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.

bomber scene.jpg.gallery
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.

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About michaelohagan

Historian studying German Prisoners of War in Canada during the Second World War

2 responses to “A Sewing Kit with a Story”

  1. danielstarbody says :

    Fascinating story
    I have recently shared photos from Seebe camp 130- from earlier in the war.and people came forward with stories of relatives interred there.
    A number have ships in “bottles “made by those interned
    I have some canvas from a sleeping bag with Germanic lettering, of my grandfathers name Capt. Percy Dowler

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