
“The Minister shall pay not less than fifty cents per day to every person performing alternative service under this section and may pay not more than seventy-five per day to any such person who has been appointed a sub-foreman and not more than one dollar per day to any such person who has been appointed a foreman: but no such man shall be provided with clothing at public expense.”
Most COs who worked in the national parks and with the forestry service received only fifty cents a day. The rest of their pay went to the Red Cross. Other COs worked on farms, in hospitals, in mines, or in factories. These COs received normal pay, but had to make monthly donations to the Red Cross. In most cases, this amounted to over half of the CO's pay cheque. Even when a CO was allowed to stay home on his own farm, he still had to make payments. When the COs were in the forestry camps, Mennonite officials had to petition the authorities so the men could return home to help with the harvest.
Becoming a CO was a step of faith, so it is only natural that the church should come help those who suffered because of it. Besides sending ministers to the camps and regular letters and packages to the COs, the Mennonite churches also attempted to support families in need. The church gave food, money, and whatever other assistance they could if a family was in need. This made it much easier for the COs to continue in their alternative service.
Some men, knowing that they were needed more on the farm, refused their call to military training when they were denied CO status. Others temporarily left their CO camps to help with their home and farm life.