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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
 Trivett, Hugh, Achtung Spitfire: Luftwaffe over England: Eagle Day 14 August 1940 (The History Press, 2016), 264-266.
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.
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.
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!
Undoubtedly the most unusual find this summer was a PoW-made fishing rod. While I have come across the odd mention of PoWs fishing in labour projects in Manitoba and Ontario, this is the first time I’ve encountered material evidence of this.
Made from a broom handle and what appears to be can lids, the fishing rod is simple but functional. The seller advised that it came from a guard at Fort Henry though to me it appears like something that came from the many lumber camps in Northern Ontario. Often located alongside lakes or rivers, bush camps offered PoWs considerable freedoms and a number of PoWs tried their hand at fishing. While the ability to fish was much more uncommon for those in an internment camp, it was not unheard of. Camp 42 in Sherbrooke, Quebec, was situated on a river and one report noted that there were a number of “ardent fisherman” and in May 1945, the camp held a series of angling competitions.
At Camp 23 in Monteith, Ontario, an intelligence report included a section aptly titled “A Fish Story:”
“A short time ago the German medical doctors, BK-788 Guenther Kalle, 43341 Heinz Machetanz and 000129 Hans Modrow, were taken for a parole walk by the Camp [Intelligence Officer]. Carrying fishing rods, the party started for a favorite spot on the Driftwood River, which flows past the camp. Crossing a bridge over a small stream about a half mile from camp, Dr. Machetanz saw a fish lying on the sandy bottom of the clear stream. Baiting a hook with red meat, he dangled the bait before the fish’s mouth, without result. The fish wouldn’t even move. The fisherman then fastened a triple hook to his line, and manipulating it gently under the fish’s mouth, heaved, and up came the fish, securely hooked. The fish turned out to be a sucker; but the fun of catching it in this odd manner was at least partial compensation for the failure to catch any more that day. They have had better luck since, as Dr. Machetanz caught a pickerel and Dr. Kalle got two on Saturday afternoon, 12 Aug.”
While some of the history of this piece may be lost, it still provides an interesting look into PoW handicrafts and recreation.
Richard Schlicker was among the thousands of German soldiers captured in North Africa and subsequently shipped to Canada in 1942. First arriving at Camp 133 at Ozada, Alberta, Schlicker was later transferred to Camp 133 at Lethbridge, Alberta. With the exception of working on some Albertan farms in 1945, he spent the remainder of the war in Lethbridge before being shipped to the United Kingdom in March 1946.
While I know little else about Schlicker’s life, I do know that he was a talented artist that put his skills to use throughout his time in Canada. In a rather fortunate occurrence, I came across two of Schlicker’s paintings in Calgary this summer, the two watercolours shown below. Signed and dated 1944 and 1945 respectively, these paintings do not depict camp life but scenes more commonly found in Germany.
Nearly every internment camp had a group of artists and while some painted for themselves, others sold or traded their work with comrades and, although it was forbidden, the occasional guard. Sometime closer to the war’s end, Camp Commandants began allowing PoWs to hold art and handicraft shows, first for the guards and camp staff, and then to the general public. Rather than receiving cash, their profits (as far as I can tell, all profit went directly to the PoW) were added to their savings account or made available to them in the form of credit or chits which they could exchange at the camp canteen. Shows were quite popular and eventually held on a fairly regular basis. These two Schlicker paintings were sold at one such sale to the mayor of Lethbridge at the time, Alfred W. Shackleford, who later passed them down to his son.
While copying Schlicker’s pay records in Ottawa, I was pleased to find entries relating to his art sales. I was even more surprised to find that two entries specifically mentioning the sale of two watercolours – perhaps these two are from one of these sales! The entry also notes that Schlicker’s paintings were each being sold for $2.00 each.
But the surprising finds were far from over! Shortly after arriving home, I received an email from an individual asking if I’d be interested in scans of some PoW artwork from his uncle’s time as a PoW in Canada. Answering “of course!,” imagine my surprise when he forward a series of illustrations all drawn by Schlicker. These ones, however, depict life as a PoW in both Canada and North Africa. As PoWs were prohibited from owning or operating cameras, artwork such as this provide important insight into what life was like behind barbed wire.
While a search for more of Schlicker’s work has yet to reveal anything, perhaps someone who knows more will stumble upon this post!