Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Today - Sixty-Eight Years Ago...
October 31, 1943

Nineteen Prisoners of War were found missing from the camp only five days after their arrival! Some during the day, these nineteen men had left the camp for an afternoon "hike". This was made much easier by the minimal security of the camp. Common to PoW bush camps of the era, no fences or guard towers enclosed the camp compound. Instead, the dense Canadian wilderness was deemed to be enough to prevent any notions of escape and, as such, red markers were tied onto trees to denote the camp boundaries. However, this "escape" showed that this was not to be the case!

The missing nineteen men were only noticed to be missing at roll call but sent the camp officials scrambling. The numbers were double and triple checked and once it was confirmed they were missing, the camp guards began an immediate search of the area. The guards, which will be discussed later, numbered approximately sixty men and the majority were in their early fifties. After five hours of searching, the RCMP were brought in to assist. All detachments around the park including Wasagaming, Rossburn, Dauphin, Ste. Rose, and McCreary were put on immediate alert and sent out on patrol along the park boundaries. In case the prisoners had already left the park, the Brandon city police, Railway Police, and Border Guards were also told to be on the lookout. Too late for any widespread search, a manhunt was organized for the morning.

For the nineteen prisoners left alone in Riding Mountain National Park, light snow began to fall, bringing about an introduction to the Manitoba winter they would never forget...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On this day, 68 Years Ago - Riding Mountain Park Project

October 26, 1943
Dauphin, Manitoba

A train with a rather unusal cargo was stopped on the outskirts of Dauphin just before noon. Immediately following the train's halt, armed guards disembarked, establishing a secure permititer on all sides of the train while empty trucks idled nearby. Once the area had been deemed safe, the doors to the train were opened from the inside and a guard armed only with a "billy" club exited. Following him were among the first German combatants, prisoners of war, to step foot on Manitoba soil. 

To be precise, 440 of these enemy soldiers, many of whom were combat veterans of North Africa, were seated in this train. After being quickly unloaded from the trains and ushered aboard the waiting trucks, the PoWs entered Riding Mountain National Park via the Strathlair Road. The trucks continued down this road, until reaching a recently rebuilt spur road heading West. Following this for ten kilometers, these men arrived at what would be their new home.

First proposed in June 1943, the camp had been hastily constructed over the past months. In total, fifteen buildings were constructed on the Northeast shore of Whitewater Lake, prompting the Dauphin Herald to report that this camp was the largest PoW camp built for woodcutting operations in Canada. The buildings included six bunkhouses for the PoW, a bunkhouse for the kitchen staff, a bunkhouse for the administrative staff, an administration building, a cookhouse large enough to accommodate the camp, a recreation hall, a barn, and a garage. Estimated at costing $225,000, the camp’s facilities had its own generator to supply electricity, a sewage system, running water, and a telephone line specifically established to maintain direct contact between the camp and Dauphin.

As for what the PoWs were thinking when they first stepped off the trucks, one can only assume that they never could have imagined what lay before them...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Welcome to the Blog!

Hello everyone and thanks for checking out this new blog relating to Prisoners of War in Manitoba during the Second World War!

For those who don't know me, my name is Michael and one of my main interests and research focuses is the internment of Prisoners of War (PoWs) in Canada during the Second World War, with an emphasis on the labour project in Riding Mountain National Park from 1943-1946. This blog is my way of showcasing some of Manitoba's little-known, yet fascinating, military history. I graduated from the University of Manitoba in Spring 2011 with my B.A. (Hons) in history and chose to write my thesis on the relations established between German Prisoners of War, Canadian military personnel, and civilians at a labour camp in Riding Mountain National Park. The material that I will be showing in the feature will attempt to tell some of the stories of this camp and its counterparts scattered throughout the province.

Whether you're familiar with the history of PoW Internment in Manitoba or you are hearing of them for the first time, I hope you enjoy these posts!