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Below are photos of Mennonite World War II Veterans:

Mennonite Soldier, Epp
Above: Epp
Mennonite Soldier, Warkentin
Above: Henry Warkentin
Mennonite Soldier, Epp
Above: J. Epp
Mennonite Soldier, Ewart
Above: J. Ewart
Mennonite Soldier, Wiebe
Above: V. Wiebe
Mennonite Soldier, Kroeker
Above: J. Kroeker
Mennonite Soldier, Froese
Above: John Froese

Mennonite Soldier, Block

Above: Jack Block

 

Photos Courtesy of the Mennonite Historical Society

 

Mennonite War Effort:

Mennonite Soldiers:

Mennonite Soldier

Above: Mennonite Soldier, V. Wiebe; Below: Medals of Mennonite Second World War Veteran, Henry Ratzlaff, Yarrow, BC, Photos Courtesy of Mennonite Historical Society

Mennonite Soldier Medals

One of the major charges against the Fraser Valley Mennonite community was their lack of participation in the War effort.  This notion was repeated continuously in letters to the editor and editorials published.  These claims were, at best, an exaggeration.  

Conscientious objectors were given exemptions from the government and from military service that required active militia.  While many Mennonites embraced the ideology of pacifism, sixty-six of the eligible ninety-six Mennonites in Yarrow, for example, served in the Canadian military forces overseas, either in the medical corps or in general service.  The remaining thirty-three men worked in alternative service camps throughout the province.1  

It was often believed that Mennonite’s who opted for military service were excommunicated from their church.  In the Yarrow Mennonite Brethren Church and the South Poplar Mennonite Church, two of the biggest local Mennonite churches at the time, this was not the case.  In fact John Harder, the son of Yarrow Mennonite Brethren Church’s Pastor, Johannes Harder, served overseas.  According the Mr. Sukkau, Mennonite Chairman of Yarrow:  “Two-thirds or our young men of draft are now in uniform, only one-third of them are in conscientious objectors’ camps.  They are not ejected from the church because they go into uniforms.”2  

Mennonite Conscientious Objectors

Conscientious Objector Work Camp

Above: Alternative Service Camp Workers, Radium Hot Springs, Below: Government approval of Mennonite John Isaak's Conscientious Objector Status, 1942. Photo and Document courtesy of The Mennonite Historical Society

Conscientious Objector Letter from government

Mennonite men of military age who objected to serving in the war registered as conscientious objectors with the Canadian government, and were given work in vital wartime industries in alternative services.  Most of the conscientious objectors worked in farming, mining, logging and tree planting.3 While it was often discussed in the local newspapers that Conscientious Objector’s were “making loads of money” in alternative services, in reality their salaries were substantially less than soldier’s serving overseas. Soldiers received approximately $1.50 per day in wages, while conscientious objectors in Alternative Service camps made 50c.4  Mennonites who made more than this were legally required to "donate" the remainder of their salary to the war effort. This notion was used to further entice angst and frustration towards the Mennonites of the Fraser Valley.  Life in alternative service camps was not necessarily the easiest. 

In a letter from a “Disabled War Veteran” in 1943, published in a Conscientious Objector newsletter in 1943, it was stated:

“They [CO’s] are not allowed to sleep out of camp, except at infrequent intervals, and they work 8 hours per day for 50c, out of which they have to buy everything except food and lodging, and keep their families if they are married… I hold no particular brief for the Mennonites, but perhaps the most important war aim is liberty of conscience, and surely that should begin at home.  At any rate, we can be fair to these men, even if we do not agree with their views.” 

My grandfather, Leslie Schmidt, opted for alternative service, as he adhered to the traditional Mennonite value of Pacifism. To read about his experience at the alternative service camp, from his own words, click here.

Volunteerism and Victory Loans

“Throughout this war the Mennonite communities have maintained homes for children, and aged people in England besides a hospital in Birmingham and travelling kitchens, and have done extensive relief work in that country caring for bombed-out victims.  The liberal support of the Mennonite war efforts from the purchase of Victory Bonds to the support of the Red Cross has been noticeably generous.”5

Mennonite Rationing Card

Above: Mennonite John Isaak's Personal Ration Card, Document Courtesy of Mennonite Historcal Society

It was also widely claimed that Mennonites did not actively support the war effort on the home front.  It was perceived that there was an unfair lack of volunteerism and contributions to Victory Bonds on the part of the Mennonites.  The Mennonites, however, seemed to have been contributing just as much financially, if not more, than the average Abbotsfordian or Chilliwacker.  There are numerous publications in the Chilliwack Progress that highlight the “impressive” financial contributions to the Victory Bonds (that were not used for war purposes but “to alleviate distress and human suffering).”6  The newspapers also note that Mennonites donated clothes, blankets, and food, while also heavily supporting the Red Cross.


The intentions of the Mennonite’s financial support of the effort, however, was incessantly questioned.  Many argued that if the wider community were not voicing their concern about the Mennonites, that they would not have supported the war effort at all; their “generous contributions,” in other words, were thought to have been given to appease their dissenters. In a letter written to the Editor of the Chilliwack Progress it was written: “It is regretted that some people have to be coaxed and pampered to subscribe to the Victory Loan as it is the duty of every loyal Canadian to subscribe to this loan to the full extent of his or her financial ability.  It is well known fact that very little has been subscribed by the Mennonites until a few days prior to the close of the campaign."7

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For additional information on Canadian Conscientious Objectors, visit Alternative Service in the Second World War:  http://www.alternativeservice.ca/

For more information on Mennonite soldiers and Conscientious Objectors in the Fraser Valley please see “Split Loyalties: Fraser Valley Mennonite Service in the Second World War”, by Michael Schmidt

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1 Marlene Sawatsky and Harold Dyck, "Yarrow's Soldiers" in Village of Unsettled Yearnings: Yarrow, British Columbia: Mennonite Promise, editor Leonard Neufeld, (Victoria: TouchWood Editions, 2002), 96.
2 "Mennonite Leaders Deny 'Reprisal Threats,'" Abbotsford, Sumas & Matsqui News, December 22, 1943, 6.
3 T.D. Regehr, Mennonites in Canada, 1939-1970: A People Transformed, Vol. 3.  (Toronto:  University of Toronto Press, 1996), 53.
4 T.D. Regehr, Mennonites in Canada, 1939-1970: A People Transformed, Vol. 3.  (Toronto:  University of Toronto Press, 1996), 110.
5 "Victory Loan Meeting," Abbotsford, Sumas & Mastqui News, May 12, 1943, page 1.

6 "Mennonites To Invest in Non-Interest Bonds," Abbotsford, Sumas & Mastqui News, October 28, 1942, 2.
7 G.R.W. "Letter to the Editor," Chilliwack Progress, May 19, 1943, page 2.

8 Regehr. 109.