THE subject-matter of this article is, for the most part, entirely new to the Canadian public. During the years of the Great War, the press of Canada kept almost complete silence on the treatment and disposal of enemy aliens within our borders; and the stray tags of information that found publication were garbled, inaccurate and lacking in perspective. I have therefore attempted to deal briefly but comprehensively with the problem of the alien enemy as confronted in August, 1914, and with the general solution evolved by the Government of Canada.
Upon this broader background of the alien menace in wartime, I have tried to paint more intimate details of the two most typical internment camps in Canada. Fort Henry, Kingston, represents a distinct type of detention camp situated in the civilized southern fringe of our country and designed not for the employment of interns but for the safe-keeping of the more dangerous and virulent prisoners of war. Kapuskasing, on the other hand, opened up in the primeval wilderness of the James Bay slope, is the earliest, most permanent and most important of the numerous working camps which functioned throughout the less civilized parts of Canada. Many of the annals and anecdotes of these camps have little intrinsic value in themselves but are set forth as being characteristic of a phase of life unique in Canadian history and practically unknown to the public. The choice of these two stations for special treatment has been further determined by the fact of my service on the staff of both posts.
A Wartime Problem
ON AUGUST 4th, 1914, Canada found herself at war with Germany and Austria; and awoke also to the presence within her borders of close upon a million descendants of these hostile races. Twentieth century facilities for travel had made possible, and the policy of unrestricted immigration had made inevitable, the inundation of the country by an alien flood. The census of 1911 had revealed the establishment in the Dominion of 393,320 Germans and 129,103 Austro-Hungarians, or a total of 522,423 of enemy origin. By 1914 this number had been swollen to more than one-tenth of our total population. The great majority of these aliens had, of course, become naturalized as Canadian citizens; many had even been born in this country of enemy stock; and their general attitude was consistently loyal to their British allegiance. Yet though intestine hostility on a large scale was never anticipated or realized, there still remained a dangerous and difficult situation. The problem to be faced had three main aspects: (1) many naturalized German-Canadians were German in sympathy; (2) a press with pro-enemy inclinations was active, especially in the Western provinces; and (3) many of the unnaturalized enemy aliens were busy in the interests of the foe.
The least of these troubles came from the naturalized aliens. Many of these people were sincere enough in their loyalty to Canada. A large number of German extraction, especially in Ontario, were natives and staunch citizens, whose ancestors had come north in company with the United Empire Loyalists in the days of the American Revolution. But many of the newer arrivals had close friends and relatives in the German army and watched the conflict with very mixed feelings. Especially was this the case in Western Canada, where there were large homogeneous settlements of Germans and Austrians who still spoke their own languages and were as yet ignorant and unappreciative of Canadian democracy and institutions. Too rapid injection of alien population in these Western provinces had made impossible any efficient degree of assimilation, and the newcomers still remained German and Austrian in thought and sympathy, scarcely touched by the slow metabolism of nationalization. There were, indeed, a few gratifying outbursts of loyalty, as when, in September 1914, a meeting of 3,000 naturalized aliens in Winnipeg pledged its moral and material support to Great Britain. But it was consistently feared that some of our more recent citizens might not be above suspicion; for under Article 25 of the German Imperial and State Nationality Law of July 22nd, 1913, a German was enabled to retain his German nationality and rights even when naturalized in a foreign country, and hence a German-Canadian was no more a British subject in the eyes of German law, after taking the oath, than he was before. Similar enactments were passed in Austria. It seemed obvious that a German or Austrian spy would be safer, freer, and more likely to get information as a naturalized citizen than otherwise, and the menace of this most astounding piece of legislative duplicity was only now fully realized. However, the Federal Government deemed it wisest to refrain from seeking or fomenting trouble and decided to take action only in cases of overt hostility. The oath of allegiance of all naturalized citizens was to be taken as sincere and valid, and all offenders against their new citizenship were to be arraigned on a charge of high treason or sedition. But no such case was ever pushed to a drastic conclusion. There were occasional disturbances in parts of Ontario, but, as a chauvinistic Anglo-Saxon minority was to some extent blameworthy, no impeachments were made.
The Amiable Government
BUT the greatest problem of all lay in the presence in Canada of over one hundred thousand enemy aliens who were still unnaturalized and owed no allegiance to the country. Many thousands of these men were reservists who were now seeking to rejoin their armies in Europe; others were agents of Germany’s world-wide spy system and were feverishly active in their hour of opportunity; still others, though innocent of premeditated activities, could not be trusted to refrain from spontaneous outbursts of anti-British speech or occasional acts of sabotage. But the Government preferred to believe that the majority of these enemy aliens were peaceable and well-dispositioned and sought, as a means of confining trouble to the active few, to reassure the generality of the well-affected. Accordingly, on August 7th, three days after the declaration of war, an Order-in-Council was passed proclaiming that immigrants of German (and afterwards Austrian and Turkish) nationality, pursuing their usual vocations quietly in various parts of Canada, “shall not be arrested, detained, or interfered with unless there is reasonable ground to believe that they are engaged in espionage or attempting to engage in acts of a hostile nature or to give information to the enemy or unless they otherwise contravene any law, order or proclamation.” At the same time the Minister of Militia was authorized to prevent German officers or reservists leaving Canada for the purpose of returning to Europe. Many hundreds were soon arrested at Montreal, Niagara Falls, and other points in the East, but it was obviously impossible to supervise thoroughly the long border line of the Western provinces. Moreover, the next three months made it more and more evident that it was not sufficient for the military police to keep a general watch for enemies and to arrest those whom they detected. They needed also to know whom to watch, and to this end a new and more comprehensive plan of campaign was elaborated.
