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.
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.