“Unknown, Foreign Soldier, WWII POW”

IMG_4213 - Grave Marker

Tucked away among the graves in the cemetery in Indian Head, Saskatchewan is a simple white cross bearing a plaque, “Unknown / Foreign Soldier / WWII POW.” Having learned about the grave from a fellow researcher, I visited the cemetery back in 2015. Since then, I have unsuccessfully tried to identify who may be buried here.

The town’s Cemetery records provide no clue as to the identity of who is buried here and an inquiry revealed the marker was placed by the local Legion branch. Rumour has it that a POW died while being transferred by rail to an internment camp in Western Canada and that the body was removed when the train stopped in Indian Head.

With Canada’s largest internment camps located in Ozada, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat, Alberta, thousands of POWs were transferred by rail to and from Western Canada. Saskatchewan did have a relatively small number of POWs working in the province and only one POW, Wilhelm Kröger, was apparently buried in Mortlach, Saskatchewan after he died on July 11, 1946. However, records referring to Kröger appear to be missing from the archival record. A gravestone bears his name at Kitchener’s Woodland Cemetery but it is one of two with “I.M.” appended. This, I believe, refers “In Memoriam” and, as both “I.M.” graves are lacking considerable detail, I assume the bodies of these individuals may not have been recovered in the 1970s and the gravestones may simply memorialize them.

But it may be that the grave in Indian Head is not a POW at all. Most recently, a contact informed me that cemetery records suggest that the grave could be that of Christian Krieger, a Russian immigrant who died in Indian Head in the 1920s.

While I continue to research this case, if anyone has more information about the mystery grave in Indian Head or the circumstances surrounding Wilhelm Kröger’s death, please get in touch!

All Bottled Up – Ships in Bottles Revisited

Seven years ago, I posted an article about ships in bottles made by German POWs in Canada. Since then, I’ve added more examples to my collection and thought I would revisit the topic share some of them and to share what I have learned about the manufacture of these unique items.

Following their arrival in an internment camp, POWs quickly discovered they had to find ways to fill their days behind the barbed wire. Many turned to handicrafts and soon set up workshops in almost every internment camp. Here, skilled craftsmen spent their time painting, carving, sculpting, and building. Despite their intricate nature, ships in bottles were exceptionally popular and in high demand.

An unidentified POW in Camp 32 (Hull, Quebec) with ships in bottles, pipes, and other handicrafts. Photograph by Alexander Middleton Dare, February 8, 1946. Source: Library and Archives Canada, PA-163779.

Prisoner of War ships in bottles often follow a similar design. Most depict a sailing ship or, slightly more uncommonly, a warship and feature a seaside town in the background. Some, often in larger bottles, will have multiple ships, although these are more rare. The ships are almost always named and it appears that many POWs elected to use a name cut out from a newspaper or other publication rather than writing by hand. As for the bottles themselves, liquor bottles were especially popular due to their larger size (and availability) but POWs used whatever they had at hand. Some creative POWs even used glass tubes or light bulbs to display their creations.

Examples of POW-made ships in bottles showing the range of styles and sizes. Author’s Collection.

Due to the large number produced, some ships from certain camps appear to follow a similar style and some POWs appear to have added signature elements to their creations. I believe the two ships below, for example, were made by the same, unidentified POW, likely in Camp 132 (Medicine Hat) or Camp 133 (Lethbridge). Although a different type of bottle was used in each, the ships and backgrounds show remarkable similarities down to the construction and decoration of the ships themselves and the layout of the backgrounds. Furthermore, the maker added cut-outs of what appear to be a Lancaster and a Halifax bomber, elements that act as a sort of signature of their maker. The maker, unfortunately, will likely remain unknown but I am happy to have reunited these bottles, one acquired from Edmonton and the other from Winnipeg, some seventy years later!

“Eleanor” and “Marlis,” POW-made ships in bottles believed to have been made by the same POW. Author’s Collection.