This new system aimed at the identification and supervision of all unnaturalized enemy aliens throughout Canada. An Order-in Council published on October 28th, 1914, authorized the opening in various Canadian cities of offices for the registration of such aliens and in each case a registrar was appointed as the district superintendent of the work. All aliens of enemy nationality were ordered to report at one of these offices within one month of its opening and once a month thereafter. No such alien might leave Canada without a permit from a registrar and the issuing of permits was limited to those who could not materially assist by active service, information, or otherwise, the forces of the enemy. All aliens refusing to register or report were to be interned as prisoners of war, with their families dependent on them. The Dominion Police and the Northwest Mounted Police were given large powers in the enforcement of this policy, including the prevention of any overt act of individual hostility and the oversight of many persons who gave up work at the beginning of war to go back to Germany and Austria or who were discharged by employers out of patriotic preference for Canadian labor. The greatest danger in regard to the Germans and Austrians was not anticipated from the working classes so much as from those in business. Most of the Austrians were workingmen and though they might have caused trouble if not kept under observation, it was the German commercial agents and those in similar positions who were most likely to prove dangerous. These latter were educated, pushful, and intelligent, and many of them had seen service in the German forces.
Work of Interning Begins
IT WAS in this direction that the registrars were to find their most difficult work. As had been expected, the scrutiny of registration disclosed the activity of many reservists and German agents, and all such were promptly interned. By the end of six months 70,000 aliens were reporting monthly to the registrars and 5,000 others were in internment camps. Some enemies, especially of the commercial classes, took longer to unearth but good work was done by the police. On May 10th, 1915, Paul Hoffman, of Toronto, was interned for lauding the fate of the Lusitania. Six days later two clever spies, Kiefer and Moser, also of Toronto, were taken into custody. And on May 20th Siegfried Muendheim, of Quebec, was also interned. While the popular legend that he had built cement gun-bases on the Island of Orleans may be dismissed as ridiculous, he was none the less one of the most dangerous agents of the German Secret Service on this continent and was in constant communication with its headquarters in New York. It was, of course, impossible to keep all registered aliens under surveillance at all times and there can be no doubt that many enemy agents, especially among the well-to-do, led a double life with impunity. Nevertheless, the policy of registration and police supervision brought in substantial harvests month after month throughout the war, and it was not until January, 1920, after the ratification of the Peace of Versailles, that the Government brought the system to an end.
Otter Is Appointed
THE work of registration and arrest was, however, only the smaller half of the solution of the alien problem. A more formidable task was the safe-keeping and maintenance of the thousands who were interned, and to administer this work there was authorized by Order-in-Council on November 1st, 1914, a new Federal department ancillary to the Department of Justice and entitled the Department of Internment Operations. The Director of this new service was Major-General Sir William D. Otter, the doyen among Senior officers in Canada. By this appointment he received authority to establish and organize detention camps throughout the Dominion and to employ prisoners on any needed work; and to facilitate his task he was given supervisory power over the various registrars and full authority to demand from the Officer Commanding any Military District whatever troops he might require for the maintenance of internment camps anywhere in Canada. While serving under the Director such officers and men were seconded to him for duty, discipline, rations and quarters, while the Department of Militia and Defence still issued all pay and men’s clothing and equipment. The extent of the powers thus conferred on General Otter were not fully realized by many district officials and in the years which followed there were occasional attempts by local Dogberrys to question or thwart his authority.
The Department of Internment Operations came into existence in November and the first year of its administration saw a period of growth and active expansion. The organization of the various camps was carried on, on the foundations already laid by the Militia Department. Numerous collecting centres had been established on Melville Island and in the citadel at Halifax; at the St. Antoine Street Station, Montreal; in Stanley Barracks, Toronto, and at Niagara Falls, Sault Ste. Marie, Fort William, Winnipeg, Regina, and Nanaimo. At these centres prisoners were interned temporarily until a sufficient number had been garnered in to warrant a transfer movement to a permanent detention station. Of these permanent stations, situated in or near towns and enforcing no alien employment, Fort Henry, Kingston, is the earliest and most characteristic and will therefore receive more detailed treatment in the chapters that follow. Lethbridge, in Southern Alberta, and Vernon, in the Okanagan district of British Columbia, were two other early detention stations.
On this rough framework the Director proceeded to build. The winter of 1914-15 saw a tremendous ingathering of aliens. Hundreds of German and Austrian reservists were rounded up. Many Turks were brought in from Hamilton and Brantford. In Montreal, the city officials solved their annual problem of supporting thousands of unemployed Austrians through the winter by having the Registrar order their internment. Fort Henry soon held 500 prisoners and could house no more. Lethbridge and Vernon were in like condition. Other detention stations were established at Amherst, Nova Scotia; at Beauport Armories, Quebec, and at Brandon, Manitoba, but all these were unable to cope with the alien influx. It was therefore decided to inaugurate a number of working camps where, remote from civilization, prisoners could be forced into useful employment. Kapuskasing, hitherto only an unknown siding on the Transcontinental seventy miles west of Cochrane in the wilderness of Hyperborean Ontario, was founded on December 14th, 1914, by a trainload of Ruthenians and their escort, brought from Fort Henry. Kapuskasing was not only the earliest but also the most typical, the most productive, the most permanent and the most important of all the working camps, and as such will loom large in the later chapters of this article. Petawawa Camp, in the Ottawa Valley, was established at almost the same time, and a month later Spirit Lake, a sister camp to Kapuskasing, was opened in Northern Quebec, 136 miles east of Cochrane. Similar expansion took place further west and working camps were set up at Jasper Park, Alberta, and at Morrissey, Edgewood, Mara Lake and Field in British Columbia. By the summer of 1915 the Head Office at Ottawa was supervising some nineteen collecting centres, detention stations, and working camps with a total population of nearly 5,000 prisoners. Amherst, Fort Henry, and Vernon were almost entirely Germany by origin. The working camps were peopled almost altogether by Slavs. At Spirit Lake and Kapuskasing farm land was being hewn out in the virgin forests of the Great Clay Belt. Several of the Western camps were engaged in road construction, especially in the Rockies. Vernon and Spirit Lake were the only camps where an attempt was made to maintain wives and children along with the prisoners. Small villages were erected, separate from the main camp, and here the married prisoners lived with their families. The domestic establishment at Vernon persisted until after the signing of peace, much to the sorrow of the local commandant, but the women of Spirit Lake returned three years earlier to civilization, where they received a small monthly allowance from the Government.
