Today (June 26) marks National Canoe Day so what better way to celebrate than a post on PoW-made canoes!
In May 1943, the Canadian government approved the use of prisoner of war labour to help boost the struggling lumber and agricultural industries. From 1943 to 1946, thousands of German PoWs, Enemy Merchant Seamen (EMS), and civilian internees were employed in almost 300 labour projects and farm hostels across the country. The opportunity to work came with increased freedom as remote bush camps had no barbed wire fences or guard towers to contain PoWs. Many of these PoWs turned to their natural surroundings for recreation and hiking, swimming, and boating soon became some of the more popular ways to spend free time.
The camp in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park, known today as the Whitewater PoW camp, opened in October 1943 with the arrival of 440 PoWs from Camp 132 (Medicine Hat). Located on the shore of Whitewater Lake, the PoWs spent their winter working, hiking around the camp, skating on the frozen lake, or reading, but when the lake thawed in the spring, enterprising PoWs turned their attention to building canoes. Apparently the idea for building a canoe came from a Canadian magazine circulating through camp that featured a birch-bark canoe on the cover.
Lacking the skills to build such an intricate craft, the PoWs instead turned to the large spruce trees scattered around the camp. Although the Park warden had told them to save the spruce trees, some were not spared the axe. With these huge logs, groups of PoWs started carving out dugout canoes. Measuring between twelve and sixteen feet in length, the PoWs built one and two-man versions, launching them in the creek that ran along the camp’s southern boundary. The guards and camp commandant permitted PoWs to paddle on Whitewater Lake so long as they stayed away from the shoreline and returned before roll call. Eventually a small fleet of these canoes lined the creek shoreline but not ever PoW took up canoeing for a hobby. One former PoW recalled the canoes were not particularly stable and after falling in the water a number of times, he gave his away to one of his comrades.
Riding Mountain was not the only camp to have canoes. With logging camps scattered across Northern, Ontario, and many situated on lakes or rivers, dugout canoes and more advanced boats appeared throughout the region. But relatively unfamiliar with canoeing and boating on open lakes, a few PoWs drowned and orders from Ottawa restricted canoeing at all camps. At Riding Mountain, the commandant restricted access to those only under the direct supervision of a guard but was eventually prohibited.
When the PoWs left these camps, their canoes remained. Some of them were taken by locals for their own use or as water troughs but most sat where they had been left. Storms and rising water levels carried many away while nature claimed those left behind.
Some of the canoes made at Riding Mountain were still floating in the creek thirty years after the last PoWs left the camp. Two were pulled from the creek and taken to the Fort Dauphin Museum for preservation where they remain to this day. But if you look closely along the creek today, you can still find the remains of one canoe near the creek and others scattered in the reeds. However, every year I revisit the site, they get harder and harder to find.
Camp 133 near Ozada, Alberta seems to have been among the most popular locations for Prisoners of War in Canada to paint during the Second World War. Situated on the Mortley Flats, the camp offered stunning views of the nearby Rocky Mountains and, despite living in tents during a wet summer and cold fall, was fondly remembered by former PoWs for its scenic location. Following one of my last posts about a painting of the Oazada, I’m here today showing another, albeit quite different, perspective of the camp. In contrast to the snow-covered scene painted by Siebein, this version shows a much warmer and greener depiction of Camp 133.
“K.G. Lager 133” (Kreigsgefangenen Lager 133) prominently features the barbed wire fences, floodlights, and guard towers that surrounded the camp. Twenty such guard towers surrounded the camp, with guards constantly keeping a watchful eye on the thousands of prisoners interned within. The single strand of barbed wire was a warning wire which PoWs were instructed not to cross unless they wished to risk being fired upon. The mountains once again dominate the background and I believe this is a view of the northwest area of the camp, quite possibly showing the same mountains seen in this imagery captured by Google Streetview. The reverse shows the painting was a gift from PoW August Pass to one of his barrack mates.
The artist appears to have signed his initials, “P.E.” but I have not been able to identify him. Going through the lists of PoWs interned at Ozada, I was able to come up with ten men with the initials P.E. Unfortunately, none of their pay records indicate them selling any artwork (though this does not rule any of them out) and as PoWs signed their pay records with their last name, I was not able to match the initials. However, I’ve included the names below in the hope that perhaps someone will be able to identify the artist.
