Ordeal by Fire: Canada, 1910-1945

By Ralph Allen | Go to book overview

LII
Conscription again--The Zombies go to war-- The end of the battle in Europe

BY patience and prestidigitation, King had now solved an insoluble problem seven different times: at the parliamentary session of 1939; in the Quebec provincial election that followed; in a snap general election of 1940; in the plebiscite of 1942; in the by-election rout of Arthur Meighen; in the changes in the mobilization act-- and now against the threat of insurrection in his own Cabinet.

But to his dismay and disbelief the problem still was there. The Army still needed qualified infantry reinforcements, and McNaughton, it became apparent almost at once, could not get them.

The former army commander had completely misjudged the power of his own name, and he had completely misjudged the temper of the Zombies. In his first week in office he made two public addresses, both in effect recruiting speeches. In each case he was booed by the pro-conscriptionists. In neither case was there any ensuing increase in the enlistments for overseas. McNaughton admitted that in the past the home-defense troops had been "pressed rather than led"--a veiled acknowledgment of the clumsy psychological warfare and occasional outright strong-arming the reserve army had been enduring for more than four years.

Of the 70,000 Zombies then included in the land forces' total strength of almost 450,000, a third were from Quebec and most of this third bore the epithet not with shame but with defiance and a certain pride. Even the outright slackers, from Quebec and elsewhere, had had time to build up a wall of scar tissue and an impregnable rationale: If they want me, let them conscript me--and all others like me. . . . If they haven't got guts enough to send for

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