As the first year of administration had been a period of expansion, so the next two years witnessed the gradual enforcement of a policy of centralization. Halifax was closed into Amherst; Beauport and Stanley Barracks into Fort Henry. Following a riot at Petawawa, the ringleaders were shipped to Fort Henry and the rest of the camp sent to Kapuskasing. Brandon was closed into Lethbridge. The latter was later abolished. Edgewood, Jasper Park, Field, Nanaimo, and Mara Lake were all abandoned for one reason or another. During the winter of 1916-17 many thousands of Ruthenian and Turk laborers were released on parole to work for various large corporations. Spirit Lake, when partially depopulated, was demoralized by an obstinate strike amongst those remaining and the camp was finally closed into Kapuskasing in February 1917. The latter camp too was soon, through wholesale paroling of all except the sick and the dangerous, reduced to a few dozen individuals. Then, in May 1917, Fort Henry was closed and the 400 Germans there taken to Kapuskasing. In July of the same year the prisoners at Banff were also shipped to New Ontario. This now left only four camps in Canada—Amherst in Nova Scotia with 800 German sailors: Kapuskasing in Ontario, a penal station with the polyglot dregs of all Canadian stations; Morrissey in British Columbia, an Austrian camp, and Vernon in the same province, a pan-German settlement with a married establishment.
Life in an Internment Camp
NOW I shall tell something of the life at Fort Henry. Realizing the evil effects of long confinement and inaction on the mind, the Commandant sought to stimulate and encourage all legitimate activities among the prisoners. A workshop was provided where those so inclined might manufacture curios and souvenirs, models of ships, quaintly carved trays, leather canes, and articles of furniture. Several turned to brush and palette, one or two showing real artistic ability. Another prisoner, Dreschsel by name and a lithographer by trade, manufactured an amazingly ingenious printing press from a few boards and pieces of old iron which lay about, and printed from etchings on limestone blocks taken from the demolished wall. I possess many specimens of the work of this captive Gutenberg and believe them to be very good indeed.
Music and the drama also flourished during this mild reign. A covered bandstand was built in the Lower Square by the prisoners and a brass band was soon giving open air concerts on Wednesdays and Sunday afternoons. A string orchestra had eighty-five adherents and a leather-lunged choral society, the “Gesangsverein Deutschland,” practised lustily. A theatrical club also sprang into being, was permitted to turn two of the angle rooms into a theatre and green room, built a stage, and acted many German plays in costume.
Pets multiplied so as to become a nuisance. There were scores of mongrel dogs and dozens of unpedigreed cats, rabbit-hutches galore, and several pens of chickens. Some men kept white mice; others captured English sparrows and caged them. The king of the petmongers was a big German sailor named Wolters. He had always at least one dog; had caught and tamed a muskrat; and had at one time kept a pet snake. But the climax of his enthusiasm came when two bear cubs, mascots of the 156th Battalion, which were left behind when the unit departed for England, were turned over to his care by Lt.-Col. Brown, the G.S.O. of the district. Wolters immediately christened them Fritz and Fanny and set about their education. They were cleaned and groomed daily; their feeding and discipline were their trainer’s monopoly and were used to a purpose; and before long the cubs began to exhibit clumsy but very amusing tricks. In March 1917 they were confiscated by the local Army Service Corps, but did not fall among sympathetic masters and were soon chivied to death.
Amateur and professional gardeners also sought to enliven the scene of their captivity. Gardens were planted along the north side of the Square between the doorways, and an especially fine flower-garden was built on the south side against the wall of the Upper Fort. In this garden stood the life-sized statue of a nude athlete crouched and lifting a heavy shot in his left hand. This was the work of an Austrian intern, Franz Skiera, and was not without merit. Some months after the evacuation of the fort by Internment Operations, and at a time when it was being used as a demobilization depot, this statue was demolished by the order of a patriotic Officer Commanding.
Pastries and Potions
MORE commercially-minded than this alien sculptor was one Derouet, an Alsatian and a pastrycook, who secured permission to open up a café in the most westerly casemate on the ground floor. Here he sold pastries and coffee and waxed fat in canteen tickets. His stand was known as the “Café Hindenburg” and did a roaring business every pay-day.
Some Germans, however, thirsted for more potent portions than Derouet’s coffee and manufactured under cover of darkness stills for the distillation of the beverage they sought. One day almost the entire band was found in a drunken stupor and careful search revealed a most ingenious piece of apparatus made chiefly of biscuit tins, lengths of pipe and tin pails. Similar attempts to drown their sorrows in alcohol were discovered from time to time, the chief ingredients in the distillate being potato peelings, dried apples, and prunes.
