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.
Canada’s National War Memorial was officially unveiled in Ottawa in 1939 to commemorate Canadians who served in the First World War. This photo, originally from the collection of an unidentified member of No. 9 Company, Veterans Guard of Canada, was taken at a service sometime between 1939 and 1945.
Remembrance Day may be very different this year but I hope all can find some time to pause and remember.
Lest We Forget…
Remembrance Day – and our thoughts go back 27 years to 11 o’clock on the 11th November 1918. Those of us who are Veterans of two wars can never forget that day; even tough another bloody struggle has just ended, and “VE” Day and “VJ” Day have come and gone.
Remembrance Day – and what are the thoughts of the old Vet of two wars on this 27th anniversary? For Remembrance Day should be for those who lived as well as those who died; the latter have their immortal fame and have been spared the disillusionment of those who thought they had won a war which would make the world a “place fit for heroes to live in.” But despite the lost illusions despite the years of hard work, poverty, and disappointments, which were the lot of many, when the call came again they volunteered in their thousands. Now, 27 years after they heard the first great “Cease Fire” and after again giving another fix or six years of their lives to their Country, their thoughts are sombre. Denied most of the benefits of the rehabilitation schemes provided under the War Services Gratuities Act – because of age, too old to fish, too old to farm – are they to remember their sixty thousand comrades who died – enviously?
Remembrance Day – and “let the dead bury the dead.” But let their Country remember those who still live. Those who are now entitled to something better than a “dole” at the age of sixty, and only then if they are destitute.
Is this great country content to let these veterans of two wars eke out a precarious existence during the next five or ten years while waiting for the “dole,” or will it give them NOW the pension they have so justly earned, and give it as a RIGHT and not a charity?
Remembrance Day will come again next year and the year after, and for many many years, and —
“Remembrance Day,” P.O.W. WOW 2:3, November 12, 1945
Camp 132 Newspaper
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.
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.
“A Remembrance Day Message”
“Twenty-seven years ago, at eleven o’clock, 11 Nov. 1918, the “Cease Fire” was sounded, thus bringing World War I to a victorious conclusion.
There was great joy and celebrations. Victory had been won! A armistice had been signed! Our enemies, we believed, decisively beaten. The drums of war were then to be laid aside for all time (at least many thought so then).
The personnel who had been spared were to return to their civilian occupations. They visualized a life of peace and happiness. Many were to return to hospital, broken in body, prematurely aged by service, yet thankful for life itself in spite of their physical handicaps.
As in previous war, the sacrifices were great. It had taken four and one half years of slugging with weapons and equipment that have since then found their way to the scrap pile, there to be turned into plowshares. They have served their purpose and it was the hop that never again would they be required.
The great battles in which this now obsolete equipment had been used were now but a living memory. We think of Vimy Ridge, Ste. Eloi, Ypres, The Somme, Courcette, Hill 70, Lens, Passchendaele, Amiens, Arras, Canal du Nord, Cambrai, Valenciennes, Mons, and many others, where over sixty thousand of Canada’s finest manhood met death – the inevitable result of war. This was their contribution that others might live to be free and have their being.
In 1919 what remained of Canada’s citizen Army returned home. Proud of the fact that they had made their contribution to free the world from tyranny, ready and anxious to take their part in the upbuilding of Canada. Hoping, in fact, convinced, that there would be no more wars.
The intervening years have been filled with disappointments for many. The scourge of war has left its mark. The battle to win the peace was, in many respects, more difficult than fighting itself. The Great Reaper, in His infinite mercy, has taken many Home, to rest with their comrades; their hopes and ambitions frustrated, but with a certain knowledge of a grateful country for their undaunted courage and faithfulness, even unto death, in a just a righteous cause.
Again in 1939 the Spectre of death and carnage was turned loose in Europe. That same ruthless enemy which was defeated in 1918 again showed his ugly head, and during the dark and disastrous days that followed when death, deceit, and treachery, were rampant, the Veterans of World War I, who were still medically fit, undaunted by refusals, persistently offered their services. They were ready for the fray. Thousands of them answered the “Call to Arms”. They knew too well the ruthless enemy had again to be put down, if we were to be free and escape the heel of the oppressor.
And now as we approach another Remembrance Day let us pause in silent memory for those who gave their all in World War I, together with those of their sons and daughters who carried through World War II the glorious traditions of their fathers, that we might have liberty. Let us think of Vimy, where, on the foreign soil of France, there stands of a memorial, emblematic of the self-sacrifice, endurance, courage, and faith, of those who…
‘In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place, and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead, short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up the quarrel with teh foe,
To you, from falling hands, we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high;
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, tho’ poppies grow
In Flanders field.’
– Camp 133 War Diary, Appendix to Part I Orders, November 6 1945
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!
“And so another Armistice Day rolls around as the years go by, and today members of the VGC have cause to remember this day of days, realizing little that it is 27 years ago today since the cessation of hostilities in 1918. The meaning of this day has, of course, a special significance for VGC personnel and all veterans of the conflict of 1914-1918, but at the same time it was appreciated by all of us that the memories should be combined with thoughts of the younger generation who have given their lives in the present war. So it was with this in mind that we carried out the celebrations today… In the morning special services were held by the Camp Padre, H/Capt. L.L. Grant, who spoke of the solemn occasion of this date and paid tribute to the many lives lost by two generations of youth, all within the lifetime of members of the VGC. A special civilian choir was in attendance and lent aid to the choral side of the service.
At eleven o’clock, the hour of the “Cease Fire” in November 1918, all members of the Sgts’ Mess gathered together and a short service was held, with two minutes of silence, the playing of the “Flowers of the Forest” and “Last Post.” Sgt. Smith, Pipe-Major of No. 22 Coy Pipe Band, kindly consented to render the pipe selection, and L/Cpl. McGowan of #29 Coy sounded the bugle calls. Special dinner was served in the Messes and it was more or less a day of reminiscing among those who fought together in those days of 27 to 30 years ago.”
– Camp 133 War Diary, November 11, 1945
“They were the men of the Canadian Veterans’ Guards. Old soldiers who had not faded away but who have returned to serve with their sons.”
An appropriate video considering the 98th anniversary of Vimy Ridge on April 9. The Canadian Army Newsreels series was produced by the Canadian Army Film Unit during the war with the intention of showcasing the Canadian war effort to those back home. Albeit brief, the video shows some footage of the General Duty Company of the Veterans’ Guard of Canada, attached to the Canadian Military Headquarters in London, England.