Harold Hathaway and the Schedule of Reserved Occupations

Canadian farmers were among the list of workers excluded from active duty during the Second World War

The moment Alice and Edward Hathaway heard the news, they were ready to fight for their son, Harold’s, life.

It was the fall of 1939 and Canada had declared war against Germany. Canada avoided conscription, but at 21 and single, Harold was expected to volunteer for overseas action.

Many families tried to save their sons and daughters from active war duty as my family did for my father, Harold. They were helped by the Schedule of Reserved Occupations, which included workers needed to support the country at home. That listed farmers, dock workers, miners, scientists, merchant seamen, railway workers and utility workers.

Edward had already lost two brothers in the First World War and didn’t feel compelled to sacrifice his only son in this second conflict.

Alice, who was born in England in 1883, was forced to quit school at age eight to work bussing tables in a tavern due to the death of her father. Her mother also worked but women were paid so little, the whole family had to contribute.

At 27, Alice immigrated alone to Canada and worked as a housekeeper for a wealthy family in Edmonton.

At 16, Edward immigrated with his family to Lloydminster in 1903 from England as part of the Barr Colonists. He filed his own homestead and proved up, but he was drawn to see more of the country.

By the time Alice arrived in Edmonton, Edward was working as a blacksmith there.

They wanted to raise their family on a farm, so in 1913, they sold two houses in Edmonton to buy two homesteads north of Marwayne, Alta.

Twenty-six years later, they found that farming could benefit their son in a way they’d never imagined, by saving his life.

Edward and Alice Hathaway pose with son Harold and his children in 1955. | Hathaway family photo

Edward and Alice Hathaway pose with son Harold and his children in 1955. | Hathaway family photo

The Schedule of Reserved Occupations was Britain’s invention after the First World War and their near devastating mistake of allowing all to sign up for active duty.

That decision left Britain almost crippled and unable to rebuild after the war. Wanting to avoid a similar mistake, Canada followed Britain’s lead in preparing for the second world conflict and adopted its own schedule.

The Hathaways decided they would move to Vancouver so Harold’s occupation would shift to farm owner from farm worker. It was not easy.

In the spring of 1940, Edward left with their only daughter, Connie, 29, found a house in Surrey and worked as a cooper making wooden barrels.

Alice remained with Harold for his first year alone, making meals and keeping him company. The war wasn’t expected to last long.

Four years later, still gripped in conflict, the Canadian Forces were running out of men so Prime Minister Mackenzie King asked for permission through a public referendum to enact conscription.

That happened in November, 1944, and Harold’s life was again at stake. Alice and Edward watched the mail, living in fear of a letter with the dreaded news.

In December, 1944, Harold reported for basic training at Camrose for one month. Now part of Canada’s reserves, he returned to farming while he awaited a call to active duty.

The war ended before that came, but 13,000 Canadian reservists were sent to Europe where 2,500 reached the field and 69 died in battle.

Harold married Louise McLean in June 1945 and farmed in the Marwayne, Alta., area for 54 years.

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