According to the Hague Convention prisoners were to be allowed the free exercise of their religion, but none of the Fort Henry interns expressed any desire for Clerical visitation, so none was thrust upon them. Two pious members of the Amaranatha Brotherhood (sic) did ask for permission to go to Kingston and seek for fellow sheep of their especial fold, but they were told to invite their friends to come to the Fort for worship: and they never came. Mr. Rutsky, a Lutheran pastor from Ottawa, made semi-monthly calls during part of 1915. The only other pastoral visitant in the history of the internment station was a Catholic priest from Kingston, and rosaries which he left with his Kulturkampf audience were next day hurled playfully about the Lower Square.
But this native playfulness found wider and more constant expression in athletics. Rough gymnasium apparatus was manufactured and kept constantly in use. Tennis tournaments whiled away the summer afternoons and in the cool of the evening the soccer club in white knickers and jerseys filled the Lower Square with dust and cheers.
The Commandant also set aside one casemate as a library and schoolroom, and paid one prisoner to supervise the place. The rough plank shelves held several hundred volumes in German, French, and English, all in constant circulation. Classes were organized in Spanish, Mathematics, Engineering, Navigation, Bookkeeping, Stenography, and English. Prisoners with the necessary qualifications acted as teachers and the enrolment of pupils was heavy. Indeed, there were not many interns who were not striving in some way or other to keep mind and body from stagnation and decay.
Hate and Horseplay
THE pent-in energies of several hundred interns were constantly finding new modes of expression apart from the activities mentioned, ranging from midday calithumps to midnight attempts to escape. Two of the former events which were staged in the summer and fall of 1916 are worthy of detailed treatment.
The first was a demonstration of German patriotism and Anglophobia, but as its form was somewhat mystifying (as none of the Canadian spectators understood German, and as the prisoners’ answers to inquiries were altogether equivocatory) its true nature was not realized at the time. On August the 29th, 1916, the original party of eighty-three German sailors who had come first to Fort Henry in 1914 celebrated the second anniversary of their arrival. A model of the ship which had brought them to Montreal had been carefully built, and early in the afternoon the men formed a procession and marched solemnly around the Lower Square with the steamer. The band led the column, followed by John Balkmann, an old chief steward: then came four sailors, two in white and two in oilskins, carrying the model ship aloft on their shoulders, and finally the main body of the party walking slowly with bowed heads. One might have fancied that they were emulating Joshua and his followers and were carrying their ark about the inside of their Jericho in the hope that the walls would fall down flat before them. And so far as the strength of the battlements was concerned they would have had immeasurably greater reason for hope than had the son of Nun. But Jericho was not in their thoughts.
After they had twice encircled the square a halt was made and the ship set down on some billets of firewood wreathed about with flowers. Then appeared Neptune, a tall Prussian dressed in a monkish habit and carrying a coil of rope and a trident; whereupon the sailors formed in a silent half-circle before him and listened respectfully while he relieved himself of a long harangue in German. This finished, the pyre was set alight; but it was not until the ship had been utterly consumed that the assembly at last broke silence and dispersed. The few troops present knew no German and both Neptune’s oration and the incendiary rites left them blankly mystified. Indeed, when I first came to the Fort, just after the performance, I was given several different and conflicting interpretations of the affair. However, in February 1917, while searching the Green Room of the prisoners’ theatre I was fortunate enough to find the complete original manuscript of the August speech; and I proffer a portion of it here in free translation. The true character of the ritual will be quite manifest—
Beloved German Sailors,—
Two whole years have to-day flown by since fate brought you to Fort Henry as prisoners of war. This I learned at noon to-day from a fine German merchant-submarine (i.e., the Deutschland) in the wide water of tile Atlantic Ocean; so the god of the sea had strained every nerve to reach his goal on time and now stands among you, trident in hand, to bring you hearty German greeting from your brave brothers of the army and navy. It is certainly no easy thing for you in these stirring times to be condemned to inactivity in the land of your foes and cut off from the whole outside world; doubly hard for you who have been used to wind and storm and the waves of ocean to be torn away from your calling for so long. But, I pray you, endure yet a little and even in these unenviable straits show your enemies that German sailors hold their flag high in all circumstances and endure the mischances of war and captivity with the courage of the German breed. Gaze thankfully across the wide water and stretch out a hand to your comrades with the rousing declaration: Germany, Germany over the whole world: the greatest peril threatening your dear fatherland has been victoriously driven off. Your many enemies, in the north the envious, greedy English, in the east the barbarous Russians, in the south the treacherous Italians, on the west the revengeful French, have sought this past week to break through the German lines with combined strength, hoping to let the storms of war beat on the German countryside. But the Allies have not reaped the fruit of their expectations. All their concerted attacks have melted away like snow in the warm sun. Your many foes must now acknowledge, if they are honorable, that they are unable to conquer the German forces....
My dear German sailors, my time grows short and I must return to my element, for great deeds are yet to be done ere peace is attained. Gladly will I carry your stout greeting to your German kinfolk and tell them how many brave German sailors wait here impatiently for the honorable summons to join them after the war in the development of a new Greater Germany, to work with all their might for the beloved Fatherland. Farewell! Endure the captivity that remains in true German fashion and hold fast to the knowledge that some day soon, God willing, you may sit once more in the dear company of your loved ones.
What do I see here? An English ship which brought you to Canada and captivity two long years ago. And I see, too, a pile of faggots and a torch. (The ship is lit.) And as this ship is now consumed and sinks in ashes, so may your enemy’s navy and shipping be destroyed and sunk in the immeasurable depths of the sea, till at last you win a complete and glorious victory.
