ANGLER & PRISONERS OF WAR (Chapter 5 of 7)

Japanese POWs arriving at Angler

5 ̶ Japanese Prisoners

On February 24, 1942, the Prime Minister of Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie King, as a war measure, proclaimed the coastal region of British Columbia out of bounds to all Canadians of Japanese descent. In an unprecedented mass evacuation, 22,000 people ̶ men, women, and children ̶ were ordered to move(6).

The evacuation began on March 16 under the auspices of the B.C. Security Commission, and was accomplished by the end of the year. The men were ordered into road construction camps, or to work in approved sectors, or to prison camps. The euphemistic term “internment camp” was occasionally applied, but prisoners were confined to barracks, paid paltry wages, fed scanty meals, and endured the loss of all their homes, goods, property, and choices of livelihood. Families were torn apart.

All Japanese Canadians soon recognized their predicament: “It no longer matters whether a person is a national, a naturalized Canadian,or a Canadian citizen by birth, everyone goes regardless.” (24 Apr 1942)

On July 21, 1942, 638 men got off the train at Angler, Ontario, and the gates of Camp 101 closed behind them. The former inmates, German prisoners-of-war, had already been relocated.

The most complete record of the men’s experience at Camp Angler comes from a book by Robert K. Okazaki(7), one of the official record-keepers. He was 25 years old, single, a mill worker for Port Alice Paper and Pulp Co. on the B.C. coast. He was earning fifty-one cents an hour, a better-than-average wage.

Camp Angler POWs carried the label of “troublemaker”. Their crimes: refusing to report to work camps, resisting the mass evacuation and breakup of families, and speaking up. Robert Okazaki and others created an organization to promote keeping families together, which they called Nisei Mass Evacuation Group. Even behind barbed wire, they kept the faith and kept up their ̶ entirely peaceful ̶ resistance.

Camp Angler held males aged 18 to 45. Japanese POWs fell into two groups. The largest group, the niseis*, born raised in Canada, were unquestionably Canadian. The isseis**, born in Japan, were immigrants to Canada. After three years’ residence, they were eligible to apply for citizenship, becoming naturalized citizens.

The government of Mackenzie King treated the isseis as military POWs, subject to rules of the Geneva Convention for prisoners-of-war.

The niseis, on the other hand, being Canadian by birth, were treated as civilian POWs, with fewer rights. A huge proportion of the niseis ̶ feeling betrayed and abandoned by their adopted country ̶ sought to renounce their citizenship and demanded repatriation to Japan. They were denied, and still treated as POWs.

Divided loyalties led to conflicts between prisoners, let alone to wrenching internal conflicts. By the end of the war, only a handful of Angler prisoners were successfully repatriated.

All internees were deemed to be POWs. Standing Orders : Camp #101, issued April 29,1942, and applying to German prisoners, were carried over to apply to the Japanese internees. Officials seemed to use the terms “prisoner”, and “prisoner-of-war” and “internee” interchangeably.

POWs gathered outside the gate

Uniforms ̶ “The pants had a red stripe down both legs, and on the back of our uniforms was a twelve-inch red circle . . . The circle was actually a target for the guards to shoot at should they try to escape!” (23May 1942)

Labour Outdoors ̶ The conditions were mostly unpleasant, ranging from brutally cold winters to fly-ridden summers. “. . . The temperature dropped below minus sixty degrees, but we still had to take turns working! . . . Some of the men . . . are being hospitalized.” (16 Dec 1942) “Mr. Pipher and the Army are aggressively enticing up to enter outside work programs . . . Everyone refusing to work outside the camp will be ordered to cut wood every day!” (9 Sep 1943) These orders did not stick.

Discipline ̶ “Even though we are civilian P.O.W.s, very strict military rules have to be obeyed in this camp.” (30 Jul 1942) “Seven naturalized Canadian internees and one issei internee were placed in detention by the Army for not signing their Asset Declaration Forms . . . The men were ordered to go to work and return to the detention cells each night.” (19 Feb 1943)

Guards ̶ “Sergeant-Major Kennedy . . . has a very nasty and sarcastic attitude about our presence here, and he continues to add unnecessary outside work in the freezing weather.” (30 Mar 1943) “Some of the camp’s military personnel are despised because they make life very difficult for us.” (7 May 1943) On the other hand, the records make fleeting allusions to reasonable and kind-hearted officers and soldiers. “Most of the guards here are only fluent in French, and they have some difficulty understanding English. This produces a lot of communication problems and misunderstandings between us and the soldiers.” (14 Aug 1943) “The guards are so strict that even uttering a curse word under our breath will land us in detention, so needless to say, the holding cells are very busy . . .   [In one incident] [prisoners] were ordered to clean up the entire detention hut floor on hands and knees, and . . . to wash it once more! . . . The mean guards . . . ordered them to wash the floor a third time!” (29 Oct 1943)

Outside Work ̶ From time to time, POWs obtained permission to work outside; e.g., “About 40 or 50 men were released to work in logging camps at Port Arthur and Neys, Ontario.” (1 Dec 1942)

Cold Weather ̶ “Each winter day here at Camp #101 brings with it temperatures below minus 50 and howling winds . . . ” (25 Jan 1943) “This is our second Christmas in captivity. The severe cold, fierce winds, and barbed wire have all but killed our holiday spirit . . . Our captivity still seems so unbelievable, just like a bad nightmare.” (25 Dec 1943) “Winter’s bitter cold and fierce winds have swept into our camp for a third year . . .” (Dec 1944) “When the temperature is near minus twenty, we often greet each other with ‘My, it’s warm today!” (Feb 1945)

Unpleasant Labour ̶ “About one-hundred of us had to unload coal from the train, unload and deliver food, and clean-up the Officers’/guards’ mess halls, the barracks, kitchen, dining area, and the outer grounds. Lt.-Col. Ellwood offered to pay us ten cents per day per man . . . ” (19 Aug 1942) The Camp Leader asked for twenty-five cents, and a stand-off ensued. The records do not clearly indicate the negotiated wage settlement, but some evidence suggests it was twenty cents. “The most despised job is unloading coal from the train. In teams of five, unloading near the freight doors is fine, but we get covered in black coal dust when we have to go inside the car! . . . [The Camp Leader] asked Commandant Kippen to either excuse us from work or provide warmer clothing on the very cold days, but [was refused]” (16 Dec 1942)

Good Times ̶ “. . . We are happy with our Christmas festivities! We have received . . . cash donations . . . parcels . . . gifts . . . permission to buy three-thousand bottles of beer at fifteen cents each.” (25 Dec 1942)

Gifts ̶ “[The Camp Leader’s] endless negotiations with the military has secured the release of our money confiscated at the Immigration Building [scene of Nisei Mass Evacuation Group demonstration in Vancouver]. We hid the cash from the Army and wasted no time banking it for the internees in dire straits.” (25 Dec 1942)  From time to time, POWs found themselves beneficiaries of gifts and cash donations, which the Camp Leader was charged to distribute. Some donors were evacuees still in B.C. camps, Japanese Red Cross, Roman Catholic Church, Fairview Buddhist Church Women’s Organization, Y.C.M.A., Canadian Red Cross, individual ministers, Canada Packers employees (likely POWs from Angler), and the Spanish Consulate (the protecting power of Japanese internees),

Lack of Food ̶ “Our food shipments are being short-changed.” (19 Feb 1943) “. . . The train carrying our food supply is stuck once again [by heavy snowfalls]. We are stretching one day’s rations over two, sometimes three days . . . I don’t like having this constant hunger pain . . . ” (5 Nov 1943) “With food rationing becoming a daily occurrence, we are finding it difficult to maintain our training. Most meals now only consist of potatoes and two slices of bread.” (1 Jan 1944) “. . . Just once, I’d like to eat and eat to my heart’s, and stomach’s content.” (20 Apr 1944)

Medical Care ̶ “Too many internees are suffering from frost-bite. There is also an unusually high number of cases involving appendicitis, gastro-intestinal disorders, and the flu . . . Some hospital improvements have been made, but we are lacking basic equipment such as hot water bottles.” (27 Jan 1943) “This evening, one German P.O.W. was placed into our detention cell. I heard several rumours about his escape from another camp, and that he was here to get some dental work done (but we don’t have a dentist)!” (10 Mar 1944)

Amenities ̶ “. . . It was decided the internees will be supplied with the necessities of life, soap, razors, toothbrushes, and towels. Worn items will be exchanged for new ones . . . ” (13 Oct 1942) “. . . We have started to watch movies twice a week . . . We must pay $4.00 from our canteen fund for the second movie.” (22 Feb 1943)

Mail ̶ “Every month, each of us is issued four post cards . . . We are also permitted to write a total of twenty-four lines over three letter-size pages . . . ” (21 Jun 1942) ‘”Until today, one letter and one postcard was allocated to every man each week, but . . . we will only be receiving three-hundred letter papers and postcards for four-hundred and thirty-one internees!” (13 Mar 1944)

News Censorship ̶ “The newspapers issued to us have all the war stories cut out . . . ” (22 Aug 1943) Radios were forbidden.