- Peter Edenhofer
- Paul Eichstäder
- Paul Eggers
- Paul Enders
- Phillip Enders
- Paul Enke
- Peter Enkirch
- Paul Ermrich
- Paul Essner
- Paul Ewald
Hopefully I will be able to identify the artist but in the mean time, if you have any information about this artist or have paintings you would be willing to share, please get in touch!
For more paintings from Camp 133 (Ozada), click here.
Wishing a Happy New Year to all my readers!
In 1945, PoW Willi Nötel gave this Happy New Year card to his fellow PoW and friend Erich Neumann in Camp 132 at Medicine Hat, Alberta. Both the double-sided card and envelope are hand-made, presumably by Nötel, and note he even replicated the postal cancellation on the upper-right of the envelope.
I whipped this map up for a reader researching his father earlier today and thought I would share. The image shows the layout of the internment Camp at Farnham, Quebec overlaid on some modern satellite imagery from Google.
Camp A, as it was initially known, opened in October 1940 and initially held civilian internees and refugees from the United Kingdom. The camp closed temporarily in January 1942 but reopened in April and was used to hold Enemy Merchant Seamen (EMS). In late 1942, the EMS were transferred to Sherbrooke and replaced by German combatant officers and a smaller number of Other-Ranks, serving as the officers’ servants and orderlies. It once again closed briefly in June 1943 before re-opening again as an officers’ camp in September 1944. The camp then remained open until June 1946.
Like most of Canada’s internment camps, the buildings were salvaged and torn down, the barbed-wire fences removed, and the guard towers dismantled. Today, the site is occupied by a Water Treatment Station, a gas station and Tim Hortons, and a Fire Station. For those interested, here is a link to the location.
Captured in North Africa, Kurt Siebein was sent to Canada in September 1942. Likely disembarking in New York, after a long train journey, he and his fellow PoWs arrived at Camp 133 at Ozada, Alberta. A temporary tented camp at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Ozada held thousands of German PoWs while the new internment camp at Lethbridge was being constructed. While a scenic location for an internment camp, the camp was not without its problems. Life in tents during a particularly wet summer and then in the early months winter – the first Canadian winter for many of the PoWs – was far from ideal. However, by late November 1942, the new camp at Lethbridge was completed and the PoWs were transferred there by December.
An artist, Siebein painted this watercolour during his brief stay at Ozada. “K.G.-Lager Ozada 1942” (K.G.-Lager referring to Kriegsgefangenenlager, German for prisoner of war camp) shows life at Ozada in that final month before the transfer to lethbridge. A single PoW is visible, with the red circle on his jacket and the red stripe on his trousers marking him a PoW, walking his dog down a line of tents. A single guard tower and the Rocky Mountains feature prominently in the background.
This particular painting was sold or traded to Hans Gronenburg, a PoW from the Luftwaffe who arrived in Canada in 1940 and was transferred to Ozada in June 1942.
While I have yet to uncover more examples of Siebein’s paintings, it appears as though he continued painting throughout his internment in Canada. His pay record shows he sold a number of watercolour and oil paintings at art and craft sales in 1945, netting him $24.50, but this does not account for any sold or traded to his fellow PoWs. Siebein spent most of his time in Canada at Lethbrigde but spent the summer of 1946 employed on farmwork. He was transferred to Great Britain on November 24, 1946.
If anyone as any other examples of Siebein’s art or any other PoW art, please get in touch!
The annual German Remembrance Day service will be held Sunday, November 13, 2016. This service takes place at Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario (119 Arlington Boulevard) at 2:30 p.m.
Last year, I wrote a post featuring some artwork by PoW Richard Schlicker. My hopes were that others would come forward with more examples of Schlicker’s artwork and, a year later, the result was just that. Laura stumbled across my blog and emailed me three pictures of paintings from Richard Schlicker that her father purchased while serving as a camp guard, likely at Lethbridge. All three feature scenes at Camp 133 – Ozada, Alberta and, like those in my earlier post, were probably purchased at one of the art and craft sales hosted by the PoWs at Camp 133 in Lethbridge.
If anyone has any other examples out there, please get in touch!
Today, I received a selection of records and photographs belonging to a former PoW, Leutnant Bernhard Brockmeier. With today being the 72nd anniversary of the D-Day landings and knowing little about the contents of the records or Brockmeier’s wartime career, I was quite surprised at what I found.