Ships in bottles were initially traded or sold to fellow POWs, but it took little time before POWs also began illicitly selling or trading them to guards and camp staff. For some of those working in isolated, low-security labour projects like bush camps or farms, POWs also traded and sold with Canadian civilians, providing them access to Canadian currency or forbidden items like radios or even cameras. Two enterprising POWs working on farms near St. Thomas, Ontario, even enlisted the help of the local milkman to sell their ships in bottles, an act that allowed them to raise enough cash to attempt an escape.

Eventually, internment authorities permitted the sale of handicrafts in most internment camps with the approval of the camp commandant. Sales were held at the camps and guards, camp staff, and even some civilians were permitted to view and purchase POW-made articles, with the proceeds being credited to the respective POW’s account and made available to them in the form of canteen chits.

One of my favourites: the “Aberdeen,” built inside a large “Seagram’s” bottle. Author’s Collection.

Thanks in part to their popularity and quality, many POW-made ships in bottles have survived to this day. While the names of the makers have long since been forgotten, these bottles remain a visible reminder of internment in Canada and the often complicated relationship between Canadians and German POWs.

A Sewing Kit with a Story

This may not be the most exciting of artifacts at first glance but it does have a story. This is a sewing kit, also known as a “housewife,” that was issued to Canadian soldiers during the Second World War. The design had changed little from those issued in the First World War and they included, among other things, needles and thread, a thimble, and spare buttons for repairing clothing. This particular example was made by S.S. Holden Limited of Ottawa in 1940 and is missing its contents.

The name “Uhland” is handwritten on the inner flap and if that strikes you as a name not commonly found in Canada, you are correct. This sewing kit was never issued to a Canadian soldier – it belonged to a German prisoner of war: Otto Uhland.

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Remnants of Otto Uhland’s He-111 on the Cann Farm. From the Bridgewater Mercury.

Otto Uhland was a Leutnant (Lieutenant) in the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. On August 14, 1940, Uhland was piloting a Heinkel He-111 during an attack on the Cardiff docks. With him was Radio Operator Uffz. Edo Flick, Uffz. Flight Mechanic Josef Krenn, Navigator Uffz. Hans Ramstetter, and Gunner Gefr. Gerhard Rother. British Spitfires of No. 92 Squadron, Royal Air Force intercepted Uhland’s formation and began their attack. Uhland’s plane was hit and, after jettisoning their bombs near Burnham-on-Sea, he and his crew bailed out. The plane crashed on the Cann Farm near Puriton, Somerset and the crew was captured shortly thereafter. Pilot Officer William C. Watling and Flight Lieutenant Robert S. Tuck were credited with the “kill.”[1]

Uhland and his crew were quickly taken into custody and handed over to military authorities. After a few months in British captivity, he was transferred to Canada in January 1941. Uhland was first interned at Camp W – later Camp 100 – at Neys, Ontario but was transferred to Camp 30 at Bowmanville, Ontario in November 1941.

It is unknown where Uhland acquired the sewing kit but it was likely while he was at Neys or Bowmanville. The Scale of Issue of Clothing, Camp Equipment, Barrack Equipment and Tools, Etc. for Internment Camps (1942) indicates each POW was to be issued with one “housewife.” These sewing kits would be used to mend their clothing and military uniforms, which were generally reserved for special occasions to limit wear. More elaborate repairs or alterations to uniforms would have been done by a POW who worked as the camp tailor and, if needed, replacement uniforms could also be mailed from Germany.

Uhland would spend the next three and half years at Bowmanville, before being transferred to Camp 130 at Seebe/Kananaskis, Alberta in April 1945. In June 1946, he was transferred to the United Kingdom and he would have likely returned to Germany in 1947.

In 2011, residents re-discovered the wreckage of Uhland’s He-111 and archaeologists conducted excavations of the site.


[1] Trivett, Hugh, Achtung Spitfire: Luftwaffe over England: Eagle Day 14 August 1940 (The History Press, 2016), 264-266.

Lest We Forget

National War Memorial, Ottawa. Circa 1939-1945.

Canada’s National War Memorial was officially unveiled in Ottawa in 1939 to commemorate Canadians who served in the First World War. This photo, originally from the collection of an unidentified member of No. 9 Company, Veterans Guard of Canada, was taken at a service sometime between 1939 and 1945.