Appreciation of Nature ̶ “[On the train’s approach to Angler] I saw rolling hills and a white blur of daisies besides the tracks. To my left was the endless horizon of magnificent Lake Superior.” (21 Jul 1942) “Our first autumn frost today! . . . The scenery reminds me of my youth when I spent hours wandering through Japan’s beautiful countryside gazing at all the autumn colours.” (24 Aug 1942) “Huge Timber wolves, alone, or often in packs, are roaming outside the camp in search of food! . . . At night, as I listen to their plaintive howling, I think of their freedom!” (17 Oct 1943) “After a long, cold eight months, the winter is finally giving way, and we welcome the warmth of the spring sun.” (20 Apr 1944) “I am surprised to see the sun’s bright rays come beaming through the frozen windows. We seldom see the sun during this time . . . ” (1 Jan 1945) “. . . Almost every night in the northern sky, the Aurora Borealis blazes across the sky . . . It is so beautiful, I’m glad IT can’t be held captive by the government!” (Feb 1945)

Physical Health ̶ “Commander Ellwood eventually banned our [military drill] exercises, so we took up running, and despite our heavy army boots, we circled the compound fifty times, a good twenty-five kilometres each day! . . . We also encouraged everyone to play baseball and other outdoor sports. We skated in winter, and with a few talented judo and kendo internees, we’ve really delved into these two sports!” (16, 17 Jun 1943)

Work Indoors ̶ All internal work was performed by POWs. “A small memento was presented to each of the men who staffed the following departments: Barber Shop, Canteen, Education, Fire Suppression, Hospital, Kitchen, Library, Office, Physical Fitness, Quartermaster, Mail, Recreation, Shoe Repair and Tailoring.” (30 Dec 1943)

Wood-Cutting Stand-off ̶ “. . . Beginning on January 17, men from each hut must cut wood for camp fuel every day. All day-work is compulsory.” Everyone refused. The isseis, being true POWs, were exempted by the Geneva Convention. The niseis cited lack of wood-cutting experience, the dangerous conditions, and the brutal cold. They protested being still denied reunion with their families. The Commandant ordered “no movies, no beer, no judo or kendo, and no music practices”. (15 Jan 1944) The decision to ration coal (essential to heat the huts) was negated after water pipes burst, and the Camp Leader lodged a strong protest. When the Commandant gave in is not recorded.

Personal Development ̶ “Many of our younger men are busy studying school texts . . . [They] should be in a proper educational program.” (20 Apr 1943) “I [Okazaki] am interestedin the German language and literature, so I have been very intently studying for the upcoming exam . . . Although the Recreation Hall is a bit small, we use it as a Dojo and practice four days each week . . . [tackling] very necessary Kendo elements . . . Judo students are excelling at their sport.” Others are painting and writing Japanese poetry, and engaged in band practices. (27 Mar 1944) “Today, a notice . . . arrived . . . Two men passed university exams, and sixteen passed high-school exams.” (31 Dec 1944)

 

Kendo group at Angler posing with their homemade white birch shinai

Camp Newspaper ̶ “. . . The first edition was published today! In English bold-type: ‘The Angler Chronicle’ . . . It was six pages of 8 1/2 x 14-inch paper, full of camp news, world events, and sports . . . The paper will be published bi-monthly.” (23 Jul 1944)

Camp Morale ̶ “The strict regulation of our camp life has eased, and the guards are much more friendlier with us now . . . ” Anecdote of a blueberry-picking expedition. (31 Aug 1944) “Now that the war has ended, the Commandant’s attitude has abruptly changed for the better! The guards are friendlier, more kind, and helpful.” (Sep 1945)

Deaths in Camp ̶ “Mr. Masanao Shirakowa, a 46-year old issei . . . who had been hospitalized in camp, passed away this morning.” (2 Oct 1944) “Mr. Kisao Kanesashi, a 51 year old issei . . . passed away in the camp hospital today.” (24 Jan 1946) Camp records refer to five deaths: one man passed away in Winnipeg Hospital en route to Angler via Camp Petawawa (23 May 1942), one in Espanola Sanitorium (8 Mar 1943), one in Winnipeg Hospital (13 Feb 1945).

War News ̶ “Today, our guards told us that Germany had surrendered to the Allied forces in Europe . . .We are now permitted to read uncensored newspapers.” (2 May 1945) “The U.S. Air Force has dropped an ‘Atomic Bomb’ on Hiroshima and the city has been completely annihilated.” (6 Aug 1945) “. . . Japan has officially surrendered as well.” (Sep 1945)

Future Prospects ̶   “The days go by slowly, and our confinement time marches on, but I hope an end to this madness comes soon.” (1 Jan 1944) “I have a picture that I pinned to the wall, near my pillow. It was taken six years ago and in it, my father’s face is still young, my brother looks every bit the typical school kid, and I stand beside Mas [my brother], my eyes shining with a young man’s dreams of the future! How different we must look today?!” (1 Jan 1945) “[In a letter] my mother . . . suggests we dedicate ourselves to helping both Canada and Japan. She wants us to think very carefully about our future . . . ” (Dec 1945)

Uncertain Futures ̶ “Five months have passed since the war ended . . . Rumours are circulating, but we don’t know for sure where we’re going, or when . . . We have no homes to return to, and no country to call home.” (1 Jan 1946) “My final records show that over 170 men signed to repatriate, about 100 men are going to remain in Canada, and approximately 130 refused to sign either form [to repatriate or to stay].” (Feb 1946) “I am especially sympathetic to the younger internees who have lost four vital years of their formal education . . . It seems such a waste . . . I wonder if our cause helped our community at all? I mean, for all the suffering we’ve endured . . . (Feb 1946)

At Long Last ̶ “Mas and I (P.O.W.s A543 and A544) are . . . scheduled to leave on April 29 . . .” (April 1946) “Mas and I have been ordered to move to London, Ontario, and work at the Federal Steel Foundry.” (27 Apr 1946) “About 150 men . . . didn’t declare when they wanted to live . . . Rumours are they’re heading for Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The repatriates still don’t know when there’s departing . . . (28 Apr 1946) “Finally, the day of our release has arrived! . . . We are leaving with too many bad memories, too many tragedies, and too few good recollections.” (29 Apr 1946)

29 April 1946 — “I cannot put into words the emotions of the moment, for how can one even try to say good-bye to four years of loyal friendships and brotherhood. Four years of sharing the pain of isolation, and four years of being hungry all the time! . . . The government issued . . . my brother and I . . . eleven dollars each! [“consolation money”] Among the guards at Angler, Staff-Sergeant Ward has consistently been one of the more friendlier and understanding veterans ever since we arrived . . .

“Now outside the gate, we walked onto the curling rink and discarded our very worn and faded P.O.W. uniforms. The dark blue shirt with the red target circle on the back, the pants with the red stripe down the leg, and the cap . . . Ever since we arrived at Petawawa, our civilian clothing had remained in our suitcase and bags . . . in a sandy corner of the rink . . . Our clothes . . . were damp, creased, and smelled of mildew and mould!

“I stopped for a moment and glanced back at the barbed wires and barracks . . . The once menacing machine-gun watch tower looked old and forlorn . . . Angler P.O.W. Camp #101 is now history . . .

“The future is very uncertain and my inner voice is telling me I must be strong to face the unknown . . . But for now, as I breathe the cool air over Lake Superior this morning, it seems more refreshing, and almost calming. So this must be the sweet taste of freedom . . . AT LONG LAST!!!”

Never during the war, or after it, did Prime Minister Mackenzie King express any regrets over the treatment of Japanese Canadians.

Not until 1948 were the last controls on their population lifted, and they were allowed to vote again.

In 1988, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, on behalf of the Canadian government, apologized for the wrongs committed against Japanese Canadians during the war. The apology came with symbolic redress payments ̶   too little, too late ̶ but better than the eleven dollars paid to Robert K. Okazaki in 1946 for five years of wrongful servitude. Okazaki published his memoir in 1996.

Postscript ̶ “Although Canada has in the past, treated me, my family, and my community with harsh, uncaring disrespect, I still treasure the friendships of numerous good people I have encountered and the many happy times I have experienced here. I feel good about myself, and I hope that my small contributions to society have helped make this country a better place to live in. This story is one of my contributions.” (1996)

* nisei – pronounced as NEE – say

** issei – pronounced as EE – say

Footnotes

6 Japanese Internment: Banished and Beyond Tears. Online article. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca

7 Okazaki, Robert A. The Nisei Mass Evacuation Group and P.O.W. Camp ‘101’. Private printing: Robert K. Okazaki, 1996.

Burial of Masanao Shirokowa in Angler cemetery

 

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ANGLER & PRISONERS OF WAR (Chapter 4 of 7)

Map of the area where the search was concentrated.

