Thursday, March 29, 2012

A New Addition at the Camp

Camp Mascot
Spring 1944

Wildlife had always been abundant in the area surrounding the small labour camp in Riding Mountain National Park and encounters with elk, moose, deer, wolves, and bears were not uncommon for the prisoners wishing to explore the area. However, in the spring of 1944, the prisoners and the staff were about to come much closer to the wildlife than they had expected.

The bear with a guard and camp staff member
Forty prisoners were hiking along the northwestern shore of Whitewater Lake on a nice spring day in 1944. The hike however was interrupted by the presence of a large black bear with two small cubs. The prisoners managed to scare off the mother bear and one of her cubs while the remaining cub was left to fend for itself. Jumping on the opportunity to adopt a new "pet", the prisoners quickly picked up the cub and brought it to the camp.

Despite the disapproval of some of the staff, especially the park warden, the bear was allowed to remain at the camp. The bear quickly grew on the prisoners as well as the guards and staff. A cage was built in between one of the bunkhouses and prisoners often took the bear for walks, on a leash, with the camp dogs.

The bear would remain at the camp until the next year but that is a story for another day!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

One Last Goodbye

March 18, 1944
Dauphin, Manitoba

I'm a few days late with this one, but I thought I would show a bit of a before and after scene. As mentioned earlier, Max Neugebauer, a 33-year old PoW at the Riding Mountain Labour Project, died of his injuries on March 16, 1944. On March 18, a small service was held in Dauphin and Max was buried in Dauphin's Riverside Cemetery. The first picture is the funeral procession on March 18 and the second is a shot taken from a similar position in the spring of 2011. By matching up some of the headstones in the 1944 picture,  I was able to roughly take a picture of the same area. Things have certainly changed since the spring of 1944...
Dauphin Riverside Cemetery in 1944 (top) and 2011 (below)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sixty-Eight Years Ago...
March 13, 1944

On this day, tragedy struck the prisoners at the Riding Mountain Labour Project. With cooler temperatures and strong winds, the camp spokesman, Leo Manuel, conferred with his men and decided that the weather was too bad for the prisoners to work. When bringing this up with the camp commander, Colonel James, his request was denied by a visiting officer from the Department of Labour. This officer, Colonel Fordham, ordered the prisoners to work. When Manuel and the prisoners protested this decision, Fordham threatened that if the prisoners did not work, Manuel and his staff would be transferred, canteen privileges would be denied, and a particularly elaborate dessert prepared by the kitchen staff would be cancelled. Under these conditions, Manuel reluctantly ordered his men to work.

While the weather report stated that the temperatures were not overly cold for this time of year and the winds were not particularly strong enough to cause concern, it is needless to say that while cutting down trees, excessive wind was a cause for concern.

Max Neugebauer, who had just celebrated his thirty-third birthday a week before, was one of the men ordered out for work. Married with a wife and family in Munich, Neugebauer had been captured in North Africa like the majority of his comrades.

While cutting down a tree with another prisoner, a sudden gust of wind arose, blowing the falling tree in their direction. Unable to move in time, Neugebauer was struck him on the head, rendering him unconscious, while the other prisoner suffered minor injuries. Taken immediately to the camp hospital, Dr. Fritjof Gress recommended that he be taken to the Dauphin hospital. Escorted by members of the Veterans Guard, Neugebauer was admitted to the Dauphin hospital the same evening.

For three days, Neugebauer remained unconscious. He was never to regain consciousness as in the morning of March 16, 1944, he died of his injuries.

On March 18, 1944, a service was held in Dauphin's St. Viator's Church, attended by a small number of prisoners and members of the Veterans Guard of Canada. His body was buried in the Riverside Cemetery and the Veterans Guard escort fired a salute. A cross handmade by his comrades was placed at the head of the grave.

Manuel had the unfortunate duty of sending a telegram to Neugebauer's wife informing her of the news.

For almost thirty years, Neugebauer's grave stood in stark contrast to those interred around it. In 1970, as part of a program to relocate German PoWs who had died in Canada, his remains were exhumed and relocated to the Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario. He remains there to this day alongside 186 of his comrades who died in Canada in the First and Second World War.

For more information on the Woodland Cemetery, check out this article.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Presentation - March 7, 2012

For anyone who finds themselves in the Dauphin area on March 7, 2012, I will be doing a presentation at Dauphin's Parkland Regional Library about the PoW Labour Project in Riding Mountain National Park. The presentation takes place at 6:30 pm and is free to everyone. Come out to learn some of the area's history and to see some artifacts as well!
For more information, visit the Friends of RMNP's website by clicking HERE.