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.

No comments:

Post a Comment