4 ̶   The Greatest Escape

In the evening of Friday, April 18, 1941, more than 100 German prisoners prepared to break out of Camp Angler. For three months, they had been digging a tunnel in the sandy soil that led from Hut 5B, under the southern barbed wire barricades, to freedom.

They could wait no longer. Buckets of meltwater were accumulating in the 150-foot tunnel, six feet underground. All that day, people who knew where to look had noticed the long, telltale depression in the ground as the warm spell and spring rains thawed the icy crust. The plan for the mass breakout was scheduled for Sunday, April 20, Hitler’s birthday, but they could wait no longer.

Soon after their arrival in camp on January 10, a small committee implemented plans for an escape tunnel. First, short tunnels were excavated to link Huts 3 to 5. The original builders had constructed the huts perched on short posts, in turn enclosed by wooden panels and insulated with snow banked up against them. The escape tunnel, measuring about 3-by-3 feet, was shored up with planks cut from floor joists and lined with more planks to guard against cave-ins. Working in parties and shifts, prisoners excavated sand and spread it under the huts or flushed it down toilets.

Other parties manufactured civilian clothes and homemade rucksacks and prepared survival kits to include concentrated rations, makeshift compasses, table knives, and maps. In his memoir, Paul Mengelberg described surreptitiously borrowing a CPR timetable and map from the civilian interpreter, arranging for copies to be drawn, and returning it.

Friday morning the rain stopped, the temperature dropped, and still the water accumulated. The escape committee in Hut 5B advanced their schedule, determined the order of departure. The excitement was palpable but escaped the notice of the Veterans Guard. The final roll call at 8:00 p.m. took place indoors, as usual. Lights out inside, searchlights on outside. It was raining again.

In his book(4), John Melady provides a detailed narrative of events. Cramped inside the tunnel, in total darkness near the face, dozens waited for the last few feet to be excavated. Boots lashed around shoulders, civilian clothes floating in fire buckets and large frying pans, one by one they exited in a shallow gully screened by some trees, not than anyone could see anything anyway.

Along about 11:00 p.m., a guard going off-duty on the southern perimeter, heard an unusual sound, which he reported(5). It wasn’t until about 1:00 a.m. that someone stumbled over an assortment of buckets and pans and discovered the tunnel exit. The exit was promptly sealed. By telegraph, the Commanding Officer, Major Charles Lindsey, enlisted in the search all available police and military from Sudbury to the Lakehead (aka Port Arthur and Fort William). All had to catch scheduled trains and travel hundreds of miles to Angler.

A raw wind had sprung up overnight, accompanied by sleet. Escapees now had two choices. Hitch a ride on a scheduled train, or bushwhack. All but two bushwhacked. They would successfully ride the rods for days, heading west.

By 4:00 a.m., a roll call, after multiple delaying tactics by prisoners, had revealed 28 missing prisoners. All but a handful fled eastward, on foot, not wandering far from the CPR right-of-way. The C.O., Major Lindsey, had already ordered searches of all east- and westbound trains.

Some escapees had successfully changed into dry clothes only to find them wet again. Melady’s narrative says, “. . . Slogging through knee-deep snow would have been difficult enough in itself; but the searchers [Veterans Guard] also had to climb over fallen trees, through dense underbrush, over ice-coated rocks and up and down the treacherous slopes and ravines that traverse that forbidding land.” The water-soaked snowdrifts retained traces of the fugitives. Shortly after 8:00 a.m., in daylight, they caught up with the first three prisoners, who readily gave up.

By mid-morning, searchers received reinforcements: Ontario Provincial Police, RCMP officers, 52 officers and men of the Lakehead’s Algonquin Regiment, and more Veterans Guard.

Two soldiers surprised four POWs warming themselves in an old cabin. When one made preparations to run, one soldier shot his nose off.   All surrendered.   Later, at the inquiry convened on April 28, no one could explain how the supposedly fleeing man was shot in the face. Soon two more stragglers were caught. By nightfall, eleven POWs had been returned to camp. The sleet had turned to snow and shrieking winds.

Since Saturday, radio and newspaper coverage had been massive. Hitler’s birthday, Sunday, April 20, passed without celebration, but there was some grieving when two escapees were shot and killed (more about that later). By Sunday nightfall, six more prisoners had been captured.

Two Toronto reporters arrived at Angler on Sunday and found themselves arrested. Their newspapers had carried stories questioning the security of the camp that led to the escape. Star reporter Douglas MacFarlane was detained at Camp Angler. Scott Young of the Telegram had his notes confiscated and a draft of his story burned in the camp stove. They left on the next train to Toronto.

On Monday morning, nine POWs were still at large. Three more escapees were picked up. Stories in the Toronto Star relate the incidents. Heading east from Angler, they found the route blocked by Veterans Guard patrols on the railway trestle over the Pic River, and by the formidable barrier of the Pic during breakup, with “ice and tree trunks, [tossed] against sharp rock cliffs”. The three airmen walked up to the door of Hotel Heron Bay and said, “We give up, we are beaten, we can’t make it.” A Veterans Guard corporal confiscated crude maps, shaving knives, rucksacks, and even a pipe one fugitive was smoking. The prisoners were shipped back to Angler on a westbound freight train.

On Tuesday, more tracking dogs and Indian guides participated in the search. An amphibian plane arrived and covered 200 square miles of bush without result. A cortege of camp prisoners and soldiers attended a ceremony to bury the two German dead in a newly created cemetery.

Two hours before dark on Thursday, four prisoners, Luftwaffe veterans, snuck out of the bush and hid themselves in a boxcar on the Heron Bay siding. Five hours later they were discovered and arrested by RCMP officers. They had travelled about 12 miles from Angler. In a detailed interview with Desbarats in 1964, one fugitive described a tale of woe, of taking shelter in cabins, wading through streams and wet snow drifts, huddling beneath fallen trees, and building a makeshift shelter which subsequently burned down,

That left two prisoners still at large. On Friday, April 25, when everyone despaired of ever finding them, Karl-Heinz Grund and Horst Liebeck, accosted by the RCMP, surrendered ̶ just outside of Medicine Hat, Alberta. No one imagined the two remaining POWs at large had covered 1,200 miles by riding freight trains hobo-fashion. In the city, the two U-boat crewmen received a warm welcome: “We felt more like Hollywood celebrities than recaptured prisoners”, he recalled later. Back home in Angler, the C.O. shook their hands and remarked, “Congratulations! Good sport!”, and gave them 28 days’ detention in solitary on short rations.

The darkest aspects of “the greatest escape”, the largest mass escape of German POWs on Canadian soil, remained the shooting incidents. One occurred on Saturday morning, April 19, when Oskar Broderix had his nose shot off by, in his opinion, an overeager guard. In his 1964 story, Desbarats wrote, “Plastic surgery has removed any noticeable sign of the injury”.

However, what happened on Sunday morning led to an official inquiry. The previous evening, after dark, six soldiers of the Algonquin Regiment, armed with .303 Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles, set up surveillance of a cabin which contained escapees’ unclaimed food caches. The temperature dropped, the snow fell unceasingly. At 4:30 p.m., the squad leader, Sergeant Davies, sought out another position accompanied by Private Saunders. After some detours they wound up at the right-of-way cut out for the TransCanada highway. As dawn approached, they came across a rock cut and a lean-to used to shelter horses. Davies played his flashlight on the structure and discovered several men sleeping.

According to author Melady, “We shall never really know what happened next.” In a matter of seconds, several rounds were fired. Two men were shot dead, two others wounded. Before very long, the four men who had been guarding the food cache joined Davies and Saunders. Sergeant Davis and another man left for Camp Angler to report the incident before ascertaining the exact number of casualties. Private Saunders and the three others found one POW unscathed, two wounded, and two others dead.

It was some hours later that Sergeant Davies returned with a 16-member carrying party, complete with dogsleds. Meanwhile, no one had received medical treatment. The bodies of Herbert Loffelmeier and Alfred Miethling were lashed to the sleds. The camp doctor, with two assistants, performed surgery on the two survivors. Kurt Rochel had wounds in the arm, foot, chest, and groin. Hans Hauck sustained a leg wound.

In his interviews of escapees, conducted in Germany in 1964, Desbarats reported Rochel still harboured bitter thoughts. He claimed he had not been given a chance to surrender. The only weapon he carried was a homemade knife, and he considered the deaths of Loffelmeier and Miething to be tragic and unnecessary. Their plan, said Rochel, a Luftwaffe pilot, had been to make their way west to the Lakehead and cut south to the States.

