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.
Following the popularity of my Fort Henry post, I thought I would share a brief look at another important internment camp in Canada – Camp 30 near Bowmanville, Ontario. Approximately seventy-five kilometers east of Toronto, Camp 30 was built around a former boys training school on the outskirts of the town.
Camp 30 opened in November 1941 with a capacity of 700 men. The camp was an Officer Camp, holding officers from all services, but it also held a number of other-ranks to serve as the officers’ orderlies. Notable, Camp 30 was the site of the infamous “Battle of Bowmanville,” in which PoWs refused to be shackled and barricaded themselves inside the camp for three days. The camp closed in April 1945 and the remaining prisoners were transferred to other camps.
As you can see from these images, many of the camp buildings and other structures have been removed or destroyed since the camp’s closure. Fortunately, there has been some interest in the site in recent years and a growing push for preserving its history.
In 2013, the former site of Camp 30 was designated as a National Historic Site and in the same year, Heritage Canada listed it as one of the Top 10 Endangered Places in the country. While its future is still being decided, I hope that Camp 30, one of the last remaining internment sites in the country, can be preserved for future generations.
Continuing my last post’s brief discussion of sports in PoW camps in Canada, today’s post showcases a few pieces in my collection relating to the sporting achievements of one German officer in Camp 30.
Camp 30, located in Bowmanville, Ontario, was among the many camps to have organized sporting events. The camp was built around a former boys’ school and housed German officers and their orderlies from 1941 until its closure in 1945. Among the PoWs who spent some years here was Leutnant Hilmar Schmidt.
Leut. Hilmar Schmidt was a navigator and bomb-aimer in the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. Fortunately for me, Schmidt kept a diary of his time in the Luftwaffe and a number of excerpts were published in Kenneth Wakefield’s The First Pathfinders. While they provide no information regarding his later internment, the diary entries provide a good sense of lives of Germans flying sorties over Britain.
On the night of June 14, 1941, Schmidt’s military career came to an end. As he described in a later interview,
Schmidt, along with pilot Ofw. Paul Wiersbitzki and crewmen Fw. Herbert Schick and Fw. Kurt Braun, were taken prisoner. Following his interrogation and a brief time as a PoW in Britain, Schmidt eventually found himself in Canada by the 1942.
In April 1942, Schmidt arrived at Bowmanville where he remained for at least the next year. As the following documents suggest, he excelled at the sporting events, participating in a number of activities.
Traditionally, “gaue” refers to the administrative regions of Germany but in this case, I believe it may refer to divisions or areas within the camp. The team name appears to be “Gau Mitte” which would translate to the middle or centre area/region. Team members include Hauptman Bräuer, Hauptman Ganzert, Hauptman Code, Oberleutnant Einicke, Oberleutnant von Krause, Oberleutnant Marx, Ft.z.S. Happel, Leutnant Schmidt, Leutnant Wüllenweber, Stabsgefreiter Nowsky, and San. Soldat Mochalski.
For those who may not have noticed, the triangular cut-out at the top of each certificate is not original. The cutout area once featured the German Eagle clutching a Swastika, the symbol of Nazi Germany. I found it quite interesting that presumably Schmidt or a family member was willing to erase this element of camp life but valued the rest of these documents enough to preserve them.
In April 1945, Schmidt was transferred to Camp 44 at Grand Ligne, Quebec. He was here for only a year before he was again transferred in April 1946, this time to Camp 40 at Farnham, Quebec before being sent to Great Britain.
1. Kenneth Wakefield, The First Pathfinders: The Operational History of Kampfgruppe 100, 1939-1941 (London: William Kimber & Co. Limited, 1981), 32.
2. Ibid, 173.
Last week I posted about “Real Photo” picture postcards sent home by PoWs interned in Canada. Today, I’d like to focus on one of those postcards and share a little more about one of the men featured in it.
In the seventy years that have passed since these postcards were mailed, the provenance of many of the postcards in my collection has been lost. While the bonus of postcards is that usually the sender’s name is on the reverse, they didn’t usually need to point out to their friends and family who they were, leaving me to try and determine who they are by their uniforms and ranks. Sometimes this works, othertimes, like in this case, it doesn’t. While I may never identify “Malte Sacolowsky” in the photograph below, the digital age in which we live in has provided me with a bit of his life history.
The folks at the U-Boat Archive have made many of the British interrogation reports of captured U-Boats available online. It was in one of these reports that I found Sacolowksy.
German U-boat U-501 left Norway on August 7, 1941, en route to its first war, and subsequently last, war patrol. On September 5, 1941, U-501 sunk a Norwegian merchant ship but its success was short-lived. On September 10, 1941, south of Greenland, the Canadian corvette HMCS Chambly picked up U-501 with sonar and attached the u-boat with depth charges. The sub was damaged and the captain decided to scuttle. HCMS Moose Jaw then unsuccessfully attempted to ram her as she surfaced. A Canadian crew attempted to board the submarine but was unsuccessful in its attempt to seize any documents from the sub before she sunk. Thirty-seven German crewman were captured in what was the Royal Canadian Navy’s first U-Boat “kill” during the Battle of the Atlantic.
The interrogation report of U-501 describes the crew:
Among the thirty-seven prisoners was nineteen year-old Malte Sacolowsky. The interrogation report, while not mentioning him specifically by name, was one of the “young midshipmen” described below:
Sacolowksy eventually ended up in Camp 30 in Bowmanville, Ontario but what happened to him after that, I’m not sure. Regardless, I find postcards – these seemingly insignificant artifacts – to be fantastic sources for research. Placing the men pictured in the photograph into context provides us with a better sense of just who these men were. Now to find out what they thought about internment in Canada…
The rest of the interrogation report can be found here.
More information about U-501 is available here at uboat.net.
Continuing with the topic of Prisoner of War mail, today’s post deals with the picture postcard, a popular form of communication between PoWs and their friends and family back home.
Picture postcards are exactly what they sound like: postcards with a picture on them. As I’ve mentioned before, these photos not only allowed PoWs to show their families they were alive and well but they also served as a form of propaganda in that they demonstrated that Canada was able to treat their PoWs well within the terms of the 1929 Geneva Convention.
Prisoner of War picture postcards had to meet fairly strict regulations. First, only photographers authorized by the Department of Defence were allowed to take these photographs and they subsequently had to be censored and approved for production (to prevent any unwanted information to be sent to Germany). Once approved, these pictures were generally made available for purchase. Each of the photographs were numbered, presumably allowing the PoWs to keep track of which image they were in.
While the subjects of the pictures were the PoWs themselves, there were a fairly wide range of photographs taken. For example, see the next three photographs. While the above picture shows a group of PoWs in their uniforms, they were also seen in a more “relaxed style” – I don’t think that shirt is regulation!
Sports teams and bands were also featured in photographs, such as the one seen below.
Officers, kept in separate camps from their enlisted counterparts, were also offered the opportunity to send picture postcards. However, unlike their comrades, them seem to have been afforded the privilege of having their pictures taken in smaller groups and in more scenic settings.
While the pictures were produced as postcards, some PoWs never sent their pictures home, instead preferring to keep them as souvenirs of their time in Canada. It also seems that some of these photographs, primarily those depicting funerals, camp life, or general views of the camp, were not intended to be mailed and were strictly sold or distributed as souvenirs. The photo below is one of these, kept as a souvenir and brought back to Germany after the war.
That’s it for this post – hope you enjoyed it!