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Those who were conscripted into the army had to take three or four months of military training. After that, they were released. Initially, COs did four months of service and then, like their military counterparts, were released back into civilian life. In March 1942, however, the government decided that COs would serve for the duration of the war. Ben Bergen recalls the shock and sadness when the COs received the news.


“One group of COs who were there before us since the third week of November, was due to go home during the third week in March. Expectations ran high as our time to leave April 8, 1942 was drawing near. Letters were written home asking them to meet us at the railway stations. It was early in the evening of April 7, 1942, when the office clerk came to our bunkhouse with a piece of paper. He had a grin on his face. We followed him to the bulletin board with overwhelming curiosity. He walked straight to the bulletin board and pinned up a letter, then walked right out again. The letter read that the Federal Government had passed a law that all armed forces as well as COs were in for the duration of the war. As the men crowded around the bulletin board, the full impact of the message became evident. Sad faces displayed their discouragement. What now? Phone calls were made home to notify loved ones that we would not be coming home. Many tears were shed during a bad night. Work the next day was a sad scene. Men shoveled gravel while tears ran down their cheeks. After a week, letters from home arrived showing tear blotches on them. As for me, being single, it did not affect me that much. I had been in work camps before, cutting pulp wood in northern Ontario.” [ASM, 55-58]


Looking back at the history of the war, we just assume that everyone knew that the Allies would eventually win. This was not the case. In 1942, the victory was not at all assured. One CO, who served first at Montreal River and then in BC, remembers when he was called up to serve for the duration of the war. At that time, “duration” seemed like a life sentence.  


“We were released after 3 months and sent home, but within 3 months we were again called up to serve in the BC Forest Service for the duration of the war. Now being a conscientious objector to war took on an entirely new meaning for me, because the word duration could mean one year or it could mean 10 years or more.” [MHC, 1015-52]


CO camp on the Kootenay River Aerial view of Radium, BC


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