Plans to Escape
BUT public performances formed only one outlet for captive energy and in the dead of night it boiled and seethed in illicit depths seeking to burst through the grey stone walls to freedom. As the first thought of the Commandant was to keep his charges safe, so the first thought of the prisoner was to escape. And with these restless spirits chafing continually at barriers it is not surprising that their custodians came to live in an atmosphere of wakeful and unceasing vigilance. To be sure the outer wall interposed five feet of solid limestone, windowless except for narrow embrasured slits; and those who might succeed in piercing through would still find the outer circumvallation of the moat rising sheer before them and patrolled by armed sentries. Yet there were reckless ones whom even this did not daunt, and, besides five main, well-established attempts to tunnel out, there were constant efforts being made to commence operations without detection. Sentries, too, were watched carefully and the beats and hours of duty of the careless or incompetent noted. Nothing was left undone; but so great were the natural defences of the place that no prisoners ever succeeded in escaping from the interior of the Fort. Nevertheless, their continual activity was a source both of anxiety and diversion, for while those in authority felt occasional qualms of responsibility, both they and the private on his beat hoped earnestly for some genuine excitement to break the dull monotony of station life.
The first attempt was made early in 1915 before the Royal Canadian Engineers had closed up the underground passages under the moat. A long, narrow entranceway to the north-east passage was used for storing ice and some of the prisoners secured a key to the door. They were soon busy in the reverse-fire chambers east of the moat, boring a tunnel into the outer wall. The task which they thus set themselves called for tunnelling through fifty yards of stone and rubble; their chief tools were old Enfield ramrods broken in two and filed to a chisel point; but their spirit was voiced some time later by an intern who explained that “a man can dig a long way in two years.”
Nor did they lack daring when their plans were discovered. The military police who entered the chambers one day from the moat found a blanket hung up in the doorway of the farthest cell and on entering saw rough tools scattered about near a hole which had been started in the wall. They left to report their discovery and on return in a few moments found the blanket gone and the tools hidden neatly away in the corner farthest from the hole. Following this attempt the R.C.E. put a cement plug in the inner entrance of the moat tunnel and a brick partition across the passageway at the top of the inner stairs.
Shortly after this, four prisoners succeeded in tearing a hole through this brick partition, and had chiselled well into the cement plug before they were caught redhanded. A few days’ detention was their only punishment.
They were soon busy again. One of the ground-floor angle-rooms was used for storing lumber and cement, and prisoners in the room above made a trap-door in their floor and descended at night to work without interruption. Their plans were, however, discovered quite early, and work languished for a time.
On July 1st, 1916, a motor-boat belonging to Lt.-Col. Fee and moored in Navy Bay became refractory. Three prisoner-of-war mechanics, August Dembick, Tony Babel, and Christian Schmidt, were accordingly taken down to set the engine to rights, and were very rashly left in the boat with one unarmed policeman. All three had been regarded as “trusties” and it was further supposed that the supply of gasoline on board was insufficient to carry the boat any distance. However, no one took the trouble to inspect the tank and carelessness met its just deserts when the prisoners took charge of the launch and ran it across to the States, marooning the helpless policeman on an island by the way. The Commandant was in Kingston while this farce was being enacted and the full blame rests on one of his subordinates.
On August 23rd, 1916, two first-class prisoners, Erwin John and Wilhelm Brubacker, escaped to the States after preparations which are supposed to have been under way for at least two months. During this summer the first-class prisoners had, after signing a parole to make no attempt to escape, been allowed out for some hours daily on the grassy slope to the southeast of the Advanced Battery and had there made themselves a large vegetable garden. A special sentry was posted in the East Martello Tower and another patrolled back and forth along the top of the river-wall within a few yards of the enthusiastic gardeners. But along the east and south sides of the garden, planted so as to give privacy from the sentries’ gaze, was a tall and flourishing forest of Indian corn; and behind this screen the prisoners fussed with infinite care and attention over a row of small rectangular beds laden with tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, or green beans. Few could have guessed that under one splendid bed of tomatoes, eight feet by four, lurked a large, empty box, lined with blankets and capable of accommodating two men.
On the 22nd of August, Brubacker and John withdrew their paroles, but the Commandant, instead of acting on this warning, took it as a mere piece of bravado and permitted the pair to go out with their comrades the following afternoon. About five o’clock the prisoners were brought into the Fort again and counted in one by one at the gate, like Palestinian sheep. The defiant two were missing and the staff grew profane. The sentries were placed under arrest, as the rest of the prisoners claimed that their fellows had escaped by boat from the water-front; though the sentries themselves denied this strenuously and vowed that no boat had been near the shore all afternoon. The garden was searched and the neighborhood scoured but no trace could be found of the missing men. After dark, however, they came forth from their place of sepulture beneath the ripe tomatoes, waded around the wave-washed bastion of the East Martello Tower, and worked their way along the shore of Dead Man’s Bay. For two days they dodged search parties and at last reached the outskirts of Gananoque where they stole a farmer’s rowboat and crossed to the United States.