Remembrance Day may be very different this year but I hope all can find some time to pause and remember.

Lest We Forget…

National Canoe Day

June 26 is National Canoe Day and I thought I would take a quick look at Prisoners of War and Canoes in Canada during the Second World War.

Prisoners of War in Canada spent the early war years in internment camps behind barbed wire but this changed when the Canadian government approved their employment in May 1943. Over the next three years, thousands of POWs were sent out to woodcutting camps across the country, most in Ontario but with some in Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. Logging in the 1940s relied on water to move logs so most camps next to lakes and rivers. Bush camps were remote, had no fences, and had limited opportunities for recreation, so POWs turned to their surroundings to help pass the time. The result: POWs started building canoes.

After seeing a photo of a birch-bark canoe on the cover of a magazine, POWs working in the Riding Mountain Park Labour Project (now more commonly known as the Whitewater Lake POW camp) in Riding Mountain National Park wanted to build their own but, lacking the skills, instead crafted dugout canoes. They built a small fleet and sailed their canoes (some seen below) around Whitewater Lake.

Canoe

Dugout canoes and boat at Riding Mountain National Park, 1944.

POWs in other camps even ordered boat kits and folding boats from the Eatons and other mail-order catalogues. Kayaks built by POWs near Kenora were used to paddle around Lake of the Woods and were even raced in small regattas. Some employers also allowed POWs to make use of company canoes or boats and it took little time before sizeable fleets could be found at many bush camps. Although most POWs loved canoeing, inexperience and unstable craft took its toll. Four POWs drowned in boating accidents between May-June 44, leading to a temporary ban on boating. This was lifted after authorities believed the ban would likely result in POWs refusing to work.

DSC_3444 copy

POWs working for the Ontario-Minnesota Pulp & Paper Co. in their kayaks near Kenora, Ontario. Lake of the Woods Museum Collection.

When POWs were withdrawn from bush camps in 1946, they could not bring their canoes with them. But before a group of POWs left their #Kenora-area camp, they offered 10 POW canoes to the local YMCA camp on Lake of the Woods (likely Camp Stephens) in appreciation of the War Prisoners’ Aid of the YMCA’s wartime relief work. It is unclear whether the canoes made it to the camp but the rest of POW canoes across the country were left behind. Exposed to the elements, the last 75 years have not been kind. This is one of canoes near Whitewater Lake in Riding Mountain National Park I photographed in 2010.

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One of the dugout canoes at Riding Mountain as it appeared in 2010.

Fortunately, some have survived. Two canoes from Riding Mountain National Park were removed from the site in the 1970s and are now in the collection of the Fort Dauphin Museum (Dauphin, Manitoba) while another dugout canoe from a camp in Northern Ontario is in the care of the Thunder Bay Museum (Thunder Bay, Ontario). A kanu-style kayak (seen below), is also in the collection of the Canadian Canoe Museum (Peterborough, Ontario). This vessel is believed to be from a bush camp near Longlac, Ontario and was removed from the camp sometime after it was abandoned.

IMG_6140

Prisoner of war kanu-style Kayak at the Canadian Canoe Museum.

If anyone has any stories or photos about POW canoes and kayaks, please comment below or send me a message!

When Interests Collide: POWs and Beer

“Lethbridge Ale” from the House of Lethbridge, “Royal Stout” from Lethbridge Breweries Limited, and “Calgary Beer Export Lager” from Calgary Brewing & Malting Co. These three beer labels are not only a part of Lethbridge’s and Calgary’s beer history but part of Canada’s internment history as well. These labels are souvenirs kept by German prisoner of war (POW) Hugo Dellers from the period he was interned in Camp 133 (Lethbridge, Alberta).

Sharp-eyed viewers may notice that two of the labels have a circular “Canada Int. Op. Censored 21” stamp while the third label (see below) is stamped on the reverse. These stamps are commonly found on POW photos, correspondence, and handicraft and indicate that the article had passed censorship and could be taken out of the camp. Stamp number 21 was assigned to Camp 133 (Lethbridge) and these particular labels were likely reviewed by Sergeant F. Lawrence.

