Boyeffles, February 9, 1918

Saturday  A cold wind sprang up during the night & continued thru’out the day, the rain has kept off I swung the lead today down at Fosse 10 slack pile all fronts seem quiet just now. Am in the pink. farm arguments tonight

Will Bird describes the Fosse 10 sector as he saw it several months ago: “a zigzag warren of old trenches and enormous slag heaps, rusting wire and rotting sandbags. The slag heaps dominated, grim, shell-pounded hillocks, somber sentries in somber landscape.” (1) It would be easy for a gunner to disappear for a few hours of idleness in such a warren.

soldiers of the soil CWM

Canadian War Museum 19890086-885

“Farm arguments” probably echo the arguments at home in Canada: is it better for farm workers to stay at home and raise crops to feed armies and civilians or for them to be conscripted for military service and thereby, perhaps, bring the war to an earlier conclusion? Last year farmers and food-industry workers could apply to local tribunals for an exemption from military service; in December, weeks before the vote in the “conscription election,” young farmers and agricultural labourers were promised exemptions. Farmers breathed a sigh of relief and began to plan their planting for 1918. (2)

Now, however, with the increasing threat of a German offensive, the need for men at the front is more pressing. Organized labour, meeting with the government, has just agreed to “the principle of compulsory national registration of the man and woman power of Canada,” to co-ordinate the labour supply “to meet war conditions and fill the gaps made by the withdrawal of men for military service.” (3)  Labour leaders “unequivocally” oppose the “conscription of labor for agricultural work, for transportation, for munition manufacture,” and they “emphatically” oppose the “bringing in of Chinese or other Oriental labor for farm work.” (3) Or, as the publication Farm and Dairy put it, “Canada must be a white man’s country, and Canadian farmers will have nothing to do with making it otherwise.” (4)

Meanwhile, underage volunteers are recruited to the farm front under the rallying cry S.O.S. – Soldiers of the Soil!

(1) Bird, Will R. And We Go On. A Memoir of the Great War. (1930) Ed. David Williams. 2014. 64.
(2) Djebabla, Mourad. “‘Fight or Farm’: Canadian Farmers and the Dilemma of the War Effort in World War I (1914-1918).” Canadian Military Journal (Spring 2013) 63-64.
(3) “A Compulsory Registration,” The Globe (1844-1936). February 4, 1918. 1. Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
(4) qtd in “Brief Talks on Farm Topics,” The Globe, February 6, 1918. 13.

Copyright 2018. See “More about this project.”

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