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.
June 26 is National Canoe Day and I thought I would take a quick look at Prisoners of War and Canoes in Canada during the Second World War.
Prisoners of War in Canada spent the early war years in internment camps behind barbed wire but this changed when the Canadian government approved their employment in May 1943. Over the next three years, thousands of POWs were sent out to woodcutting camps across the country, most in Ontario but with some in Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. Logging in the 1940s relied on water to move logs so most camps next to lakes and rivers. Bush camps were remote, had no fences, and had limited opportunities for recreation, so POWs turned to their surroundings to help pass the time. The result: POWs started building canoes.
After seeing a photo of a birch-bark canoe on the cover of a magazine, POWs working in the Riding Mountain Park Labour Project (now more commonly known as the Whitewater Lake POW camp) in Riding Mountain National Park wanted to build their own but, lacking the skills, instead crafted dugout canoes. They built a small fleet and sailed their canoes (some seen below) around Whitewater Lake.
POWs in other camps even ordered boat kits and folding boats from the Eatons and other mail-order catalogues. Kayaks built by POWs near Kenora were used to paddle around Lake of the Woods and were even raced in small regattas. Some employers also allowed POWs to make use of company canoes or boats and it took little time before sizeable fleets could be found at many bush camps. Although most POWs loved canoeing, inexperience and unstable craft took its toll. Four POWs drowned in boating accidents between May-June 44, leading to a temporary ban on boating. This was lifted after authorities believed the ban would likely result in POWs refusing to work.
When POWs were withdrawn from bush camps in 1946, they could not bring their canoes with them. But before a group of POWs left their #Kenora-area camp, they offered 10 POW canoes to the local YMCA camp on Lake of the Woods (likely Camp Stephens) in appreciation of the War Prisoners’ Aid of the YMCA’s wartime relief work. It is unclear whether the canoes made it to the camp but the rest of POW canoes across the country were left behind. Exposed to the elements, the last 75 years have not been kind. This is one of canoes near Whitewater Lake in Riding Mountain National Park I photographed in 2010.
Fortunately, some have survived. Two canoes from Riding Mountain National Park were removed from the site in the 1970s and are now in the collection of the Fort Dauphin Museum (Dauphin, Manitoba) while another dugout canoe from a camp in Northern Ontario is in the care of the Thunder Bay Museum (Thunder Bay, Ontario). A kanu-style kayak (seen below), is also in the collection of the Canadian Canoe Museum (Peterborough, Ontario). This vessel is believed to be from a bush camp near Longlac, Ontario and was removed from the camp sometime after it was abandoned.
If anyone has any stories or photos about POW canoes and kayaks, please comment below or send me a message!
On first glance, it may seem a simple photo of a hockey game and soldiers looking on. But on a closer look, something stands out – the soldiers are not Canadian. They are German. This picture, which I was very pleased to add to my collection, is a relatively rare photo of German POWs at Camp 23 (Monteith) playing hockey with their comrades watching from the sidelines. Considering tomorrow is Hockey Day in Canada, what better time is there for delving into a little history about German POWs and Canada’s national winter sport.
With thousands of young, athletic men interned in Canada during the Second World War, sports became an especially popular and important way to pass the time. Prisoners in most internment camps set up their own teams and leagues and began playing football (soccer), baseball, volleyball, basketball, tennis, and – you guessed it – hockey.
I have no record of how many POWs had played hockey before coming to Canada but hockey was an established sport in Germany, with the country taking the bronze medal in the 1932 Olympics. One also has to remember that many Canadians were interned in the early years of the war due to their status as “enemy aliens.” It is quite likely these men shared their skills with newly-arrived internees and EMS from the United Kingdom.
As for the skates, sticks, pucks and other equipment, most was provided by aid organizations, most notably the War Prisoners’ Aid of the YMCA. This organization dedicated itself to improving the living conditions of POWs interned on both sides and did their utmost to meet the recreational, educational, and religious demands of POWs. The War Prisoners’ Aid and the International Red Cross began supplying generic articles to improve the lives of those interned in Canada but also allowed POWs to make specific requests. For example, in late 1940, among the articles requested by internees at Monteith were lights for their Christmas trees, twenty-four pairs of stakes, and twenty-four hockey sticks.
The organization did have a budget to purchase items – ranging from ping pong balls to pianos – but also relied on donations. In an early report of the War Prisoners’ Aid, director Jerome Davis remarked,
One Canadian manufacturer out of the generosity of his heart, contributed two hundred pairs of skates. The result was that we were aided in building skating rinks in almost every prison camp in Canada. later, the Canadian Government took pictures of these rinks and some of them were sent to Germany. Therefore, the act of the Canadian business man who desired simply to do a Christian act for imprisoned soldiers – men who are not criminals but simply soldiers out of luck had its repercussions internationally and the Canadian business man may actually have done more to hep the British prisoners than he could have by sending in skates directly to them.
As the following image, given to Dr. Boeschenstein of the War Prisoners’ Aid, demonstrates, the equipment was greatly appreciated and quickly put to good use.
Roughly translated, the poem reads:
When cold comes with ice and snow,
YMCA thinks of the POW
With YMCA’s help here on the spot
One Plays Ice Hockey, Canada’s Sport
By December 1942, the War Prisoners’ Aid reported that every internment camp in Canada had, among other things, skates and a skating rink. In Camp 23 (Monteith), for example, POWs flooded the soccer field in the winter months and turned it into a skating and hockey rink while POWs at Camp 44 (Grande Ligne) converted their tennis courts into two skating rinks, one for hockey and the other for “fancy skating.”
Limited for recreation in the winter months, these skates were in especially high demand; at Camp R (Red Rock) in March 1941, the skating rink was in use throughout the day but, only having thirty pairs of skates for 1,100 internees, the internees had to sign up in advance. Other camps were better-equipped; by 1943, Camp 21 (Espanola) had two skating rinks and 500 pairs of skates.
The skills of those involved varied, as one report from Camp 44 (Grande Ligne) suggests: “One or two of the prisoners were quite good, but a number of them had not yet found their ice legs, and were falling around to the amusement of the on-lookers.”
As skating and hockey grew in popularity, the War Prisoners’ Aid continued to send out skates and hockey equipment. In early 1944, the War Prisoners’ Aid reported they had sent out skates, hockey sticks, pucks, goal keepers’ outfits, and, in some cases, even skis.
It was not only internment camps where hockey was popular. Prisoners in some of the almost 300 small, isolated labour projects also took up the sport. Those who found themselves working as woodcutters in the Northern Ontario bush frequently requested skates and hockey equipment to help pass the long winters. Fortunately for them, the pulpwood industry relied on waterways to move logs and most camps were located on the shores – or at least nearby to – streams, rivers, and lakes. Once cleared of snow, these frozen waterbodies became natural ice rinks.
Whether or not the POWs kept skating when they returned to Germany, I do not know. But I’m sure many brought back fond memories of their time in Canada playing that “good ol’ hockey game.”
The annual German Remembrance Day service will be held Sunday, November 19, 2017. This service takes place at Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario (119 Arlington Boulevard) at 2:30 p.m. For more information, please click here.
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.