Conscription Crisis of 1944 was a political and
military crisis following the introduction of forced military service in Canada during
World War II.
It was similar to
the Conscription Crisis of
, but was not as politically damaging.
declared war against Germany on September 10, 1939 and sent
one division to Europe, which had no chance for combat before
France was overrun by Germany.
In 1940, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King
pledged to limit Canada's direct military involvement in the war.
Many Canadians supported Mackenzie King's pledge, even as it became
obvious the war would not be quickly resolved.
As in the First World War, young French-Canadians joined the few
traditional French-speaking regiments of the Canadian army, such as
the Regular-Army Royal
, and several reserve regiments that
were mobilized. In the Infantry, barracks life and most training
was in French and only the command and radio language was in
In the rest of the military, however, units were anglicized,
because of the predominance of the radio, and the heavy technical
instruction was only available in English-only training centres.
The Régiment de
, a tank unit, was reorganized and fought as an
English-speaking unit (the Three Rivers Regiment).
While units such as the Royal
, Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal
Régiment de la
and the Régiment de Maisonneuve
outstanding records during World War II, some feel that if they had
been concentrated into the same brigade (as French-Canadians
requested and as currently exists in the Canadian Armed Forces), it
could have become a focus of pride for French-Canada, encouraging
the war effort and political support in Quebec. These units were,
however, distributed among the various English-speaking divisions
of the Canadian Army overseas. Jack
in his book The Generals
(1995 - ISBN
0-7737-2730-2), points out that a shortage of French-speaking staff
trained officers meant that any attempt to create an entire
Francophone brigade would have likely ended in failure.
Acceptance of French-speaking units was greater in Canada from the
start of the Second World War in comparison to the first. While the
creation of the 22nd Infantry
required large rallies of French-Canadians in 1914,
accompanied by political pressure, to overcome Minister Sam Hughes
' abhorrence of the idea, this greater
acceptance of French-Canadian units, as well as informal use of
their language, diminished the ferocity of Quebec's resistance to
the war effort.
In June 1940 the government adopted conscription for home service
in the National
Resources Mobilization Act
(NRMA), which allowed the government
to register men and women and move them into jobs considered
necessary for wartime production, but did not allow them to be
conscripted for overseas service.
By the late summer of 1944, the numbers of new recruits were
insufficient to replace war casualties in Europe, particularly
among the infantry
Conversely, the United States, which did not enter the war until December 7, 1941, following
Attack on Pearl
Harbor, instituted the Selective Service
Act on September 14, 1940 and extended it by a single vote the following
The law was not controversial during the war, however,
and draftees served under the same conditions as enlistees.
The Plebiscite of 1942
William Mackenzie King voting in the
plebiscite on the introduction of conscription for overseas
By 1941 there were enough volunteers for five overseas divisions.
Meanwhile the Conservatives
pressuring King to advise that the Governor General
conscription. In April 1942 a plebiscite
was held, which asked the population not to support immediate
conscription, but rather to allow the government to take back its
promise made during the 1940 election. King's famous remark on the
issue, "not necessarily conscription but conscription if
necessary," reflected the ambiguous nature of the plebiscite.
Unsurprisingly, the plebiscite was supported by most English
Canadians as well as the banned Communist Party of Canada
established Tim Buck "Yes"
to campaign for a yes vote. Across Canada, 63% of
voters were in favour of conscription with English Canadians voting
83% in favour. The proposal received hardly any support from
French Canadians, especially in Quebec, where
anti-conscription groups (including one led by Henri Bourassa, the most vocal opponent of
conscription in 1917) encouraged 72.9% of voters to oppose the
The government then passed Bill 80, repealing
the sections of the NRMA that did not allow for overseas
conscription. However, many Canadians still did not support
immediate conscription; there were a few riots in Montreal, although
these were not on the same scale as the 1917 and 1918 riots.
Toronto, a strongly pro-conscription region, Conservative
Arthur Meighen was defeated in a
by-election after promising to help
Following the plebiscite, Public Works minister Pierre Joseph Arthur Cardin
the King cabinet to protest his plan to introduce conscription. A
number of other Quebec Liberal MPs also left the party in 1942 over
the conscription issue, many of whom joined the Bloc populaire canadien
when it was
formed in the fall of 1942 to campaign against the government.
- See also: Referendums in
Canada: Plebiscite on conscription
Introduction of Conscription
campaigns in Italy in 1943 and
invasion in 1944, combined with a lack of volunteers, Canada
faced a shortage of troops.
When a brigade of soldiers was
sent to the Aleutians in 1943, there were hundreds of conscripts in
the ranks (the islands were technically North American soil and
thus deployment there was not considered "overseas"), and
desertions before embarkation were noted. However, no further
combat employment was made until early 1945, when 12,908 men were
sent overseas, most of whom were from the home service conscripts
drafted under the NRMA, rather than from the general
The French-Canadian ministers in Cabinet
, and Quebec in general, did not
trust Defence Minister Ralston, and King felt it was politically
sensible to replace him as Minister of National Defence with the
anti-conscription General Andrew
in November, 1944. MacNaughton was unable to produce
large numbers of volunteers for the army, although there were
numerous volunteers for the navy and air force. Some members of
King's cabinet threatened to resign and bring down the government.
King finally agreed to a one-time levy of 17,000 NRMA conscripts
for overseas service in November, 1944. When word of the
decision reached soldiers stationed in Terrace,
British Columbia, it resulted in the short-lived Terrace Mutiny.
Few conscripts saw combat in Europe: only 2463 men reached units on
the front lines. Out of these, 79 lost their lives. Politically,
this was a successful gamble for King, as he avoided a drawn-out
political crisis and remained in power until his retirement in
men who refused to "go Active" were derisively called "Zombies" both in Canada and overseas; Farley Mowat recalls in his volumes of war
memoirs savagely disliking those who wore the uniform but refused
to make the same sacrifices he and his brothers-in-arms were called
on to make in Italy and
- Allard, Jean V. . "Mémoires du Général Jean V. Allard". Ottawa,
Les Éditions de Mortagne, 1985. ISBN 2-89074-190-7
- Dawson, R. MacGregor. The Conscription Crisis of 1944.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961.
- Francis, R. Douglas, Richard Jones, Donald B. Smith.
Destinies: Canadian History Since Confederation. Toronto,
Harcourt Canada, 2000. ISBN 0-7747-3665-8
- Granatstein, J.L. . Conscription in the Second World War,
1939-1945: A Study in Political Management. Toronto: The
Ryerson Press, 1969. ISBN 0-7700-0249-8
- Granatstein, J.L. and J.M. Hitsman. Broken Promises: A
History of Conscription in Canada. Toronto: Oxford University
Press, 1977. ISBN 0-19-540258-8
- Mowat, Farley. The Regiment
- Mowat, Farley. My Father's Son
- Topic 3: The Conscription Crisis