2020.006.009 - Dellers - Royal Stout Reverse

As of 1942, POWs were allowed to purchase and consume beer in internment camps in Canada as part of a reciprocal agreement with Germany, in which beer was made available to Allied POWs in that country.

Prisoner of War camps in Canada were assigned individual quotas depending on the number of POWs and guards/staff at each camp. As of January 1944, Camp 133’s beer quota was 14,000 gallons and in February 1945 alone, the camp ordered 9,600 bottles of beer! Prisoners could purchase beer (on a quota basis) through the camp canteens, which they ran. At Camp 133, two glasses cost 20¢ in September 1943, but beer was also provided at no charge in some camps on special holidays.

Although liquor remained forbidden, this did not stop enterprising POWs from making their own illicit homebrew. Guards tried putting a stop to alcohol production in most camps but guards in some work camps apparently looked the other way in exchange for a bottle or two. One POW – Richard Beranek – even had his dad send him the recipe for homemade schnapps and, to avoid censors confiscating it, his dad titled it as a recipe for bread.

Access to beer presented an unusual – and unexpected – problem in 1943-1944. When POWs started working in bush camps in Northern Ontario, they were dismayed to discover that Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) regulations prohibited the purchase and consumption of beer in these camps. One POW spokesman reported this was an “unjustified hardship” and, as Christmas was approaching, stated “the beer question is very urgent.” Despite many requests, the LCBO refused to budge. This was apparently enough to prompt some POWs to reconsider volunteering for work.

The occasional sympathetic (and in a few cases, drunk) guard or farmer brought POWs into civilian beer parlours for a drink while they waited for a train or medical appointment or to reward them for a day’s hard work. Local residents were often and unsurprisingly opposed to this practice, as is evident from this 1942 Ottawa Journal article.

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“Beer-Drinking Nazi Rouses Ire Of First War Veterans’ Club,” Ottawa Journal, January 20, 1942.

Regardless, POWs appear to have appreciated the supply of beer in internment camps. As one POW later recalled, “After all, the drink helps to put doubts, tensions and dullness temporarily on the doorstep.”

This was adapted from a Twitter thread. Follow me at @michaelsohagan for more POW-related tweets and updates.

Request for Help: Transcribing a Letter

Update (May 15, 2020): A big thank you to Andreas who was able to decipher the handwriting and provide me with a transcription of the letter. Thank you to everyone else who offered their help, I really appreciate it! I’ve added the transcription and rough translation after the images.

I am hoping someone will be able to help me with this. I have a letter (written in German) that I am struggling to transcribe. The handwriting is rather difficult to read with my limited German so I’m turning to my blog readers for help.

For some context, the letter was written to the family of Bernhard Wardenski, notifying that them that he was missing in action. Wardenski, a German naval artilleryman, was captured on December 27, 1941, most likely during Operation Archery, a British Commando raid on the Norwegian island of Vågsøy (Vaagso). He spent a few months in the United Kingdom as a POW being he was transferred to Canada, remaining here until 1946.

The letter itself, dated January 8, 1942, appears to have been written by Wardenski’s commanding officer, but I have only been able to make out a few sentences, namely:

Sehr geehrte Familie Wardenski!
… Ihr Sohn, der Mar. Art. Bernhard [?] Wardenski wird seit dem 27.12.41 Vermisst…

If you are able to decipher any of the text below, please let me know in the comments below or by sending me an email.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Wardenski - Letter 1 copy
Wardenski - Letter 2 copy

Transcription courtesy of Andreas:
Leider muss ich Ihnen
heute eine traurige Mitteilung
machen. Ihr Sohn, der Mar. Art.
Bernhard Wardenski wird seit
dem 27.12.41 vermißt.
Wahrscheinlich ist er bei treuer
Erfüllung seiner Soldaten-
pflicht den …tod
gestorben. Alle Nachforschungen
und alles Absuchen der
fraglichen Stelle blieben
ohne Erfolg.

