Farm Work

Alternative service took many different forms. Farming is one of those we know about least. Of the 262,634 Canadians who delayed their military service, 65% did so because they were needed on the farm. Among conscientious objectors, the percentage is similar. At the end of 1945, 6,655 out of 10,851 conscientious objectors were employed in agriculture. With this in mind, why do you think the other areas of alternate service receive so much more attention? Why is it that of all the types of alternative service, we have the hardest time finding pictures and stories about agricultural activities?

There are a number of reasons.

Men on farms did not have regular contact with other COs. Those men in forestry camps, on the other hand, were surrounded by other COs. They were also a long way from home, so they took more pictures and wrote more letters home. They were doing something they had never done before, and they were excited. Today, these records survive in archives. Many COs on farms served in their home community. Even though their work was vital to the Canadian economy, it did not seem very glamorous.

At the beginning of the war, many COs went to alternative service camps. Those COs who farmed usually had a special reason and had some of the men had to sign contracts.

Henry Poettcker was a young man in Alberta when he received his military call.

“Because I was the son of a widow I received an agricultural postponement to remain on the home farm.” [MHC, 1015-2]

John Dyck was in a similar situation.

“My mother being a widow at the time I worked for her on the farm and she paid monthly to the Red Cross [on my behalf]” [MHC, 1015-51]

Like both of these men, Henry A. Wiens probably could have avoided military service by claiming that he was essential to the family farm. Wiens, however, would not deny his beliefs in that way. He declared himself to be a CO to take a stand against war.

Since I was the oldest boy in the family, the others still in public school, I was allowed to remain as a farm worker on my father's farm. He had to pay a certain amount of money every month, for the duration. While I could have remained a farm laborer without declaring myself a CO, I was glad to witness to this.[MHC, 1015-15]

Some times a CO sent to a camp made a request to be transferred to a farm where they were needed.

Arthur Pankratz refused to go back to the camp because he felt it was more important to help out on the farm. Read the letter he wrote. The government did not always allow them to stay on the farm. Frank Dyck also requested to remain on the farm and wrote about his circumstances in a letter. Read the letter.

At times officials were reluctant to let the COs work on the farms.  At times church leaders advocated for the COs.  Read Bishop David Toews' letter to R.S. Hinchey to try to help Ruben Siemens remain on his family's farm.

Later during the war the government instructed the officials to allow more COs to remain on the farm. (artilce 1 article 2) The CO newsletter, The Beacon also reported that more young men would be allowed to stay on the farm.

The theme of payments to the Red Cross is common in agricultural CO stories. In the spring of 1944, the forestry camps closed down and the COs were shifted to essential industries like farming.  

During my fifteen months in BC camps, various fellows left, either to join the forces or were sent home to work on farms. In mid-November, 1943, I received a notice and ticket to report at a fruit farm in Vineland Station. I started there December 1, 1943. Part of my wages went to the Red Cross till the end of the war. My parents had moved to Jordan Harbour, Ontario, not far from where I was working now. I was on a CO contract there till at least the middle of 1945 when the war ended.”[ASM, 55-58]