Rochel was transferred to Kingston, Ontario, and underwent two more operations. As a result, he would never be able to father children.

The court of inquiry exonerated both Sergeant Davies and Private Saunders of all blame.

Footnotes

4 Melady, John. Escape From Canada! : The Untold Story of Germain POWs in Canada, 1939-1945. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1981.

5 Desbarats, Peter. “They Tunneled to Freedom in Wartime Canada”. Hamilton Spectator : Weekend Mazazine. Parts 1, 2, & 3. 25 January, 1 February, & 8 February 1964.

Part of a sketch of Camp Angler drawn from memory by P. Mengelberg, former prisoner-of-war.

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ANGLER & PRISONERS OF WAR (Chapter 3 of 7)

A Veterans Guard soldier poses at the Camp 101 gate, looking NE. To the left is a partial view of a watch tower.

3 ̶ German Prisoners

When Paul Mengelberg arrived at Camp 101, at Angler, Ontario, on January 27, 1941, he never imagined that he would be treated as a prisoner-of-war for six more years.

Camp Angler was one of 12 German POW camps in Ontario, and one of 26 in Canada which housed at total of 35,000 prisoners captured in the European theatre of war and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. Their caretakers, 10,000 Veterans Guard soldiers (primarily WWI veterans), guarded them.

In his memoir, Paul puts the number of prisoners at Angler on the occasion of “The Great Escape” (described in the next chapter) at about 559.

What did the recently created community of Angler look like to Paul? On April 20, 1941, a Toronto Star reporter wrote “Aside from the station hut, a shed and a few Indian huts, the camp stands alone. This is the most desolate place I’ve ever visited in all my life.” Another report in The Evening Telegram, dated April 19, states “The transcontinental highway [Hwy. 17] ends in Schreiber, several miles west of the temporary station [Angler] where the POW camp is located. To the south stretches the enormous area of Lake Superior; north, east and west, the almost impenetrable wilderness of Northwestern Ontario bush.”

Paul’s memoir has a detailed    diagram of Camp 101 drawn from memory. The best description I am aware of comes from a Japanese Canadian prisoner whose fellows took over Camp 101 after the German POWs were transferred2: On July 21, 1942, travelling west, “To my left was the endless horizon of magnificent Lake Superior. The scenery stayed like this for about half-an-hour, then we came to a massive compound with numerous white barracks surrounded by a high barbed wire fence and several watch towers . . .

“The camp is built on a sandy flat, surrounded . . . by low rocky hills . . . The barbed wire fence is three layers thick and very high. There’s a huge recreational area . . . Each of the barracks is H-shaped; two huts joined in the middle by a washroom, showers, and laundry . . . Four are used as living quarters, numbered ‘2A-2B’ to ‘5A-5B’. They are huge, unpartitioned, and with enough bunk beds to sleep eighty of us per hut. ‘1A-1B’ is a kitchen, dining rooms, library, barber shop, shoe and clothing repair shop, a small news room and a few classrooms. The hospital, recreation hall and detention facility are all housed in separate buildings. Another building contains the canteen, Quartermaster’s depot, and Camp Leader’s office. All the buildings are built from wood frames, covered with tentest and tar paper.”

A detailed sketch shows two buildings at the gate outside the perimeter fence: Guards’ Quarters and Commandant’s Office.

Paul’s memoir locates his bunk in Hut 5A. Before arriving at Angler, it being mid-winter, prisoners were outfitted with heavy undergarments, woolen trousers, mackinaw jacket, and cap. Both jackets and shirts had large round red patches (about 15 inches diameter) sewn on the backs, and the trousers featured a red three-inch-wide stripe down the right leg. Three potbelly stoves heated each hut.

Paul describes winters with snow up to a metre high, with temperatures sinking to minus 45 degrees C, and summers plagued by mosquitoes, black flies, and no-see-ums. It was a country of endless forests and no roads, “not even a path that went anywhere”. The only connection to the outside world was the Canadian Pacific Railway line, where the dispatcher lived in a hut with a telegraph key, and a phone link to the isolated village of Peninsula (now named Marathon).

Paul’s account gives the impression that the days of prisoners were spent in sleeping, eating, and leisure activities. Certain it was that lower-ranked officers were assigned some light camp duties. Paul mentions volunteering once (not being compelled by reason of his rank of senior rating) to scrub floors. He did volunteer to be postmaster, working under the Camp Leader, another prisoner.

A regular day began with reveille at 7:00 a.m., followed closely by roll call indoors. Breakfast was 7:30 in the dining hall. For those interested, the YMCA provided gymnastic equipment and musical instruments and books. An orchestra and a band started up.   Those academically inclined could upgrade their education to Grade 13.

In describing his experience at Angler, Paul does not comment on the quality of meals, but he never mentions ever being hungry. In the part of his memoir describing his experience at a logging camp near Longlac, he comments on breakfast: “At breakfast there were scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, or fried eggs, toast, and lots of butter, fried sausages, all kinds of cookies and lots of good strong coffee.” It was indeed a lumberjack’s breakfast.

In comparison, here is a description of breakfast at Neys POW Camp 100 a few miles further west3: “Next came breakfast consisting mainly of porridge (and sometimes an egg), bread, butter, jam, and mostly coffee to drink”.

The recreational field was used for football [soccer] in summer and for ice skating in winter.   Prisoners played hockey against the guards, who always won. Paul indulged his favourite sports, namely, high bar, parallel bars, and pommel horse. “I also did some figure skating,” he wrote.

Twice a week in the Rec Hall they watched movies (with Lana Turner, Betty Hutton, Gloria de Havilland, Veronica Lake). Paul listened to records (Xavier Cugat, Tommy Dorsey, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, Pedro Vargas). They patronized the canteen, utilizing coupons purchased by monthly allowances of $11.00 Canadian for non-commissioned officers and $6.00 for ratings (like Paul, a Marine captured when his U-26 sank).   The United States was still not at war, but frozen German assets in America and Canada provided the allowances.

Paul collected outgoing mail to hand to the Canadian interpreter. Prisoners were permitted to send one letter and two postcards a month. Soon the Camp Leader instituted censorship by three NCOs. According to Paul, “The main reason was to stop letters that told the folks at home about our good life in the camp.”   Unsatisfactory letters were returned to the sender. Paul personally delivered incoming mail. “All parcels had to be opened and checked.” Tin goods had to be opened and transferred by the recipient to his own container.

Paul maintained cordial relations with Veterans Guard soldiers, but relations between diehard Nazis and the guards were often strained. “There were only forty from the navy and perhaps a handful from the army in our camp. The rest were boys from Hermann Göring’s Flying Circus and they did their best to aggravate the Canadians.” Göring was Commander of the Luftwaffe, the German air force.

Then came December 7, 1941 ̶   the attack on Pearl Harbour, Hawaii ̶ and the declaration of war by the U.S.A. against Japan. Then followed the persecution of British Columbia’s Japanese Canadians as war fever and paranoia swelled.

In early July 1942, the German POWs at Angler Camp transferred to Ozada Camp 133 in the Bow Valley of Alberta. Until winter was well advanced, they lived in tents while a permanent camp was being constructed. Close to the end of December 1942, they moved into Camp Lethbridge, also numbered 133. Paul assumed duties of both section postmaster and quartermaster storekeeper.

Paul was not happy at Camp 133, and when the opportunity came to volunteer for work outside the camp, he leapt at the chance. February 5, 1944, a train carrying Paul and other volunteer prisoners pulled into Longlac, Ontario, and then began his adventures in remote logging camps (far more remote than Camp 101 was). On that day he turned age 28.

But that’s another story.

Footnotes

2 Okazaki, Robert A. The Nisei Mass Evacuation Group and P.O.W. Camp ‘101’. Private printing: Robert K. Okazaki, 1996.

3 Bjorkman, Sylvia. “Report on Camp ‘W’: Internment Camp ‘100’ North of Lake Superior in World War 11”. Ontario History. Vol LXXXIX, No 3, September 1997.

A sketch of Camp Angler drawn from memory by P. Mengelberg,
former prisoner-of-war.

 

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ANGLER & PRISONERS OF WAR (Chapter 2 of 7))

Google Earth view looking N.

2 ̶ Tracking the Barbed Wire     

When Paul Mengelberg arrived at Angler as a German prisoner-of-war, it was deep winter. In his memoir1, he dates his arrival to January 27, 1941. He recalled a long walk from the CPR siding when he detrained.

“When I arrived at camp,” he wrote, “I found there were four groups of huts for housing POWs. Each group consisted of two large huts that were connected by a washroom, toilet and a small boiler room in the shape of an ‘H’. In the four groups housing POWs, each of the two large huts housed 72 men for a total of 144 men per group.”

