Yellow Bellies

Last Friday I saw the play Yellow Bellies put on by the Theatre of the Beat drama troupe. It told the story of Mennonite conscientious objectors during World War II.  One scene made a personal connection for me.  Rudy the young man in the play has received a notice telling him he must appear before a judge to defend his request for conscientious objector status so he can do alternative service rather than join the military.  

Rudy appears before the judge.

There is a scene in the play where he appears before a judge who has a reputation for being pretty hard on conscientious objectors and he asks Rudy some tough questions.  

Dad as a young man

This reminded me of a story my father-in-law Cornelius Driedger told me.  He received a similar letter in the summer of 1942 just after he had announced his engagement to my mother-in-law Anne. Dad took his letter to his uncle and the pastor of his church N.N. Driedger who said he would help Dad fill out his application for conscientious objector status and he would go to court with him.  Since Dad was a baptized member of the Mennonite Church he didn’t think he should face too much opposition.  

Dad’s family in 1924 when the immigrated. 

Dad had come to Canada from Ukraine with his family in 1924 and while an earlier migration of Mennonites in the 1800s had been promised automatic exemption from military service the later group of which Dad was a part had to have their cases heard before a judge. Dad’s court case went well and he received conscientious objector status . 

Mom and Dad on their wedding day

Mom and Dad had only been married for four months when Dad received word he would have to report to Montreal River where conscientious objectors would be put to work for the duration of the war by the Department of Highways helping to finish the construction of a link of the Trans Canada route.

Dad in the centre cutting lumber. 

Dad’s job was cutting lumber to clear bushland. 

The men in the conscientious objectors camp with Dad in Montreal River

His time in the conscientious objectors’ camp was an experience Dad never forgot.  You can read more about it in the link below. 

The Theatre of the Beat’s production of Yellow Bellies provided a good reminder of an important part of Canadian Mennonite history.  It also brought back personal memories for people in the audience whose family members had played a role in that history. 

Other posts……………

Autograph Book From A Conscientious Objector’s Camp


Filed under Family, History

5 responses to “Yellow Bellies

  1. We saw this play in Saskatoon to a packed house. It was done so well! The acting was superb! My father had to leave his farm at Drake, SK in December of 1941, spending a full two years at Banff. He had varied jobs….butchering bison for canned meat for the servicemen, driving the Brewster ski truck to the ski slopes, planting trees, maintaining roads in the area, to name a few. My mother worked as a hostess and waitress at the Brewster hotel in Banff during that time so that she would be able to see my Dad. Dad was granted two hour visits each Saturday afternoon! It was difficult to go back to their home as Dad received considerable negative comments from some in the community who served overseas.


    • Dear Joanne, Bethel Church here in Winnipeg was very full for the play too. I think my Uncle Earl did not have to go into a conscientious objector camp because he was an only son, so my grandpa just paid money to keep him helping on their farm in Drake. My Mom has told me that during the war her Dad told them not to speak German when they were around other people and that one morning when they got to the Kansas School it had been damaged by folks in the community who were angry at the Mennonites for not going to war. Thanks again for reading my blog Joanne.


  2. gabe

    So interesting and great photos.


  3. helengo2014

    My dad was also a CO. During the war. He served time in the forest of southern BC cutting wood. He also planted trees in southern BC. On set of trees were planted in Abbotsford near Mill Lake. These evergreens tower over us whenever we walk around that area. It’s a powerful reminder to us what these CO’S did during the war. They were proud of what they could do for their country in a time of war.
    Helen Goerzen


    • Neat that you could go and actually see the trees your Dad planted. Makes me think that some time Dave and I should go to Montreal River to see where his Dad was working. Thanks for reading my blog Helen.


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