A Wholesale Effort
ON Sunday, February 4th, 1917, Q.M.S. James Anderson asked to speak to me in private. It transpired that he had been given a tip that some sixty prisoners were planning to escape that night. He had been unable to learn anything more definite. We decided to keep the matter to ourselves and to undertake a tour of exploration. We were soon down in the moat wading through snow-drifts and searching in every port-hole for signs of recent damage, but we could find nothing. There only remained the caponiere, a long, low bastion of stone which ran out into the moat from the centre of the north wall. This defensive work had formerly been connected with the ground floor of the Fort by a doorway just opposite the partition wall between two casements known as 12B and 13B and was thus connected with both by a short, three-foot passage-way. In 1915 the Engineers had bricked wall level with 12B, thus leaving a small cupboard in the corner of 13B. The portholes of the caponiere were below snow-level, but we felt that this was our last hope, so dug away the snow from a port on the east side. To our delight we found that the stone had been chiselled away from the inner faces of the embrasure. In point of girth Sergt. Anderson was close kin to Falstaff, but fortunately I myself was more lathlike, so I stripped off my great coat and squirmed down head first into the gloom of the caponiere. In summer its floor was flooded with water but all was now solid ice. I picked myself up and began my search by the light of a few matches. Stretched out on the ice were the component parts of an extension ladder which could have scaled the walls of the moat, and underneath the bricked-up doorway was a narrow hole stuffed sacking. The way of escape was indeed complete. I had seen enough and was soon brushing myself off in the moat outside.
Deciding to act at once, I re-entered the Fort and started on my daily inspection of quarters. On reaching 13B I sought out the cupboard adjoining the old doorway to the caponiere. The corner was dark and murky, so I had the room captain, a big, sulphurous German named Belitz, light matches while I examined the place. The cupboard was full of old clothes and on the floor were several pairs of boots. These were cleared away under protest, and for a moment I was nonplussed: for the walls were untouched and the floor was of solid cement. But another match revealed a narrow crack along the edge of the floor. I set my finger to it, pulled, and the whole cupboard floor lifted in one piece. The original cement had been torn out, a board cover made, and new cement bound to this by chicken wire. Underneath, of course, lay the route to freedom. I ordered the occupants of the room to move, bag and baggage, to a vacant casement farther down the square, and then went and reported the whole affair to the Commandant.
The illicit exit had been discovered but still lay open and it was not long after nightfall before we were sharply reminded of the fact. Two officers going down to visit the room heard a wild scramble as they drew near the door and on entering saw a pair of legs disappearing through the ceiling and a lone, belated prisoner seeking frantically to follow. He was seized and put in detention; and a sentry was quietly left in the lower room. An hour later the prisoners in the room above tried once more to descend through their trap-door and make a reckless dash for liberty, but a rifle bullet put a full stop to their sortie.
The Strike at Kapuskasing
THE outstanding incident of my term at Kapuskasing was an insurrection that broke out among the prisoners. In mid-August the Commandant announced that two hundred men were required to pile firewood in the brule to the west; and that an extra working ration of four ounces of bread and four ounces of meat per man per day would be issued to all prisoners in the camp employ. To serve the latter, a separate kitchen had just been built, a new and separate staff of cooks appointed, and one of the two dining halls set aside provisionally for workers only.
This announcement was followed by open revolt of the intransigents, who at once organized a strike committee of six, one from each bunkhouse, and issued a pronunciamento threatening violence to all who might fall in with the Commandant’s scheme. One of the ringleaders was an old head cook, a squabby runt of a German, who delivered a public tirade of abuse and accusation against the authorities and was backed up in his insolence by “das Kommittee,” who declared that they would wreck the new kitchen if any attempt were made to use it. On the opening day of the new messing system the Commandant went alone into the Compound to supervise operations. As he stood by the kitchen a large mob gathered around him with stones and billets, but he coolly produced a revolver and outfaced the rioters, who lacked individual daring and gradually slunk away. A large number of well-dispositioned prisoners had volunteered for work on the wood gang and at dinner time most of these lined up before the workers’ dining-hall. But the committee issued brief orders, and four plug-uglies proceeded to assault one of the burliest of the workers. Strong as he was he proved no match for the quartet and was almost dead before their fingers could be torn from his throat. Late that night another prominent worker was stabbed as he lay in his bunk. A reign of terror broke out and next morning the workers' cooks refused to proceed, as they feared for themselves.
That day, August the 28th, saw the climax of the storm. The four assailants of the day before, Barg, Druzovic, Hake and Kuhn, were under arrest, and the committee boldly demanded their release. Rennert, the rebel cook, was especially rampant, but was soon enticed out for discussion with hidden intent to incarcerate him.
All five men were brought up to the Commandant’s office about 11.00 a.m. and given a long interview. Meanwhile we had kept a secret finger on the pulse of the Compound and learned that the committee were determined to rush the front gate in case their martyrs were not restored to them. Three of our officers had gone sick that morning so I, although nominally Paymaster, was put in charge of a small armed party. The Compound gate faced south and directly opposite it, ten paces away, stood the detention hut. About noon the egregious five left the Commandant’s office and an enthusiastic platoon fell in facing the gate. A furious crowd inside the fence cursed and shouted at us, and, as they saw their friends wave farewell from the gaol door surged ominously against the frail gate. However, as we prepared to fire they lost courage and faded abusefully away.
There followed two long months of tension. The Federal Department of Justice was opposed to the use of force and its wishes had to be obeyed. The insurgents had put the fear of death into the Compound and ruled jealously. Winter was drawing near, and of the requisite supply of 10,000 cords of firewood not a stick had been brought in. But peaceful methods were insisted on and the Consul-General of Switzerland to Canada, who represented German interests in this country at the time, was asked to visit the camp and attempt to reach a settlement. The Consul, Mr. Iseli, sensed the situation at once and appealed to the prisoners, as the representative of their Government, to perform this work as necessary for their own good, promising protection to all who should respond. Following this, he went, after lock-up, accompanied only by myself, into each bunkhouse, and, sitting down among the hostile inmates, called for volunteers. His politeness, his persuasive reasonableness, his graceful cajolery in their own language were everywhere greeted with insolence, which, however, he bore with admirable self-restraint; but as he walked away from the last shrill hive he almost wept with exasperation. Every peaceful advance that he had made had been met with deliberate affront, except for a surreptitious explanation from the workingmen that they dared not brave the violence of the committee. The latter demanded from the Consul a direct message from their own home Government ordering them to furnish the woodsupply and with this ultimatum in his portfolio he left the camp in great disgust.