On August 11, Dick Fry and I started tracking

Dick Fry points out one of John’s flags on the barbed wire.

the bits of barbed wire which John Lavoie had thoughtfully flagged with red tape. The line ran approximately SSW to NNE through stout jack pine trunks, widely spaced.

After a hundred metres, the flags ran out. A narrow opening in the trees suggested the line of travel up to a small grassy clearing. To the east was swampy terrain. We were tempted to poke around (I found the semblance of a trail leading west), but gave up the thought, knowing how easily it is to lose one’s orientation in heavily wooded terrain.

Back at our starting point, the three of us walked west, and rounded a bend in the ATV trail until we were walking generally north again. The ATV trail bent sharply west and descended into swampy terrain. For a while I followed traces of trail northward until it veered northwest. This was definitely alien territory, with no evidences of barbed wire. As it turned out, I was just not paying proper attention.

Excited voices alerted us that the second party had caught up. Thirteen of us gathered around a point just north of the ATV trail, in line with the walking trail from the CPR. After hurried introductions, one group followed a corridor eastward (also flagged, as it turned out), and the other followed the ATV trail east to the point where I and Dick and Fran had started tracking the flags. Soon the two groups commingled.

The combined group followed the original fence line to the NNE. Soon chaos reigned. Interesting ground features and bits of artifacts emerged as each person followed up his own discoveries. Everyone kept in touch by shouting or by following up voices. It was a marvel that we did not lose contact.

You will recall that Paul Mengelberg revisited the site of Angler on September 6, 1954. He was accompanied by a friend, Allan Bieck, who had emigrated to Canada from Germany in the same year, 1951. At that time, Paul was working for Longlac Pulp and Paper in Longlac.

H-Hut at Angler, looking generally east. The terrain appears to have been logged before construction of Camp 101.

Sharon Bieck (daughter of Allan Bieck) and Roland Guschewski recently wrote up this recollection: “From Longlac, they took Highway 11 to Nipigon and then 17 towards Marathon until Paul asked Dad [Allan Bieck] to stop when he knew they were close to the Angler site. They walked through the bush until he told Dad that we had arrived. As the Angler camp was used until 1946, it was surprising that only eight years later, there was very little evidence of it.

Sharon Bieck

“Trees that had sprung up were not very high, but the undergrowth was hiding remnants like concrete corner posts of buildings and concrete pads, possibly the same location as our photo from Friday, August 11th, where a diesel engine driving a generator and a ‘sand point’ pump was likely located. There were no remnants of buildings anywhere. Dad says he does not recall seeing any barbed wire. Paul described the layout of the camp for Dad, pointing out locations, saying ‘This is where my hut stood’, ‘This is where the camp kitchen and mess hall were’, ‘Here the camp commandant’s office was located’, etc., as they walked around.”

By a marvelous coincidence (for this story),

Roland Guschewski

Roland Guschewski also had an historical connection to Angler: “Roland’s uncle, Max Guschewski, was shot down during the Battle of Britain in his ME110 (Messerschmitt 110 fighter bomber).   He was transported to Angler via ship and train.”

Even though Max and Paul were both in Camp 101 together, they did not know each other, Max being Luftwaffe and Paul being a Mariner. In the camp, air force personnel and submariners rarely associated together.

Sharon Bieck and Roland Guschewski met online in 2009 and married in 2014. Sharing their respective family histories, they learned that Sharon (daughter of Allan Bieck) and Roland (nephew of Max Guschewski) both had connections to Angler. Unknown to each other, both Max and Paul had been prisoners at Angler at the same time. And when in July 1942 the prisoners at Angler were transferred to Camp 133 at Lethbridge, Alberta, they still never met.

As a matter of interest, Max turned 98 on August 27 this year, in Hanover, Germany.

Back to our narrative of events on Friday, August 11 ̶ a thick carpet of moss overlay the ground between the widely spaced jack pine. In the eighteen years since I had visited the site, the carpet had almost successfully obliterated the site. I wandered in the vicinity of Hut 5, the most southerly hut, finding occasional scraps of tin and a broken ceramic tile. Hut 5 was the dormitory where Paul had lived, and also the one from which the escape tunnel had run south under the double-wire fence line (more about this event later).

My notes from May 15, 1999, run a page-and-a-half, single spaced, but now seem inadequate. Paul was leading a party comprised of G.R. Bruce Reith (Thunder Bay Military Museum), couple Frank and Sheila Reiser of Manitouwadge, couple Elaine and Paul Hache also of Manitouwadge, John Lavoie, Marshall Tannahill, and myself.

Note: “On east side [actually “south side”], if one knows where to look, one sees trench on east [south] side of road [ATV trail] (perhaps 6 to 8 m long) where escapees’ tunnel exited into ravine ̶ cannot trace it west [north] to Hut 5.”

Note: “We followed line of tunnel to Hut 5 (each hut in clearing with some brush and evidences of building, such as roofing paper, bricks, tin, trenches, metal & ceramic pipe remnants) and continued west [north] to 3 other huts; final building was kitchen/dining

Grant Goodwin lingers over a broken ceramic pipe. He carried the brick all the way home to Manitouwadge.

hall ̶ kitchen had concrete floor ̶ one hut has pit, perhaps 3 feet deep, into which ceramic pipe empties, so probably sewage disposal ̶ one conifer about 3 m high has grown through a metal ring ̶ to west [north] of kitchen, Paul could not identify square pit cribbed with planks, perhaps 1 square metre, and 2 m deep, with 30 inches of water.”

On the August 11 excursion, admittedly, my search area was very small, but I discovered practically nothing of interest except the mysterious trenches, only metres long, traversing the site. Certainly I did not locate the escape tunnel. Only a grid search will reveal historical values.

Rejoining the main party, I asked about the nearby road. “What road?” was the response. I pointed out the broad clearing leading westward. Later, online, a Google Earth view showed the Hut #5 site straddling the eastern portion of the clearing. Unlike the Google Earth view, the boundaries of Hut #5 were invisible to us.

Everyone elected to follow the “road” to the western boundary of the Camp 101 site.

Footnote 1 – Mengelberg, Paul. From Iron Coffin to Freedom North. Private printing, ca 2015.

Google Earth view looking N.

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ANGLER & PRISONERS OF WAR 7 Chapters)

Paul Mengelberg on September 6, 1954, after returning to Germany.

1  —   Tracking Down History

Eighteen years ago, I joined a small group searching for the notorious prison, Camp X, under the guidance of a former German prisoner-of-war who had been incarcerated there.

Today the place is almost unrecognizable. In fact, if my brother, John, had not invested five days prowling the bush, we might have never seen it again.

On Friday, August 11, two parties converged on the site of Camp 101, aka Camp X, in the bush just west of Marathon. It was a warmish day, and the earlier showers seemed to have given up. At 9:45 a.m., I and John parked at the end of Carden Road overlooking Peninsula Harbour. Minutes later, Dick and Fran Fry, Marathon residents, joined us. Our party was complete.

I started the excitement. Pulling out my daypack, I dropped a bear banger with a loaded cartridge and it exploded. Yes, I had activated the trigger lock, but the banger still discharged. I resolved to never carry a banger in my pocket again. The only damage was to the nerves of a couple of Town employees servicing the newly installed outdoor privy.

The four of us climbed a short trail leading to the bed of the Canadian Pacific Railway and then marched west, alternating between the railbed and the ATV trail that followed the tracks on the south side. The sun and the exercise soon warmed us up.

John Lavoie

About a kilometre up the tracks, John announced we had arrived. We waited a while for the party travelling by all-terrain vehicles (aka quads) to join us. No response from my cell phone. After John had flagged the trail entrance, we crossed a clearing on the north side of the tracks. A cell call informed us the missing party was close to the tracks, around the curve further north. We continued on foot, plunging into a narrow trail being reclaimed by the bush.

On September 6, 1954, Paul Mengelberg went searching for the site of the Angler German prisoner-of-war camp where he had been an inmate from January 1941 to June 1942. He and his buddy pulled over on Highway 17 and struck out through the bush. Note that the highway, with its gravel surface, would not be completed from Nipigon to the Soo until 1960. Bieck family album.

Some people had elected to travel by ATVs to a point on the CPR. Yvon Parent had used that trail about twenty years ago when accompanying Paul Mengelberg, a former inmate of Camp 101, to the site of the Angler German POW camp. Yvon felt that his aging bones could not handle the walking. As it turned out, he would have about as much walking as everyone else had to do.

Accompanying Yvon were his young grandson, Grant Goodwin and Al Turner of Manitouwadge, and the daughter of the late Paul Mengelberg, Doris Mengelberg. Grant and Al are experienced bush historians; one of their ongoing projects is to locate long-abandoned bush camps in the Pic River watershed. John had never met Yvon or his grandson or Doris Mengelberg.

