On November 1, 1943 – 75 years ago – newspapers across the country announced a mass escape from a POW camp in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park.
On October 31, 1943 – only five days after their arrival – nineteen German Prisoners of War (POWs) were found missing from the newly completed camp in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park. With no barbed wire fences or guard towers surrounding the camp, the POWs had been allowed to roam within the camp camp area while not at work but the nineteen men failed to appear at the evening roll call. As guards scrambled to find the missing men, the camp commandant notified local police and military authorities to help in what was billed as the second largest mass escape of POWs in the country.
Meanwhile, the nineteen men had no idea they were considered escapees. Having left the camp that afternoon, the group had only intended on going for a hike to explore their new surroundings. Unfamiliar with the terrain – and the weather – the POWs had left camp in their army uniforms and had taken no provisions. Following the old logging roads and game trails that dotted the area, the POWs soon became lost. Snow began to fall, and the storm escalated to a blizzard, covering all trails and tracks. Realizing their predicament, the POWs settled down for the night.
Back at camp, local RCMP officers arrived to assist in the search while all detachments surrounding the park were put on alert. Camp authorities also notified Brandon and Winnipeg City Police as well as Border and Rail police to be on the lookout for the missing men. Patrols of guards and police officers were dispatched around the camp but were unsuccessful in locating the POWs that night.
In the early morning, the POWs – cold and hungry – decided to try find their way back to the camp in small groups, a task that some succeeded. The first POWs wandered back into camp that morning and were immediately taken into custody. By the end of the day, all of the missing POWs had returned to camp on their own accord or had been found by patrols. Questioned individually, each POW emphatically stated they had not tried to escape but had simply gotten lost while hiking. Camp authorities eventually believed their stories and threatened reprisals against any POWs who considered leaving camp boundaries again. However, the RCMP leading the investigation suspected the POWs may not have tried to escape this time but were instead conducting a reconnaissance of the area for a future escape.
As the POWs returned to work the following day, the matter seemed closed. However, the camp interpreter did have to dissuade the other POWs in camp from beating their nineteen comrades in a misguided attempt to show how much they valued the opportunity to work in the camp.
While the papers continued to claim it was the second largest POW escape in Canada (the largest haven taken place at Angler in April 1941), all evidence suggests they were telling the truth and had gotten lost. I was fortunate to correspond with one of the 19 men who, seventy years later, assured me he had never tried – or considered – escaping for he greatly appreciated the opportunity to live and work in the relative freedom of Riding Mountain National Park.
The sketch above was submitted to War Prisoners’ Aid for consideration of being printed as one of the annual Christmas cards produced by the organization and distributed to PoWs in Canada. The artist, Rudi Boege, was a civilian internee at Camp 70 (Fredericton, NB) and, as the spokesman described, one of the most gifted artists in the camp.
The design shows PoWs gathered around a bonfire and the campleader explained it had special meaning to the internees at Camp 70 for every Christmas eve, the internees lit a bonfire on the parade ground.
To my knowledge, the card was never produced. The War Prisoners’ Aid instead settled on a card depicting Camp 133 (Lethbridge, AB).
Merry Christmas to all my readers and best wishes in the new year!
By Alan Horwood
These men knew war: In youth and strength they went
Forth into battle, when the world was rent
By conflict, born of arrogance and hate;
To force all nations to a vassal state.
They bore the burden, blood, and sweat, and tears,
Of strife, and toil, and sorrow, through the years
That tried their courage, broke, or steeled their pride;
Confirmed the strong, and cast the weak aside
Back from the war they came, grim-faced and lean,
Tight lipped about the things their eyes had seen;
Burned in their hearts too deep to be revealed
The mud and horror of the battlefield.
Their faces now etched with lines of care;
The hoar-frost of the years is in their hair;
But sagging shoulders stiffen in salute
As youth swings by; but in their eyes the mute
And hopeless longing for the days when they
Marched to the bugles of another day.
They say that the old soldier never dies;
And that is true; till under sod he lies,
His martial spirit flames on undiminished
Till death blots out the light, and all is finished.
They did not shrink from duty when once more
Dark war clouds loomed, more deadly than before;
They vied with you, eager to do their share
Of service, here, abroad, or anywhere.
And those the years had touched with gentleness,
Are serving with the troops in battle dress;
Holding the line, until to son and sire
Victorious bugles around the call “Cease Fire.”
Source: Robert H. Henderson Collection, Royal Alberta Museum.
While picture postcards of German prisoners of war in Canada are not particularly uncommon, examples from certain camps can prove more difficult to find (for more on PoW picture postcards, see my earlier post here). In my experience, images from Camp 100 at Neys, Ontario are among those harder to find. I was therefore quite happy to obtain this image recently. Depicting ten prisoners and their dog on a sandy beach with Lake Superior in the background, this postcard was sent by Enemy Merchant Seaman (EMS) Karl Hannover to his family in Germany in 1942.
