Isaac Derksen and Abe Kehler worked for M&S (Manitoba and Saskatchewan) Coal Mines in Bienfait, Saskatchewan during the winter of 1942-1943. The next summer they returned home to do farm work. That fall they returned to the coal mines. The government realized that not all men could go to war. Those in jobs that were important were frozen to their positions. Because both Derksen and Kehler had CO status and because mining was essential work, the government froze them in their jobs. That meant they couldn't leave until after the war. The mining company had to verify periodically that they were still working. Isaac and Abe didn't leave until 1947.
“I worked with a team of horses moving loaded cars to be taken up to the surface and bringing empty cars to be loaded. The coal was taken to the surface where it was crushed and screened for size. The horses remained underground during the operating season but were brought up and put on pasture during the summer months. A horse was injured and they were debating whether it should be destroyed. I did not think the injury was that serious and suggested trying to save it. A veterinarian soon had the horse back in shape for working.”
“While loading coal one day, my cousin Jake Kehler and I felt strangely tired. We had just decided to finish loading this car and then take a rest when the foreman suddenly appeared and at the top of his voice ordered us to “Get out of here!” When we suggested that we would finish loading this car first, he continued, “Never mind that car. Pick up your lunch kit and get out, you have no oxygen.” Once safely in his room, he explained that a cave-in had blocked the passageway that fed oxygen to the area where we worked. He then severely reprimanded those experienced miners who were working in that area, for leaving without warning these inexperienced men about the danger. Otherwise we might have suspected that when our carbide lamps would not burn properly and we felt tired, that something must be wrong. The carbide lamps were later replaced with electric lights operating with a rechargeable 8 volt battery.”
“One day the foreman gave us a well deserved lecture about some mistake that we had made. The cutting machine operator, feeling that his pride had been hurt, found some poor excuse to stay away from work. When the foreman found out that he was not there, he asked if I would like to take over the job. I did not want to create hard feelings so I declined the offer. The foremen seemed to favor the Mennonite men, probably because the union men went strictly by the book and refused to go an inch beyond what the union required of them while the Mennonites would pitch in and do whatever needed to be done.”
“After the coal in the wall had been cut, a small charge of blasting powder was used to bring the coal down. This left an area of the ceiling exposed and it was usually shored up to prevent it from falling down. One day a patch of ceiling looked a bit risky and it was suggested that it might be better to prop it up. But the head of our group insisted that we keep on loading. The next morning we found that the ceiling had come down piling up rubble right up to the machine.”
“A workman shunting a loading car accidentally fell off and was crushed to death. A foreman immediately called a halt to any further work that day.
“As mentioned before, we were frozen to our jobs there. We got our release in the fall of 1946, but we had no jobs waiting for us if we went home, so we stayed on through the winter of 1946 and left for home in the spring of 1947.” [ASM, 53-54]