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COs in the Medical Corps

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W.I. Enns had done nearly a year of alternative service in a mental hospital in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, when he found out that service in the medical corps was available.


“I had worked at the hospital for about eight months when I discovered that the government had made provision for conscientious objectors to serve in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps [RCAMC]. This appealed to me and after much soul-searching, I made the decision to join the army as a non-combatant. On June 10th, I left Portage la Prairie and volunteered for service in the RCAMC. This was followed by three weeks of orientation at the Fort Osborne Barracks, after which we were transferred to Peterborough, Ontario, for basic training. I was assigned to a platoon totally made up of non-combatants."


Part of the training was exercise involving live fire. For example, soldiers would have to attack a position while real bullets were shot over their head to simulate real battle. In total, five men died while Enns was in training. For the army, this was expected. Finally, Enns was ready to leave for the battlefields of Europe.


“After the final part of our training, I received a short embarkation leave. Following my leave, our unit went on to Halifax. We boarded the 'Letitia,' a hospital ship, early one morning in December and sailed for England. Because it was a hospital ship and carried only Medical Corps personnel and a few Air Force officers who were under medical care, we sailed with all lights on. We were required to avoid Navy convoys but somewhere along the way we found ourselves within sight of a convoy and promptly had to change our course. The detour took us to the coast of Spain. We finally docked at Southampton on December 23rd, after ten days at sea. It turned out to be a very cold winter in Britain. Fuel was rationed and we arrived to the cold and dismal barracks which was to be our home. Needless to say this environment, especially during the Christmas season, was very depressing for us all.”


“After perhaps a month in early 1944, we received our orders to cross the English Channel. We landed somewhere in Belgium …. Everything went well as we moved closer to the front line. For me, the reality of moving into a war zone did not hit me until I noticed that we were passing artillery and still moving. Our purpose was to set up a Field Dressing Station where the wounded would receive their first medical attention. In the meantime, we found an old two storey house, or what was left of it, after much shelling, and waited till it was safe to cross the Rhine River into Germany. Artillery fire continued for weeks and every night enemy reconnaissance planes flew over the area in an effort to locate the allied artillery positions strafing the road on the way back to their base. Eventually we did cross the Rhine and proceeded north and back into Holland, where we set up our first field dressing station a few miles south of Assen.”


“The German army was retreating and after some time we moved back to Germany and set up our station in Oldenburg where we stayed till the end of the war in Europe. It served as a stopover for wounded personnel who were treated and on their way home or to proper hospitals for further treatment.”


“Our commanding officer was aware that I spoke some German and from time to time called on me to be his interpreter. This was our first opportunity to work side by side with German civilians and it was a good feeling.”


“Back home we might have complained about inconveniences caused by the war and of course we were concerned about the lives being lost. Our inconveniences seemed so trivial when you saw civilians going through garbage cans looking for food or befriending solders so they would bring food from their camp kitchens. I am convinced that people in general, no matter in what part of the world, are basically peaceful and suffer as a result of power struggles, greed, [and] in some cases, long-standing animosity between nations.” [ASM, 107-110]

View additional medical corps documents.

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