Canada was automatically at war with Germany when the United Kingdom went to war on Aug. 14, 1914. The call was out to those who were “British born and British blood,” which included British landed immigrants and Canadian citizens who were British subjects. Volunteers flooded recruiting offices to join up and defend the Motherland for “king and country.”
The young men of North Delta, many of whom were landed immigrants from Scandinavian countries, and some of whom were Japanese, responded to the call to arms. Initially, those of Asian descent, Indigenous peoples, and landed immigrants who were not British born were excluded from serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), Canada’s military contingent to the British Forces in the First World War.
The criteria for recruiting quickly changed and soon landed immigrants were recruited. In British Columbia, 39 per cent of those that served in the Great War were neither of “British blood” or Canadian born.
The Japanese of North Delta, like other Asian people, were still refused a place in the CEF. Many Japanese in British Columbia saw participation in the war as an opportunity to improve their bid for Canadian citizenship. Japanese residents of B.C. traveled at their own expense to Alberta where recruiting offices accepted them. A unit of 227 Japanese-Canadians served in the First World War, but like Indigenous peoples, those of Chinese descent and “Blacks,” their units were segregated and often given different assignments from the main CEF.
As many as 3,500 Indigenous people served in the First World War. The Indian Act decreed anyone who was absent from the reserve for four consecutive years would lose their Indian status and their home on the reserve — no exemptions were made for their wartime service. Because many soldiers were unable to return from Europe for as much as two years after the armistice, some Indigenous people lost their homes and identities.
The population of Delta in 1914 was approximately 2,600, and 200 of its young men served in the war. Thirty of them gave their lives in service to their country. North Deltan families such as the Arpes (2), Iversons (4), Johnsons (3), Nystedts (1), Pedersons (1), Remmens (2), Mackies (2) and Vestads (1) among others, saw their young men leave for the front and serve in the Great War.
Nancy Demwell is a board member with the Delta Museum and Archives Society.