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Levi Weber worked in a forestry camp in Ontario. There, unlike in
the BC Forestry Service, the COs interacted with non-COs on the
was the reaction of our boss and the other lumberjacks to us?
They had never heard of a Mennonite, let alone a CO. They were
not very interested in our beliefs, but accepted us and in time
we earned their respect. Mr. Krause [the camp boss] was more interested
in work ethic. When we first came to camp, the timekeeper told
us, 'Boys, you should know that this man usually has three gangs
of men, one coming, one going and one working.' So we really wondered
what lay ahead."
each skidder worked by himself, Mr. Krause felt he should check
up on our work habits. Several times I spotted him back in the
timber, trying to hide behind a tree watching while you worked.
I guess he was impressed by what he observed, because one evening,
after several weeks at camp, he told us, 'You guys are the best
crew I have ever had. Usually I have trouble with the bush gang
not putting out.' Needless to say, this compliment made us feel
good.” [ASP, 205]
Victoria Times also praised the hard work of the COs.
Near the end of the war, they noted that the
of conscientious objectors from the B.C. forestry camps on Selective
Service orders returning them to their farms, will cost the provincial
forestry branch the most effective fire fighting service it has
ever had.” [ASM, 287]
when people in the community did not agree with pacifism, the COs
often won them over. People could seldom deny that the COs worked
hard and did valuable service. A.J. Funk was working in BC when
he and some friends met an unfriendly businessman.
we were looking at and discussing gifts in a gift shop with some
soldiers one time, the proprietor asked us to leave, saying it
was a disgrace to see us beside a person in uniform. After we
told our superiors about the sad event, they apparently had a
serious discussion with the gift shop proprietor, explaining to
him that COs were improving the parks, repairing telephone lines,
building and gravelling trails, supplying the mines with props,
and cutting firewood for stores and fire places where needed.
A few weeks later the proprietor apologized through the daily
paper. This experience strengthened our faith and gave us new
courage to help build our beloved country.” [ASM, 219-220]
is no doubt that the COs worked hard, but that is not the real measure
of their success. If we look at why the COs chose not to fight,
it was often for spiritual reasons. No matter how many fires they
fought or how many trees they planted, the witness of the COs would
not have been successful if they had not been able to maintain harmonious
relationships with the wider community.
CO, assigned to Elmira, Ontario, to chop fuel wood, shares an experience
of a remarkable transformation of community and military opinion.
were not immediately accepted in the area, but, after proving
ourselves at a number of fires etc. we were even accepted by the
military. I personally developed many friendships lasting to the
present time, among the people living in the area. It seems we
were respected, and quite frequently we had members of the armed
forces spend their week-end leaves in our camp.” [MHC, 1015-3]
Goerzen tells an even more powerful story.
neighbor, an ex-soldier of [World] War I who just lost a son on
active duty happened by the day I had to leave [for the forestry
camps]. After being told of my departure he said “It is good that
some people stand up for their convictions.” I do not live within
a Mennonite community. My neighbors have never held a grudge.
Without exception my Christian convictions are respected to this
day. No one has ever mocked or made fun of this stand I take toward
my God. May God be gracious that I do not let Him down.” [MHC,
COs were at times ridiculed for their stance, some of these services
that grow out of the CO experience softened the attitudes of others.
At the veterans memorial dedication in Winkler, Manitoba in 2011
Brian Minnaker shared his father's experience. “Dad was a D-Day
Veteran… he had choice words for conscientious objectors. How could
the God of justice possibly be with the likes of them? That was
his opinion until some of his buddies began to have mental troubles…
Who was it that went into institutions like that and found deplorable
conditions [but COs]…. Dad would realize that yes God was truly
with the group of people that gave up so much to improve the medical
and psychiatric care in our country.” [ Speech
by Brian Minnaker at the dedication of the City of Winkler Veterans
Memorial Cenotaph, September 18, 2011]
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