Seventy-two years ago today, on June 6, 1944, Lt. Brockmeier was among the thousands of German soldiers manning defenses along the Normandy coastline. The thirty-year old lieutenant was likely a member of the 716th Infantry Division stationed in the area around what would soon become the Canadian landing area, Juno Beach.
Sometime after the Canadian landing, Lt. Brockmeier was captured near Courselles (Courseulles-sur-Mer), likely by members of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles or the Regina Rifle Regiment. Sent back to the beachhead, he and fellow PoWs were herded together to await their evacuation from the beachhead. Loaded onto landing craft and then onto a troopship, he was then taken to the United Kingdom.
His time on British soil was short for, sometime in late June, he was transferred to Canada. Brockmeier arrived in Canada in early July and was first interned at Camp 30 (Bowmanville). The following month, he was transferred to Camp 130 (Kananaskis/Seebe) and, in January 1945, transferred to Camp 135 (Wainwright) where he spent the remainder of his time in Canada.
In May-1946, he was shipped back to the United Kingdom where he spent time in a number of different camps and was employed in agricultural work in the Summer of 1947. In September 1947, he returned to Germany.
Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and all the others out there!
Sometime during his internment in Canada, PoW Albert Ammer wrote one of Bruno Schönlank’s poem in the empty pages of his copy of Ein Kleines Buch, a PoW-produced book describing life at Camp 132 in Medicine Hat, Alberta.
Meiner Mutter Hände sind
Von der Arbeit schwer.
Dennoch streicheln sie so lind,
Wie niemand mehr.
Meiner Mutter Haar ist grau,
Müd oft ihr Gesicht.
Doch wenn ich ihr ins Auge schau
Strahlt mir Sonnenlicht.
And here is a rough translation:
My mother’s hands are
Hard from work.
Yet they caress so gentle,
like no one.
My mother’s hair is gray,
tired often her face.
But when I look into her eyes
radiates me sunlight.
You would be hard-pressed to find a PoW camp or labour project in Canada that did not have an attempted escape attempt or, in a few isolated cases, a successful escape. The labour project run by the Erie Peat Co. employing Enemy Merchant Seamen (EMS) near Port Colborne, Ontario was no exception.
Having opened in August 1943, the camp employed some fifty EMS from Camp 22 (Mimico, Ontario) in a peat-cutting operation in the Wainfleet Bog. Not all were in favour of having PoWs in the area, particularly with the Welland Canal nearby. Despite the EMS being non-combatants and the canal being under constant guard, many protested the presence of “the enemy” to a vital transportation route for the war effort. Among the first labour projects in the country, the success or failure of this operation had the potential to influence the future of PoW labour in Canada so it was of significant concern when five PoWs went missing two weeks after their arrival.
In the early morning of October 11, 1943, PoWs Gerard, Hoffmann, Kaehler, Krause, and Schluter left the camp, making their way east across the peat beds.
Gerard, Hoffman, Krause were picked up shortly after, transferred back to Camp 22, and sentenced to twenty-eight days detention. Kaehler and Schluter managed to avoid capture for another day, their escape coming to an end on October 13 in Windsor, when a civilian observed two “apparent foreigners” hesitant to enter a restaurant. Suspecting the two were up to trouble, he notified the RCMP who arrived shortly after and took the PoWs in custody. Both had ditched their PoW uniforms for civilian clothing.
Escapees were understandably hesitant to provide much detail about their escape and their time on the run so I have found that apart from the camp and the location of their capture, much of the detail in-between does not make it into the police reports. Fortunately for the RCMP (and me, seventy years later) Kaehler and Schluter were not only found with an Ontario road map but a list of the towns they passed through on their way to Windsor. Upon further questioning, the PoWs revealed they had hitchhiked along Highway 3 until they reached Windsor. Trying to reach Detroit, their route, as seen below, took them through Port Colbourne, Canborough, and Leamington, and finally Windsor.
The escape was eventually blamed on the poor security measures and an inadequate civilian guard force, prompting the Veterans’ Guard to take over security shortly thereafter. Despite constant security concerns, the project remained open until November 1945.
As they escapees did not provide their interrogators with their final destination or any contacts, the goal of their escape (apart from freedom) remains unknown – perhaps they were trying to make it back to Germany or maybe they wanted to disappear in the United States. Regardless, their route sheds some light on PoW attempts to escape, showing these men avoided the closest border crossing at Fort Erie and Buffalo, likely thinking that would be the first place the guards and RCMP would look.