My Great Uncle William – Part 2: Zombie was he…
In reviewing my Great Uncle Bill’s Second World War military personnel file, I’m struck by the number of leaves he took and how many times he was transferred and posted to different places. The oldest of four boys, Uncle Bill was the only brother that did not volunteer to service in the military. His younger brothers John (Jack) enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force on 17 June 1941 and my grandfather Mike enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army, 21 August 1941. Both had been required to register under the requirements of the National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA), which created a national registration for military eligible men and authorised conscription at first, only for home defence.
Both Jack and Gpa Mike, shortly after registering, went on to volunteer for active service. The youngest brother, Earl (Jimmy), was only 15 years of age in 1941 but would eventually opt to join the Royal Canadian Navy on account of the minimum age only being 17 years.
I have pulled a sampling of the entries in Uncle Bill’s service records to show how much he moved around during his homeland service. As mentioned in my last post, zombie part 1.5, Uncle Bill did get sent overseas, some particulars are included here:
- Registered in Peterborough on 22 November 1940
- “Reported as ordered” and is enrolled in the NRMA on 14 September 1942 – things get strange right away. He is assigned to do his basic training Ottawa in October 1942 but “ceases to attend” and is reassigned to Ipperwash and then reassigned again to the Allanburg Camp in Niagara. I can’t tell from the file if his basic training was completed at Ipperwash or Allanburg
- Transferred from Infantry Reserve to the Scots Fusiliers, 19 January 1943 and then transferred to the PEI Highlanders on 3 October 1943 which took him to Camp Sussex in New Brunswick
- By 1 December 1943 he is in Prince George, BC
- After being granted a five-day Christmas leave, is record as being AWL for two days and 21 hours – forefeet three days of pay as a result
- Is hospitalized from 11 February until 10 April 1944 with pneumonia
- Throughout 1944, he has posts in Prince George, Field and Vancouver
- Is granted a 23-day leave in October 1944
- Goes AWL again from 1700 hours on 2 January 1945 until 1815 hours on 8 January 1945
- Struck off strength from the Canadian Army at home on 31 January 1945 and taken on strength by the Canadian Army Overseas on 1 February 1945 arriving in the UK on 8 February 1945
- Left the UK on 24 April 1945 and arrived in Northwest Europe on 25 April 1945 as a member of the Canadian Infantry Corps (CIC)
- 30 April 1945: taken on strength by the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment – this is the same regiment as Farley Mowat, who wrote about his strong dislike of Zombies in The Regiment and My Father’s Son which by the way, are AMAZING books, so read them if you haven’t! You should also read And No Birds Sang, my favourite of the three.
- Left NW Europe on 5 September 1945 to go back to the UK and on 16 May 1945 returned to Canada
When I finally understood what a “zombie” was, I was pretty surprised that in my great Uncle Bill, we had one in the family. This understanding hasadmittedly slanted my reading of his file – even with awareness of this bias, I’m so struck by just how different the file is from the service files of his brothers. But nothing compares to the shock of reading not one but two AWL entries! Uncle Bill forfeited ten days of pay as a result of his two AWL stints. But there are a total of 26 days of forfeited pay in his file and I don’t know why. As mentioned earlier, for Privacy Act reasons, disciplinary records were not released. I actually think that the AWL entries and associated forfeited pay entries in the file I get were likely overlooked and should have been redacted.
Right now what I find myself wondering most is if my Gpa Mike and his other brothers even knew that their oldest brother went AWL twice. I have a letter to my Uncle Jimmy asking but I have a feeling it will be a surprise to him.
Given the service of his brothers, Uncle Bill’s refusal to volunteer to serve his country does seem like a blemish on the family name. In the end, he did serve seven and a half months overseas and did have about five months in the field. I wish he were alive to speak with him so he could answer many of the questions I have. Was he afraid to go to war? Did he for some reason feel the war was not Canada’s battle? Is there a strong political reason why he opposed serving? Was he an extreme pacifist? I still find myself wanting to find something that would in some shape vindicate Uncle Bill. I want to find something that indicates that he was brave and honourable. He served overseas and even though his file makes it clear he wanted nothing to do with it, I respect that. We do know that he ended up in the Gravenhurst Sanitarium to be treated for tuberculosis. We know that he received a pretty handsome pension from the Department of Veteran Affairs. We know these two things are somehow connected. But for now, for sure, there are so many questions that will stay unanswered.
Allinson, Sidney, Zombies: the Canadian soldiers who refused to fight. Accessed on 17 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
WarMuseum.ca, Canada and the War: Politics and Government: Conscription. Accessed 17 October 2016