Autumn wore on and the Commandant made arrangements to have troops cut and haul enough wood for their own needs, at the same time informing the committee that the Compound would receive no fuel until his original plans were accepted. The early frosts of the Hudson’s Bay slope grew keener and every day brought us information of the growing discredit of the rebels and of the rise of a party who favored work as at least a necessary evil.
Then, on the 28th of October, the Consul arrived again bringing a communication from the German Foreign Office which instructed the interns to do all necessary work, including the hauling and cutting of wood, inside camp boundaries. The intransigents tried now to interpret the “boundaries” as the barbed wire fence about the Compound, but the Consul declared the camp limits to include all the farm property to the west and ordered them to set about their work. He also announced that the Canadian Department of Justice had conceded an extra twenty-five cents per man per day for all engaged on the wood supply, and with this measure of Government surrender to save their faces, the committee gave in and the strike was at an end.
THE location of Kapuskasing Camp was well calculated to discourage escape; 700 miles of wilderness lay between it and Winnipeg, and Toronto was almost equally remote; there were no roads or settlements in the immediate south where runaways could find food or shelter; insect pests in summer and arctic cold in winter made the forests almost unendurable; the Compound was girded about with a double zone of barbed wire fencing; and outside working parties were guarded jealously. And yet during the last six months of 1917 there were no fewer than ten attempts to escape, three of them successful.
The first absentee was a German named Vennewald who, one July afternoon, slipped sway from a bush escort and disappeared. About noon two days later he walked into camp and gave himself up. His face was swollen almost beyond recognition with fly bites and his nerves were badly shaken for, like Goldilocks, he had become unpopular with a family of bears. The following week, undismayed by the fate of this luckless scout, two other Germans, Sass and Schmidt, bolted into the mosquito-ridden forests, but they too reappeared in a couple of days to report for punishment. And while they languished in the cells of the detention hut, a prisoner named Kenke was arrested for insolence and led in to keep them company. The interior of the gaol was divided off into eight separate cells, each with a heavily barred and bolted door. Round about all the cells ran a narrow corridor, lighted only by two small, barred windows. Now Kenke was a scion of the Anakim, formidable in stature and of amazing strength; and during the midnight hours he bent aside the iron bars of his cell door, let himself into the corridor, wrenched the bars from an outside window and departed, taking Sass with him. The pair were never seen again and it is supposed that they rode out on a through freight before the alarm was given.
Then, one Sunday morning in August, two interns, Radloff and Druzovic, made a bolt from the sick parade, which was lined up outside the hospital and some distance from the Compound. Chase was at once given and the men run down before they reached the bush a mile away. Treiber and Wolting, another couple, were a little more fortunate, and on their escape from a wood escort were missing for over a week. Believing that they would attempt to leave by the railway, the Commandant placed pickets on the bridges over the Groundhog River to the east and the Missinaibi River to the west and the strays walked into the arms of the latter patrol one night about midnight.
Early in September, while the strike was in progress, two German teamsters, Prigge and Pagel, decamped and were never recaptured. As every precaution was taken to picket the railway and search trains, it is generally believed that they had tried to take to the woods and had died of starvation and exposure.
The only attempt to escape on a large scale also came during the strike period, and its frustration helped much to break down resistance in the Compound. Persistent rumors reached us of a tunnel leading from No. 1 Bunkhouse, the most westerly of the buildings in the second-class yard, so on the 30th of September, about 11.00 p.m. four of us officers started out to explore the situation. We first dug a small opening under the west wall of the bunkhouse and found that fresh clay had been packed in tightly under the flooring. Adjourning to the interior of the building, we warned all prisoners that they must stay in their bunks or risk being fired on; and then examined the floor. We found it clear and inviolate except for a small seaman’s chest under one bunk-section, and on moving this we discovered a neat trap-door. Two of us descended at once. Directly beneath was a moist pit, eight feet by four, drained by a sump and ventilated by long lateral air-shafts. From this pit led a subterranean passageway, about four feet in height and three in width, carved out of the clay, floored with wood, and strongly underpinned. This tunnel ran due west for about fifty yards to the substrata beneath a building occupied by some first-class prisoners, who had a private trap-door entrance to it in the corner of a bedroom, and then headed northwest towards the Quartermaster’s Stores which stood outside the fence sixty yards away. In the Stores lay all the spare rifles and ammunition of the camp, and the tunnelling, if successful, would have permitted a surprise attack by a hundred armed Germans.
An exceedingly intrepid venture was made soon after by Franz Skiera and Frank Kleier, the former noted at Fort Henry for his sculpture, the latter notorious for his illicit distilling. The fecal matter of the camp latrines at Kapuskasing was removed daily by a sanitary gang of three prisoners who drove a wagon carrying three large, stinking hogsheads for the purpose. One afternoon, while the wagon was halted in the Compound and the escort was dreaming, Kleier and Skiera climbed into two of the barrels. Their friends of the sanitary gang clapped on the heavy lids, drove the wagon out to the stable-yard, and parked it for the night. Two hours later, when it had grown dark, the long-suffering pair issued from their loathsome hiding-places and vanished. Two months later Skiera was arrested in Estovin, Saskatchewan, by the Mounted Police. Kleier was never recaptured.