Ich kannte Ihren Sohn…(??)
und habe ihn wegen seiner
frischen und offenen Art, wegen
seiner Gewissenhaftigkeit und
seiner Leistungen besonders
geschätzt. Ich kann daher auch
Ihren tiefen Schmerz mit-
empfinden und kann Ihnen
versichern, dass wir das
Andenken Ihres Sohnes in
Ehren halten werden. Sein
Heldentod ist ein Glied in
der Kette der vielen Taten
und Opfer der Soldaten, die

dem Reich den Sieg bringen
werden.
Sobald die Kompanie etwas
Näheres erfahren sollte, erhalten
Sie sofort Nachricht.

Heil Hitler
Lampe
Leutnant (?) u. Komp. Chef

And the translation:

Dear Wardenski family,
Unfortunately, I have to give you a sad message today. Your son, the Mar. Art. Bernhard Wardenski has been missing since December 27, 1941. He probably died if he fulfilled his duty as a soldier. All investigations and searches of the position in question were unsuccessful.

I knew your son … and I particularly valued him for his fresh and open manner, his conscientiousness and his achievements. I can therefore also feel your deep pain and can assure you that we will honor your son’s memory. His heroic death is a link in the chain of many deeds and victims of the soldiers who will bring victory to the empire. As soon as the company learns anything else, you will be notified immediately.

hail Hitler
lamp
Lieutenant (?) U. Comp. Boss

Thanks again to everyone who offered to help! Bernhard Wardenski was very much alive and had already mailed a postcard to his parents notifying them of his capture by the time this letter was written.

An Update and “Held Captive: Prisoners of War and Their Pets in Canada during the Second World War”

It has been a while since my last post here but I’m still researching and writing about POWs in Canada. I’m happy to say that I finished my dissertation and successfully defended my PhD. I’m hoping that this (and the current pandemic) will give me more time to share some of my research here.

Speaking of research, I recently published a photo essay on the Network in Canadian History & the Environment about POWs and their pets in Canada during the Second World War. If you are interested in learning more about POW pets (including the black bear cub seen below) or you simply like seeing pictures of dogs, cats, and bears, click HERE or on the image below.

POWs and “the good ol’ hockey game”

On first glance, it may seem a simple photo of a hockey game and soldiers looking on. But on a closer look, something stands out – the soldiers are not Canadian. They are German. This picture, which I was very pleased to add to my collection, is a relatively rare photo of German POWs at Camp 23 (Monteith) playing hockey with their comrades watching from the sidelines. Considering tomorrow is Hockey Day in Canada, what better time is there for delving into a little history about German POWs and Canada’s national winter sport.

With thousands of young, athletic men interned in Canada during the Second World War, sports became an especially popular and important way to pass the time. Prisoners in most internment camps set up their own teams and leagues and began playing football (soccer), baseball, volleyball, basketball, tennis, and – you guessed it – hockey.

I have no record of how many POWs had played hockey before coming to Canada but hockey was an established sport in Germany, with the country taking the bronze medal in the 1932 Olympics. One also has to remember that many Canadians were interned in the early years of the war due to their status as “enemy aliens.” It is quite likely these men shared their skills with newly-arrived internees and EMS from the United Kingdom.

As for the skates, sticks, pucks and other equipment, most was provided by aid organizations, most notably the War Prisoners’ Aid of the YMCA. This organization dedicated itself to improving the living conditions of POWs interned on both sides and did their utmost to meet the recreational, educational, and religious demands of POWs. The War Prisoners’ Aid and the International Red Cross began supplying generic articles to improve the lives of those interned in Canada but also allowed POWs to make specific requests. For example, in late 1940, among the articles requested by internees at Monteith were lights for their Christmas trees, twenty-four pairs of stakes, and twenty-four hockey sticks.

The organization did have a budget to purchase items – ranging from ping pong balls to pianos – but also relied on donations. In an early report of the War Prisoners’ Aid, director Jerome Davis remarked,

One Canadian manufacturer out of the generosity of his heart, contributed two hundred pairs of skates. The result was that we were aided in building skating rinks in almost every prison camp in Canada. later, the Canadian Government took pictures of these rinks and some of them were sent to Germany. Therefore, the act of the Canadian business man who desired simply to do a Christian act for imprisoned soldiers – men who are not criminals but simply soldiers out of luck had its repercussions internationally and the Canadian business man may actually have done more to hep the British prisoners than he could have by sending in skates directly to them.

