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Government Praise

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In a letter to Major-General L.R. LaFleche, Minister of National War Services, on 29 January 1943, the Minister of Lands for British Columbia, A. Wells Gray, wrote that


“It is a notable fact, that no sooner were a few of these alternative service workers in camps in the Province, then a wide variety of interests were inquiring as to the possibility of securing their services. We have been approached by various mills, logging operators, the E. and N. Railway, by C.A. Cotterell, General Superintendent of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Vancouver, by the Lumber and Shingle Manufacturers' Association, the British Columbia Loggers' Association, and even by taxi firms. The services of these men were urgently requested for harvesting crops in the Fraser Valley and for harvesting the fruit crop in the Okanagan. It was proposed that they should be returned to the Prairies for the harvest there, and most of them being farmers, we had urgent requests for harvest leaves. The representations have been progressively more urgent and pressing as the employment situation has become more aggravated during recent months.” [Toews, 109]


One of the COs' most urgent duties was fighting fires. A summary of CO work in the winter of 1942-1943 summarizes how important their presence was.


“The Alternative Service Workers extinguished or assisted [in extinguishing] 89 fires in the Vancouver Forest District. Exceedingly satisfactory results marked their efforts on outbreaks attacked while still small. These crews attacked 72 small fires (1 acre or less) with such success that the average spread per fire was only ¼ acre. Any one of these fires was potentially a destroyer which could have gained 4-inch [10 cm] headlines …. This is a real testimony for well-trained and equipped suppression crews standing by on the alert in the emergency.” [ASM, 286]


Minister Gray used an example of the COs efficient fire fighting in a letter to Justice A.M. Manson, Chairman of the Mobilization Board, Division “K”.


“By way of illustration in this regard, it might be noted that the average elapsed time between report of a fire and departure of a fully equipped crew from the trained camps last summer was less than three minutes. A surprise test of a trained “stand-by” crew gave the following results:


Test fire started                                   3:00 pm

Smoke reported by lookout               3:03 pm

Crew started for fire                            3:05 pm

Arrived at fire (11 miles by road)       3:22 pm

Fire extinguished                                 3:27 pm

Crew arrived back at camp               3:54 pm


This ‘preparedness feature' constitutes the principle value of these camps and it cannot be compensated for under any other manpower plan…. They [the CO workers] have served a function of great national importance and will continue to do so in these camps. The need is as urgent as ever and they cannot be replaced.” [ASM, 287]


Faithfulness is the measure of the success for the CO, not work accomplished. Even so, the praise from supervisors and the Canadian government proves that COs were able to remain true to their consciences and perform valuable services.

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