I STOOD on the bridge deck of the Pretorian and stared ahead. It was evening and we had just passed the Hook of Holland on our way up the Maas River to Rotterdam. A silence of mingled interest and expectation lay over the crowded decks fore and aft: for some of those who watched saw the soft, strange beauties of an unfamiliar land, and many saw the threshold of home.
Twelve days earlier, on a frosty September morning, 500 German interns had been checked up the gangway from the wharves at Quebec. The Canadian Government had decided to deport without exception all prisoners still held in 1919, and this, the second large shipment, was to be in my charge. The escort comprised a score of troops, two non-commissioned officers, and a medical officer. There were no other passengers, as the steamer had been specially chartered for the party.
The days that followed were very peaceful. Discipline was of course maintained and a daily program insisted upon. The first and second-class prisoners were kept separate; the former occupied second-class cabins and were allowed the use of the upper deck amidships; the latter slept steerage and aired on the deck aft. Two fully armed sentries were kept on duty, one commanding each of these two decks. Prisoners were allowed out from 7.00 a.m. to 8.p.m. except at 10.30 a.m., when all had to gather in their respective rooms while I made a daily inspection of quarters. A daily fatigue of twenty men was impressed for carrying up rations from the hold; and this, along with the cleaning of quarters, was the only work done. There was no discontent or unrest among the prisoners. Most of them were sailors and nearly all had been interned for five long years, so this return to the sea softened all grievances. Few were anxious to return to Germany, but escape from the limbo of the wilderness was too sweet a reality to make them grumble over their destination.
Glorious sunshine and fair winds enhanced the pleasure of the crossing. Day succeeded day of halcyon weather. The decks were crowded from morning till night, and after dark a concert would be held in the steerage dining-room. Both an orchestra and a brass band were on board, and these took turns in making merry with waltzes by Strauss and marches by Waldteufel and Blankenburg. From Land’s End to Dungeness we encountered foul winds and driving rain, but the sky cleared at Folkestone and we passed the pharos and white cliffs of Dover in bright sunlight. The only delay was off Walton-on-the-Naze, where we waited over night in order to negotiate the North Sea minefields by daylight. Thence we crossed to Flushing and up the coast to the Hook of Holland.
And now we were steaming slowly up the Maas on the last sixteen miles of our journey. The sun had already set but a rosy glow still lit up the West and touched the landscape with deepening shadows. On our left the country sank down into soft meadows of velvet green, broken here and there by canals and long rows of poplars. Far to the north the spires of Delft just pricked the skyline. On our right lay broad, treeless acres of lush grass intersected by wide channels of Rhine water. And before us blinked the distant lights of Rotterdam.
The twilight deepened and by the time we had arrived on the outskirts of the city the background was shrouded and indistinct and we could only gaze at the blaze of light to right and left from ships, wharves, and factories, and sniff curiously at the tidings of cheese, hops, smoked herrings, and burnt leather brought us by a generous wind. About 9.30 p.m. two small tugs took charge and by ten o’clock we were safely moored at a dingy wharf and alongside of a long frame shed.
Our only visitor that night was a Herr Paulsen, of the Red Cross, who announced that a Dutch escort would arrive to take over from us at nine o’clock next morning. He explained that the Dutch Government was providing free transportation to Wesel for both the prisoners and their luggage, but that they had refused to accept any responsibility for the safety of the latter. We arranged, therefore, to have six of the prisoners elected by their comrades as a baggage committee which would check all property from the Pretorian into a lighter and thence into their special train. With plans thus made, we waited for the morning.
Rising at daybreak, we found the harbor waters infested with bum-boats, like so many poisonous and disreputable waterbeetles. Breakfast was disposed of, hand-baggage packed, and quarters swept clean. At 8.15 I called the roll in person throughout the ship, finding all present and ready to debark and all rooms left in good order. As souvenirs of Canadian hospitality, I permitted each man to retain the plate, knife, fork, spoon, and cup issued him in camp. Shortly before 9.00 the Dutch escort arrived, about a score of well-built men in blue-gray uniforms and quaint kepis. The prisoners were disembarked at once and in a few minutes passed within the shed on the wharf, where there were benches, tables, writing materials, and facilities for buying anything from postcards to Schiedam gin.
Meanwhile Dutch stevedores were busily transferring the heavy baggage from the hold to a lighter alongside. Many of the prisoners had, like Jacob, become possessed of much substance while sojourning in a far country, and there were over seven hundred heavy pieces of luggage to handle. The prisoners’ committee was present and alert—wisely too, for a couple of bum-boats had moored to the lighter and their crews sat leering on the gunwale next to the baggage, evidently hoping to seduce some unwary suitcase. By 11.00 a.m. all had been checked out correctly, however, the lighter was covered over, and the committee went ashore to join their comrades.
As the captain wished to cross the North Sea by daylight and as the Pretorian was already some days overdue at Avonmouth, we cast off immediately. A score or so of the Germans pushed past a Dutch sentry at the shed door and came out on the slip to see us off. All had large dahlia or aster blossoms in their lapels and bottle-necks winked from every second pocket. Gin and approaching freedom had made them very happy and excited, and they were rapidly becoming tipsy in their preliminary celebration. There was no malice or vituperation in their farewell. Spartacism was their favorite theme. They loudly damned the Kaiser and all his generation, and declared with great gusto that we might expect them back in a few weeks to spread the gospel of “Bolshevismus” in our sleepy colony. But of abuse for Canada or ourselves we heard nothing. And we soon left behind these Teuton radicals with their hectic shoutings, their bulging pockets, and their garish boutonnières. Thus, in Rotterdam, I had my last glimpse of Fort Henry and Kapuskasing.