About two hundred metres from the tracks, John called a halt. We had arrived at the site of Camp 101. There was nothing to see, no indication that hundreds of men had lived here, winter and summer, while combatants waged a World War.   Dick Fry, a retired forester, recalled that the area had been planted in the ’60s. Now a magnificent jack pine forest had reclaimed the old prison site.

This was John’s sixth trip to Camp 101, the second this year. He started searching for it in 2013. It had taken him three trips to relocate the site. In recent trips, he conducted intelligent search patterns. He located and flagged the barbed wire fence line of the southern boundary and most of the eastern one by finding evidences of barbed wire peeping through the moss. The western boundary was easier to identify, as we would see.

View of Angler Camp 101 looking SSW. Winter, ca 1942-43. The CPR (not visible) stretches before the line of hills. Japanese internees took exercise around the perimeter fence, inside the double line of barbed wire. At the corner is an enclosed watch tower. Poles support electric lights. The building outside the fence is not identified, but it is too far south to be the power generating plant.

John gave us vague directions to find his flagging tape markers and headed back to link up

Dick Fry

with the tardy travelers. We three ̶ Dick and Fran and I ̶ walked east on the ATV trail, looking for flags in the wall of mature jack pine. It didn’t take us long; one flag was just a couple of metres from the trail.

Fran Fry

When some rusty barbed wire snared my ankle, I knew we were on track.

Fran stayed on the trail, ready to rescue us if we called out.

 

Area encompassing Sturdee Cove (Lake Superior), the CPR, and Angler. A Google Earth view in August 2017, looking N. The vegetative patterns are not visible at ground level.

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A STROKE OF LUCK (Conclusion)

6 ̶ Waiting for Godot

I felt perfectly capable of driving myself around. But I found myself caught up in an absurdist drama. Like the characters in Samuel Beckett’s play, I found myself alienated from normal society, searching for an elusive character who might have been named Godot.

The main preoccupation of Beckett’s characters was waiting. Waiting for something meaningful to happen. Waiting. And suffering. And questioning why they were waiting. Waiting for Godot to turn up.

I initiated a series of phone calls in pursuit of (a) a Pre-Driving Screen and (b) a Stroke Prevention Clinic. All doctors and health pros with whom I had talked led me to believe that by merely asking for a Pre-Driving Screen, I would be granted one. But no one was now prepared to talk to me. I left messages and got no call-backs. Dr. S. sent me an appointment for a Stroke Prevention Clinic for May 18 and promptly cancelled. I had no way of contacting her. As for C., the occupational therapist who would administer the Pre-Driving Screen, she did call me and set an appointment for July 27.

When I asked for the appointment to be moved up to early June, I was stonewalled. Only a doctor could change the date. But I could not contact Dr. S.   So I tried contacting Dr. E., who had discharged me from St. Joe’s after an interview lasting less than two minutes, but she was unavailable. Telephone numbers I found for her got no responses. Searches of the Internet showed that she was an esteemed member of the medical profession with many degrees and several offices. Finally, finally, I found a number that worked. An accommodating receptionist promised to get back to me.

And Dr. E.’s receptionist did get back to me. She said that policy dictated that I had to wait three months after my stroke incident to apply for a Pre-Driving Screen. My stroke occurred April 26. So I could apply on July 27 at the earliest. Interestingly, Dr. S. had rescheduled the Stroke Prevention Clinic for that same date, July 27, not May 18. Was that when the policy changed?

Why did it take weeks to inform me of this policy? Perhaps it was a new policy, dreamed up by Kafka, played out by seekers after Godot, and administered by the medical bureaucracy.

Franz Kafka, the writer and philosopher, believed he lived in an absurd world. One morning he woke up and found himself turning into an insect. At first his family found this situation strange. Not absurd, but strange. The more he looked and behaved like an insect (sometimes described as a housefly), the less strange it seemed to his family. Why was this was happening to him? Everyone else treated the situation as normal. Which is absurd.

By July 27, I detected a growing compassion for houseflies. Which is absurd.

Meanwhile, I concentrated of getting healthy. I ate sparingly, exercised regularly, kept my mind occupied, and attended two weekly online sessions, eacn an hour long, conducted by speech therapist K.   Sessions included memory components and solving logical puzzles. We both noted steady improvement.

Meanwhile, I waited. I read novels. I recovered my facility with tough crypograms. I started solving challenging crosswords. I watched tv. I took long rambles. I kept digital photo albums of wildflowers. I watched tv. A lot of tv. I started writing again. I read non-fiction books. I bummed rides to town to keep appointments, to pick up prescriptions, and to replenish food supplies. I wrote. I watched tv. Lots and lots of tv. I counted the days to July 27.   The summer slipped by. And slipped. And slipped.

As July 27 crept up, I read the fine print in my instructions. I learned that if even if I passed the Pre-Driving Screen, it could take MTO a month to reinstate my licence. Damn. I still had no idea what a Stroke Prevention Clinic was, but I assumed it would be a group session with fellow stroke victims where we would be advised how to prevent recurrences. No such luck.

July 27 arrived. I bummed a ride to Thunder Bay. I reported to occupational therapist C. for an hour-long Pre-Driving Screen. My first attempt had occurred within a week of my stroke and I was pretty hazy on the details. I had, you will recall, failed the Screen. My memory was rudely refreshed. The Pre-Driving Screen is a battery of tests on my cognitive awareness and visual perception. Alright. Whatever. I was up for it.

The first series of tests were pretty simple. In fact, I scored 29 out of 30. I had to draw a clock face and draw the hands pointing to twenty after 2, link five letters and numbers to create a trail, replicate a parallelogram, name pictures of three animals (none of which, I might add, I have ever seen in real life), memorize a short list of single-digit numbers, recite them backwards, name as many words beginning with the letter “S” as I could in 60 seconds (yes, some tests were timed), recite a sentence verbatim, tap the table whenever I heard the letter “A” in a sequence of random letters, start at the number 90 and subtract 7 from the total until told to stop, identify the commonality of three named objects (e.g., all veggies), and name my birth date as well as the current date and location of the tests I was doing.

I had to remember five words and repeat them. They were repeated twice. C. emphasized that I would be asked to recall them later in the session.

The visual perception tests were tough. First, I had to draw a trail by linking letters and numbers, starting by linking letter A to number 1. However, there were not five letters and numbers. There were 19 letters and numbers. This was a timed test. The whole page with covered with 38 separate items, all scattered like a dog’s breakfast. I got lost once and took a while to recover. I failed that test.

C. allowed our daughter Laura to observe my performance, and she said later that she despaired of passing the tests herself, and she’s an excellent driver. C. said the Screen is designed to “screen out” drivers who are likely to fail a road test. Laura still has her driver’s licence. I still don’t.

Meanwhile, I forgot about the five words I was cautioned to recall later.

 

There were four categories of pictured objects, all abstract, and becoming more abstract as the tests unfolded. One category required visual discrimination, another judging spatial relationships, another relying on visual memory, and the fourth on making visual closures.

To test visual discrimination, I was shown, for example, a circle. C. turned the page. Then I had to count the number of circles I could distinguish in a mish-mash of geometric designs.

To judge spatial relationships, I was shown a design, and then, in a page of four designs with variations on the first design, I had to pick out the correct one. For example, if the original design looked with an old-fashioned tv aerial, then the four variations had the aerial with portions of the vertical and horizontal lines missing or even running in different directions. Only one had a configuration resembling the original aerial. I was ready to swear off tv.

To rely on visual memory, I might be shown four drawings of a duck. Each was tilted differently on the page. I was told to imagine the duck’s bills pointing all in the same direction. However, one duck had been reversed. I had to select that duck. To make it more interesting, in some cases I had to imagine the one image that was also upside down. I could have cheerfully strangled that duck.

In making visual closures, I was shown a totally abstract figure. It might resemble a wasp, for example, with light and dark parts and incorporating geometric shapes. Then in a line below was a series of four figures, each resembling the original but with crucial parts missing. Obviously someone had stepped on the wasp, mashed it down good. I had to imagine which figure was the original wasp. I could sympathize with Humpty-Dumpty. I could have used all the king’s men at that point, not to mention a GPS and Gorilla Glue.

Then came the pièce de résistance. The delayed recall test. I had to recall the five words I had forgotten about. I immediately named four of the five words ̶ truck, banana, violin, and green. I was pretty proud of myself. C. prompted me with a clue to the fifth word. She said “furniture” and I replied “desk”. Why she prompted me, I don’t know; she had already deducted it from my score. Ask me five years from now and I will recall those five words. Truck, banana, violin, desk, and green. With my luck, they’ll change the list.

