John Siemens worked at a coal mine in southern Alberta before he was called to the military. He planned on joining the Medical Corps, an option that would satisfy both his need for adventure and his pacifist conscience, but he was not allowed. Canada needed miners so badly that John's mining company could not afford to let him leave for alternative service.
“There were many mines in the valley and the surrounding districts. As eastern Canada's industrial base grew, the demand for coal from the valley increased until some 138 mines were operating in the Drumheller coal jurisdiction. The mine made visible progress in technology, using electricity and hydraulics, mechanized loaders, a trolley and battery operated shuttle motors. Nevertheless, a mix of the old and the new characterized the transition.”
“When John had entered mine work, he was of draft age and had been exploring the opportunities that might come. It would not be an easy choice, since his faith conflicted with the unholiness of war. Yet he harboured a youthful hankering for broader experience favouring some form of participation, not directly military since that was a matter of conscience, but possibly in the Medical Corps.”
“‘The Call' to report for service came when John had settled in his mind that the Medical Corps presented no conscience difficulty. John was still part of the MB [Mennonite Brethren] church community but he was already in the work force of the greater world and both of these influenced him now. The fathers of faith had been thinking about the welfare of their sons in the eventuality of war and so had the mine management, about its employees. Mr. Klassen (the preacher) and Mr. Warkentin intervened to obtain CO status, which would direct John to camp service. When Century Coals became aware of John's call they fired off a double or triple registered letter to the Mobilization Board intervening and requesting him to stay in mine work. Without any real personal decision or help from church elders, he received notice to stay on in mine work.”
“Now he was forced to stay in mining. Since it was wartime, the government froze you to a job. Work in the mine was never easy, physically demanding, and one always had to be alert. John was thankful for his upbringing: to be careful about all things, punctual and respectful of others. The tasks could be anything from pleasurable to ugly, from fairly clean to very dirty – but no matter what, one must always exude an air of pride in the work. John felt good about what he was doing and was ready to work in the morning.”
“The crunch, the pressure of poverty, and nature of mining, its dangers and work frustrations brought out the worst in some people. In his early days as a miner, John was challenged about his clean life style: “Wait until you're here for a while and you will be like us: cursing, gambling and drinking.” He tested the validity of Christian principles and high morals and ethics in the work place. Honesty and a disciplined way of life built a trusting relationship not only with management, but also with his working partners.” [Based on an interview by Henry Goerzen, ASP, 180-181]