Karl Hannover arrived in Canada in late June or early July 1940 and was likely first interned At Camp R in Red Rock, Ontario. However, he was soon transferred to Camp Q at Monteith, Ontario and, on November 25, 1941, he was transferred to Camp 100 (Neys) where he would remain for two years.
Located on the shore of Lake Superior, Camp 100 at Neys, Ontario, was arguably one of the most scenic locations for an internment camp. One of two purpose-built internment camps in Northern Ontario (the other being Camp X, later Camp 101, at Angler), Camp W (later renamed Camp 100) opened in January 1941 and initially held about 450 German officers and other ranks sent to Canada from the United Kingdom. By the end of the year, these men were transferred to other camps and replaced by about 650 civilian internees and enemy merchant seamen (EMS). The camp temporarily closed from December 1943 to August 1944 and re-opened as a “Black” camp – a higher-security camp primarily intended for pro-Nazis and troublemakers. The Neys Internment Camp finally closed at the end of April 1946.
An artist, Hannover submitted a design for consideration as the 1943 Christmas cards printed and distributed by the War Prisoners’ Aid of the YMCA but it does not appear his design was chose for, in November 1943, he and the rest of the EMS at Neys were relocated to Camp 23 (Monteith). In March 1946, Hannover was transferred to the United Kingdom, likely returning to Germany the following year.
Camp 100 was abandoned and dismantled in the late 1940s and the site was eventually re-forested. In 1964, the former camp location and the surrounding location became part of Neys Provincial Park. Few traces of the camp remain today although one can still find pieces of scrap metal scattered throughout the site and you can still make out the outlines of some of the building foundations. Park staff also run regular tours of the site throughout the summer months.
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.
One of the more popular emails I receive is from individuals wanting to know more about their relative’s service in the Second World War so I thought I’d write a short post explaining how to do so. Although my requests are usually for men who served in the Veterans’ Guard of Canada, this request will work for any individual who served in Second World War.
First off, what is a service file? A service file contains most of the information held by the Department of National Defence regarding a person’s service in the military. This can include attestation papers, pay records, medical records, and records showing where and when they served during the war (and after). From this, you will be able to determine which regiment they served in, the dates of their service, most of the places they served, etc. Unfortunately, these do not often contain any pictures although I have a file that included an identification card (quite rare in my experience).
Service records from the First World War and Second World War are held by Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. Unlike service records from the First World War, which are available to the public and are in the process of being made online, service files from the Second World War remain restricted. While it takes a little more work to request WWII records, it is not difficult and it is usually worth effort. And it is free (minus the cost of a stamp)!
For WWII service files, there are some stipulations:
- If you are requesting the file of an individual still living, they need to provide written consent.
- If the individual has been deceased for less than twenty years, you need to provide proof of relationship and proof of death*.
- If the individual has been deceased for more than twenty years, you need to provide proof of death*.
*Proof of death can be a copy (do not send originals) of the death certificate, an obituary, funeral notice, or a photograph of a gravestone. Note: if the individual died while serving, you do not need to provide proof of death.
If you can provide a proof of death or written permission, you now need to download and print this form: WWII Service File (PDF)
The next step is to fill out as much information as possible. Do not worry if you can not fill out every step – usually a full name and their date/place of birth or death is sufficient. If you do have the service number (letter followed by a series of numbers), make sure to include it.
For members of the Veterans’ Guard of Canada, under “Branch of Service,” you can select “Army,” “Wartime,” and “Regular.” As for the documents you are requesting, I usually select “Other” and write “All available files.”
Once they have received your request, they usually send a confirmation letter. Unfortunately, it is sometimes a lengthy wait to receive the files. The waiting time varies but I have had to wait between two and ten months to receive a file.
If you have any questions about the application or questions about deciphering a service file when you receive it, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below or send me an email.
One hundred years ago today, on April 12, 1917, my great-great uncle Private Ernest Albert Proven, succumbed to wounds received during the assault on Vimy Ridge three days prior. His brother, Lance Corporal (later Sergeant) Harry Proven survived the attack but was killed a year-and-a-half later, on September 29, 1918.
Today, I’m happy to announce that two lakes in Northern Manitoba have been named in their honour. Ernest Proven Lake and Harry Proven Lake are among thirteen lakes were named after Manitoban soldiers who died during the First World War. Coverage of the event, held on Monday at the Manitoba Legislative Building, is available by clicking here.
Ernest Proven Lake
Harry Proven Lake
I am extremely happy to have played a small part in remembering these two men and a special thanks goes out to Des Kappel for making this possible.
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.