As the following image, given to Dr. Boeschenstein of the War Prisoners’ Aid, demonstrates, the equipment was greatly appreciated and quickly put to good use.

YMCA

Artwork by unknown POW. Hermann Boeschenstein fonds, University of Toronto Archives.

Roughly translated, the poem reads:
When cold comes with ice and snow,
YMCA thinks of the POW
With YMCA’s help here on the spot
One Plays Ice Hockey, Canada’s Sport

By December 1942, the War Prisoners’ Aid reported that every internment camp in Canada had, among other things, skates and a skating rink. In Camp 23 (Monteith), for example, POWs flooded the soccer field in the winter months and turned it into a skating and hockey rink while POWs at Camp 44 (Grande Ligne) converted their tennis courts into two skating rinks, one for hockey and the other for “fancy skating.”

Limited for recreation in the winter months, these skates were in especially high demand; at Camp R (Red Rock) in March 1941, the skating rink was in use throughout the day but, only having thirty pairs of skates for 1,100 internees, the internees had to sign up in advance. Other camps were better-equipped; by 1943, Camp 21 (Espanola) had two skating rinks and 500 pairs of skates.

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German POWs skating at Camp C (Gravenhurst). Library and Archives Canada.

The skills of those involved varied, as one report from Camp 44 (Grande Ligne) suggests: “One or two of the prisoners were quite good, but a number of them had not yet found their ice legs, and were falling around to the amusement of the on-lookers.”

As skating and hockey grew in popularity, the War Prisoners’ Aid continued to send out skates and hockey equipment. In early 1944, the War Prisoners’ Aid reported they had sent out skates, hockey sticks, pucks, goal keepers’ outfits, and, in some cases, even skis.

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POW hockey team at Camp 132 (Medicine Hat) in February 1946. Library and Archives Canada PA-129146.

It was not only internment camps where hockey was popular. Prisoners in some of the almost 300 small, isolated labour projects also took up the sport. Those who found themselves working as woodcutters in the Northern Ontario bush frequently requested skates and hockey equipment to help pass the long winters. Fortunately for them, the pulpwood industry relied on waterways to move logs and most camps were located on the shores – or at least nearby to – streams, rivers, and lakes. Once cleared of snow, these frozen waterbodies became natural ice rinks.

Whether or not the POWs kept skating when they returned to Germany, I do not know. But I’m sure many brought back fond memories of their time in Canada playing that “good ol’ hockey game.”

“Ten long years for me to be without my boy”

In the past, I’ve posted some of my family’s ties to the First World War but today, in honour of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, I thought I’d share a brief, new perspective, looking at the war and its impact as my great-great grandfather, James Proven, recorded in his diaries.

James Proven was a farmer in rural Manitoba and he kept a diary for most of his adult life, mostly documenting his farm work. On Nov 7, 1918 he noted, “Germans hard pushed” and, on the following day, “Hear Germany has collapsed. Believe it is true this time.” On November 11, he added “Germany surrenders”

Proven - November 1918.jpg

The war had claimed two of his three sons, with Ernest dying of wounds received at Vimy Ridge in April 1917. The entry for April 13 reads, Mrs. McDugle came up and told of Ernest’s death.” They receive what seems to be his last letter three days later.

Ernie

Ernest Albert Proven

His eldest son, Harry, died of wounds received on the advance of Cambrai in late September 1918, just a month and a half before the war’s end. The family received the news on October 10 and His diary reads “The sad news of Harry’s end 29th Sept.”

Harry

Harry James Proven

My great-grandfather, Sidney, was conscripted but never went overseas. The last of his siblings, he remained in Clanwilliam and eventually took over the family farm.

On the 10th anniversary of Ernest’s death, James added, “April 9, 1917 Ernest got killed at Vimy Ridge. Just 10 years ago now. Ten long years for me to be without my boy.”

 

A very special thank you to Lisa for sharing these diaries with me.