She totalled my scores. I had passed with points to spare. That was the good news. Then the bad news. MTO would take six weeks to complete the paperwork. Meanwhile, I was warned not to drive, on penalty of a $10,000 fine.

When’s the last time you’ve heard of anyone getting a $10,000 fine for a driving offence? I should be able to kill a few bureaucrats for that price.

The Stroke Prevention Clinic took an hour, and it was not about stroke prevention. It wasn’t even a clinic. It was a debriefing on my hospital experience and recovery. Dr. Z., my family doctor, back in July, had already explained that stuff since no one else was prepared to do it. Two doctors, Dr. J. and Dr. S., weighed in on the debriefing. No one commented on or verified the speech therapy program I was doing twice a week. Other than some cursory questions on whether I was exercising properly, eating properly, and back to reading and writing, nothing was either verified or prescribed.   I was given some pamphlets. Dr. S. filled out a form for the MTO bureaucrats. I was released.

I was free. Lucky me. I was free to wait another six weeks.

Lucky me. And I do mean that sincerely.

It could have gone worse.

And I know about waiting. Nothing to it.

Just ask the seekers after Godot. Godot, by the way, never did turn up.

But don’t ask Kafka.   Kafka will just raise more questions.

And his questions can drive you crazy.

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A STROKE OF LUCK (5 OF 6 Chapters)

5 ̶ Rehab

I was ushered to an empty bed in 3 North, Room 335-S3-3. My two new companions were enjoying their suppers in beds facing the eastern windows. And I mean they were ENJOYING them. If fact, two or three times a day, Peter (my name for him) would make a comment to the effect “My God, this food is delicious!”

As for me, I would pick out what looked most edible. I didn’t suffer because I had no appetite.

Most of my days consisted of waiting for my next appointments. I had two or three a day, each less than an hour long. I soon learned the floor plan of Level 3 North so that no one had to escort me to my appointments. Until then I waited. Until I knew what time I was having an appointment and where I was destined to keep that appointment, I waited. Other than that, it was a matter of waiting. And also waiting. And, as far as I could determine, a multitude of other patients spent most of their time waiting. And, at the risk of repeating myself, I too waited. And waited.

I entered St. Joe’s at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 3. Starting on Thursday, I kept appointments with two different physiotherapists, an occupational therapist, and a speech therapist. Apparently I put quite a burden on the staff because in juggling my schedule, they kept assigning me different times to show up and in the case of one staff member, after keeping three or four appointments, either cancelled further appointments or just failed to show up. They were all nice people but apparently just working with very limited resources and tight schedules.

My schedule, such as it was, was free all weekend. Between Friday afternoon and Monday morning, I was expected to just wait. And between spells of waiting, I was expected to wait some more. During my first full day at St. Joe’s, I started plotting to go home. In consulting all staff responsible for my schedule, I learned that there was a doctor assigned to me, a Dr. E.

Meanwhile, I was given free rein to wander all over the hospital. I kept my civilian clothes in a bureau. I had a faded blue institutional uniform ̶ pyjama shirt and pants ̶   so I blended with other patients. I didn’t stand out from the multitude of other patients, so I kept pestering staff to allow me to see the mysterious Dr. E. I was not prepared to wait around all weekend doing nothing but waiting and I said so. Sometime about mid-day Friday, Dr. E. showed up. I was already dressed in my civvies. I was ready to leave ̶ I don’t know if they could have held me back.

 

Dr. E. breezed in and interrogated me about stuff she surely knew. What was my age? When did I have the stroke? How long had I been in St. Joe’s. She scribbled quick notes. It was all over in two minutes. I just had to sign out for the weekend. If it had not been for my persistence, I might still be waiting. And waiting.

Waiting for things to happen, I learned to use my Samsung tablet. I learned to download apps so that I could watch streamed programming on CBC and CNN. The rehab centre provided a free Internet service for which I will be eternally grateful. A couple of times I located a couple of tv sets that were not occupied, but otherwise there was a tiny tv set placed in an awkward position over my bed that I refrained from using in consideration of my roommates. I used it only at 10:00 p.m. to watch CBC’s The National.

I also read a lot. I started one novel from the Level 3 North library and switched to another novel that I borrowed from Laura. Reading was a laborious process. I often had to start over a sentence and sometimes even a paragraph to grasp the full meaning. But I was reading. I never saw anyone else reading.

Physiotherapy consisted of walking exercises in a long, very long, corridor (dodging patients, and up and down a flight of stairs once), and some sessions on a treadmill or a stationary bike. And standing on one foot.

Occupational therapy involved some tests of strength (isometric exercises) and some simple cognitive tests such as drawing a clock face and inserting hands to indicate a time (e.g., 10 after 2), which I failed spectacularly, and making an outline map out of numbers and letters (which took me an inordinate amount of time). I later learned that I was taking a Pre-Driving Screen, and had failed 4 out of 5 categories. My next Screen is now scheduled for July 27.

Speech therapy consisted mainly of memory exercises, such as listing synonyms, naming categories of pictured objects, and learning certain mnemonic tricks. In my opinion, I excelled that that.

Every day I looked forward to visitations from son Rob and daughter Laura and sister Susanne (spouse Olga had no way to visit from Greenstone but we had daily phone talks). My roommates were two nonagenarians, recovering from strokes. Both received daily visitations from family. Peter, 90 years old, long retired, enjoyed witty exchanges with staff. Pater (my nickname), 97 years old, was still recovering his speech faculty, but I was learning to interpret his sounds. He proved to be quite cheery and loquacious.

Every day in Room 335-S3-3, I thanked my lucky stroke. I learned of other patients from Greenstone not so lucky as me. A few days before, one of them had suffered a stroke, and while waiting for the air ambulance, he suffered a second stroke. He was now confined to a wheelchair.

My visit home to our country home in Greenstone was a godsend. Rob returned me to St. Joe’s after suppertime on Sunday. Starting Monday, Susanne and I planned excursions outside the rehab centre after therapy sessions. I signed myself out. She taught me how to catch buses and to read the schedules. And we walked. My, how we walked! Miles and miles. I kept that information from the physio staff to avoid their disappointment. One night we gorged on real food at Swiss Chalet served with real iced tea. Another night we gorged on tasty fake food from concessions at Silver City CinePlex washed down with a carbonated drink.

Rehab staff now often implied that I was ready to go home. One speech therapist arranged for me use the Telemedicine videoconference system to participate in online sessions from home. I pestered the staff about the mysterious Dr. E. until I learned she had okayed my release.

On Friday afternoon, May 12, I said my goodbyes, packed my bags, and waited for Rob to pick me up. I was given meds for three days. I was free to do anything except drive.

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A STROKE OF LUCK (4 of 6 Chapters)

4 ̶ Memorable Moments

On that first Saturday night, long after I had retired, a party erupted in my room. The festivities endured the rest of the night, all the next day, all Sunday night, and tapered off on Monday morning.

The new residents of our semi-private room numbered somewhat less than two dozen and never more than four. The patient, a guy, had some heart-related problem, so periodically a nurse turned up to hook him up on a pulse and blood pressure machine and performed other functions behind the drawn curtains. I will say this: the newcomers were friendly, and when they moved to another room (apparently to give me a break), they offered the paid-up television subscription for me to use up.

On Monday evening, a nice old lady moved in. Every five minutes, without pause, she offered some variation of “I want to go home” and “I shouldn’t be here” and “Why are they keeping me here?” Every time, a member of her numerous family would explain that she would have to stay until her assessment was complete. At one point, when everyone had stepped out of the room, she wheeled herself to my bedside and borrowed my cell phone: she wanted to call someone to take her home. I dialed a number for her. A nurse appeared and gently removed the phone from her grasp. She was a nice old lady, had been driving her own car up till a month ago, living alone in her own house, and had just turned 100 years old.

The next day, Tuesday, her family arranged for her to transfer to a room closer to the nurses’ station. I checked on her on Wednesday and she seemed fine and I wondered why they were keeping her here. At that time I was ready myself for a lift home.

My most memorable procedure was the MRT scan.   I was wheeled into a half-dark chamber which seemed to double as a laundry room. The technician asked me to sit on a level surface, swing my legs over, and watch that I didn’t knock my brains out when I inserted by head and shoulders into the huge machine. I was locked in. The gurney or whatever slid noiselessly into a tubular arrangement, an emergency signal button was placed in one hand, and the technician left.

I now know what it feels like to be prepped for cremation. I couldn’t move at all. Then the noises started. Very mysterious, very creepy, very ominous noises, varying in intensity. A series of clicks and rumbles and creaks and staccato hammerings. After ten or fifteen minutes I felt myself dozing off as I waited for the burners to kick in.

