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
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.
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.
“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 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
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.