My Uncle the “zombie”, Part 1.5
Nearly two years ago, I wrote a piece on my Great Uncle William – I was trying to understand the Canadian WW2 term “zombie” and to understand if he met the definition and determined that he in fact did. I intended to follow up that piece with another and while it is ridiculously overdue, here it is!
I have gone through Bill’s war file – which is not the full file, it doesn’t include medical or disciplinary files – at great length about a half dozen times. The reason for this is that it includes several entries that are hard to decipher without more context but there is also something else alarming about the file.
As it stands right now, my initial impressions of the file remain: Uncle Bill’s file really does read as a young man who wanted nothing to do with being in the military. From not reporting to his assigned basic training camp to lengthly approved leaves to two AWL entries, this file has nothing in common with the other Brown boys: my Uncles Jack and Jimmy and my grandpa Mike. In 2021, Uncle Bill’s full/unrestricted file is available, I may get more information that will shed light on my Uncle Bill’s service. Until then, I will have questions and curiosities that may just have to wait a little bit longer.
As required by the National Resources Mobilization Act, in November 1940, Bill participated in the massive public registration. The NRMA allowed for preparation of military readiness and included provision for employment control. Sometimes called “R men” and more often called zombies, the act enabled conscription-like mechanisms for an Army to be used for home defence. As you can imagine, the politics of conscription weren’t pretty and so men enlisted under the NRMA were not to be deployed for service overseas.
In a strange twist of fate for my Uncle Bill, on November 22, 1944 Prime Minister King reversed his position and conscripts were forced overseas. The twist on fate is that it was on November 22, 1940 that he registered with the NRMA. In the end, around 13,000 “zombies” left Canada and of those, only 2,463 reached units i the field before the end of fighting. Uncle Bill was one of those 2,463… he was sent to the UK on February 1, 1945 and he would arrive in North West Europe (NWE) on April 25, 1944.
So here lays the dilemma. From September 16, 1942 until February 1, 1945, my Uncle Bill was a full blown zombie. This cannot be disputed. But he arrived in the UK on February 8, 1945 and remained overseas until September 16, 1945. Uncle Bill lands back on Canadian soil September 26, 1945 and remained at Camp Barriefield until his discharge on March 15, 1946. So while Uncle Bill was a zombie for two years and four months, for seven and a half months, he served Canada overseas.
The resentment towards zombies by those that volunteered is documented. For my grandfather, he focussed on his eldest brother’s unwillingness to volunteer to serve his country. I don’t judge my grandfather for that because Gpa Mike served 1,618 days — all them, save six and half months, were sent overseas. For two and a half years he was in the battlefields of Italy and NWE. His older brother Jack and his baby brother Jimmy both volunteered for service and they approached their service with a sense of duty and honour. As best I can and from a place of privilege, I try to put myself in my grandfather’s shoes and when I do that, I can see it would be hard not to feel some bitterness towards and a lack of respect for zombies, even if one of them happens to be a brother.
Allinson, Sidney, Zombies: the Canadian soldiers who refused to fight. Accessed on 17 October 2016
Byers, Daniel. “Mobilising Canada: The National Resources Mobilization Act, the Department of National Defence, and Compulsory Military Service in Canada, 1940-1945”(PDF). Retrieved 17 October 2016
Canadian War Museum, Canada and the War. Accessed on 18 October 2016
National Defence and the Canadian Forces, Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Vol. I: Six Years of War