The technician returned to extract me from the vault. The gurney slid out. But the gurney hung up. The locking mechanism wouldn’t release me. “Darn,” said the techie, “I’ve been meaning to fix that.” After another ten minutes he did fix that. That’s the sole reason I am around today to recall a special Robins treat.

I mentioned that I was less than thrilled with the hospital menu. Not finding myself lashed to a bed or a gurney, on the last day I ventured outside the ward to find some real food.   I found myself in a single long, very long, corridor into which other wards discharged. I found a staircase and descended. Another long, very long, corridor seemed to lead to places where the action was. I eventually emerged into another long, medium long, corridor that served as the hospital lobby. Drawn to tantalizing scents, I joined a lineup at Robins. I ordered a café mocha and a glazed doughnut.   The Robins mocha did not hold a candle to a Timmy’s mocha. But the doughnut, ah, the doughnut . . . !

Now, back to Level 3 North of St. Joseph’s Care Group . . .

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A STROKE OF LUCK (3 of 6 Chapters)

3  ̶  Recovery

 It was probably on Monday, May 1, that I was wheeled into a department where I began therapy. The speech therapy was really basic stuff. The neurologist would say four or five words and ask me to repeat them. Every time, I got two or three of them without fail. The physiotherapist would ask me to stand on one foot for a whole minute. I never managed that ̶ that was really tough. She asked me to go for a walk, turn a couple of corners, climb one flight of stairs, and return. That was a piece of cake. I was ready to do somersaults.

What about procedures performed on me? The first record in my chart, dated Saturday, April 29, described my first diagnostic procedure. It was a heart ultrasound, technically called a Carotid Doppler Imaging, ordered by Dr. B. Technically, it was Greek and Latin jumbled up hopelessly with some plain English.

“Peak systolic velocity right internal carotid artery is 62 cm/s, CCA 67 cm/c with a ratio 0.92.” I plainly understood the words “peak”, “is” and “a”.

Apparently, there was no urgency in scheduling further diagnostic procedures because next came an MRI Head Scan on Tuesday, May 2. Apparently I agreed to that scheduling because I did not register a complaint. Dr. S. ordered the Magnetic Resonance Imaging. One line in the full page description stands out: “Skull base reveals no abnormality.” Apparently the procedure did not shrink my head. That was good news. I think.

On the same day, Dr. S. ordered a Carotid Angiography. I remember being told they were taking an angiogram ̶-“gram” meaning “picture”, and “angio” meaning “of ankles”. Everyone knows what an angiogram is. One line in the description stands out: “The cervical, petrous, cavernous, and supraclinoid ICA is patent, without stenosis, aneurysm, dissection, or thrombosis.”

Which I interpret to mean I have a distended cervix, somewhat petrified; however, a super clinician with patented scalpels with cut out the aneurysm or thrombosis located in my chest (sternum). All good news. As far as I could tell.

Nobody made an effort at any time to inform me of a diagnosis or a prognosis, but on my prompting, a nurse would suggest everything was looking good.   Doctors remained aloof.

The chart that Dr. Z. shared with me had further details of angiographic findings, including “the midline structures are essentially unremarkable”, suggesting that I have not gained an ounce of weight about the waist.

That is true. Over two weeks I lost some ten pounds, thanks to a diet of alleged foodstuffs unrelieved by taste or texture. Thanks for that. I mean that sincerely. I did not need the ten pounds.

In my chart, under the heading of Discharge Diagnosis, the first notation was “new onset of atrial fibrlillation”. I had heard vaguely about “a-fib”. Further notations indicate I had both a CT scan of my head and an echocardiogram but no abnormalities were detected. These procedures were not dated in the chart.

The Discharge Diagnosis did note that I was doing well even though I still had difficulties expressing myself and “had a visual field defect that was improving”. I did indeed have difficulty finding the right words, and Dr. B. had pointed out that my peripheral vision on my right side was impaired. Still, my ability to read had improved quickly as well as my ability to solve simply math problems, such as 3 + 5 – 2. I still believe the right answer is 4 if you divide my age by 19.

Conclusion: “He would benefit from a short interval of time at 3 North.”

I was leaving the regional hospital acute care. That’s what I gathered from the buzz from medical personnel from Monday onward. I fondly believed I was well enough to go home.

By Wednesday, I had resigned myself to moving to a rehabilitation facility. A paramedic and an escort drove me to St. Joseph’s Care Group on North Algoma. I arrived in Ward 3 North in time for supper. But no one offered me supper. I was relieved.

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A STROKE OF LUCK (2 of 6 Chapters)

2  ̶   The Hospital

By 6:00 that Friday evening I was sprawled in a hospital bed, fully clothed, in the emergency ward, hooked up to monitors for pulse and blood pressure. The attending doctor, Dr. L., had to determine if my condition was serious enough to ship me to the Regional Health Sciences Centre in Thunder Bay. Our son and the doctor amused themselves by watching my fluttering heart rate. The doctor reached a decision: he called in the air ambulance helicopter.

Nothing else was happening. After several hours, I suggest Rob go home to supper. Periodically, someone, either a nurse or the doctor, checked my progress. Foul weather was delaying the ambulance. About four in the morning on Saturday, someone announced its arrival. Two paramedics bundled me up in a stretcher, ensured the parka did not leave exposed flesh. Dr. L., still available, escorted me to the helicopter. It was a comfort to know Dr. L. had stuck around. He’s been attending members of our family at various times for close to fifty years.

It took about a quarter hour for the pilot to rev the engine to prepare for lift off. One paramedic accompanied me, the other sat with the pilot in the cockpit (if that’s what you call the enclosed cabin with all the controls and instruments). The sound and vibration increased in intensity

We left the lights of Geraldton behind us. I was awakened by the lights of Thunder Bay as we cleared for landing on the pad beside the regional hospital. I was whisked through subterranean passages to a room on Level 3. I had a semi-private room all for myself. I checked the time ̶ 6:00 a.m. I still wore my original clothes. I slept and dozed. Was not offered breakfast. Was not offered lunch. Finally someone offered me a glass of juice and a biscuit. I thought this was my new prescribed diet. I took my usual meds although I skipped my daily 81 mg aspirin. (I suspected the aspirin had something to do with my condition.) Nurses checked my pulse and blood pressure regularly.

I had my phone with me, so I was able to advise Olga and Rob and daughter Laura and sister Susanne that I was actually in the city. That was news to them.

I lived in that hospital room from Saturday to Wedneday. Memory does not permit me to detail my exact schedule. Somewhere around Monday or Tuesday I decided I needed a shower. A nurse pointed out the facility, built into the washroom next door. I stripped, spent ages trying to turn the water on, then gave up. I dressed in my dirty clothes and waited for someone to instruct me. I got my shower and clean clothes.

 At some point a nurse suggested I switch my apparel to the open-backed nightshirt supplied to patients. Naw. I wore regular clothes night and day. Day and night.

After long periods of nothing happening, I was whisked away by wheelchair or by gurney to take tests. God bless the porters, the volunteers who do the whisking. A porter would wheel me through mysterious passages and abandoned me in some subterranean chamber. Eventually somebody claimed my body and put me through an esoteric procedure. And eventually the porter reappeared and replanted me in my bed.

I saw doctors on different occasions for a few minutes. A Dr. B. (supposedly overseeing my recovery) saw me and in a matter of minutes confirmed that I had suffered a stroke and he ordered sundry tests. A Dr. S. waved a sheaf of documents at me and ordered me to sign or suffer dire, unspecified consequences. That’s when I lost my driver’s licence. Another doctor, who does not appear in my medical chart, checked that I was following some vague regimen and was responding to instructions. He was a garrulous, friendly old chap who answered any questions I posed. A different nurse was assigned to me during every twelve-hour shift; I regret not recording their names so that I can now thank them.   They became friends. Dr. B. showed up one more time for a few seconds and gave me a simple test: Hold up your right arm. I responded with alacrity and he chortled. Apparently I had held up my left arm. I don’t think doctors should be allowed to chortle. On the last day, Wednesday, I was allowed to choose which blood thinner pill I preferred.

Meanwhile, Laura and Rob and Susanne paid visits at least once a day, along with a few other friends who had heard of my misfortune and came to commiserate. I made daily reports to Olga by phone. Overhearing their chatter, I settled on the blood thinner I wanted ̶ Xarelto ̶ and also chose a supplementary pill to control my blood pressure ̶  Coversil ̶ that I need take only once a day. It’s nice to have choices. Several medical personnel assured me that, having had a mild stroke from which I was making a rapid recovery, I would be back driving within a month. They had not yet heard the bad news from Dr. E. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a Dr. E.

Speaking of doctors, I never did get the straight goods from any doctor until I finally got an appointment with my family doctor, Dr. Z., in the first week of July.

Yes, two-and-a-half-months after the incident, I finally saw my chart.   I asked for a print-out.   It was an eye-opener.

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