Der Deutsche Kriegsgefangener auf Alberta*:
Alberta and the Keeping of German Prisoners of War, 1939-1947
*The German title is "German Prisoners of War in Alberta."
John Joseph Kelly
Reprinted with permission of the author and publisher of For King and Country: Alberta in the Second World War
Of course, the German aliens at Kananaskis did not enjoy their incarceration. They nicknamed the camp "Kan-A-Nazi", and constantly complained about their treatment. On the other hand, the Canadian authorities went out of their way to point out that the prisoners often were receiving better care than Canadian citizens on the home front. Newspapers were quick to pick up on the story, and to take note of the treatment that was afforded the prisoners:
.... More than 150 persons of German descent held in this resort country camp have the best of food, excellent clothing and quarters, enough light work to keep them in fine physical trim, and a wide choice of recreational facilities .... The reporters ate a lunch from the prisoners kitchen, and it was obvious why the men had gained an average often pounds in weight since being received at the camp. Some gained twenty-five to thirty-five pounds ....10
In June 1940, the British government asked the Canadian government to accept some 4000 interned enemy aliens from England, along with another 3000 prisoners of war who had been captured at that time. An internment panic had hit the British authorities because of the reports of Fifth Column activity in the Low Countries. With Britain seen as the last bastion of defence against the German onslaught, the Churchill government felt that the custody of so many potentially dangerous individuals in areas that might soon be the scene of active military operations would put a serious burden on the fighting ability of British military forces. Canada, on the other hand, was unprepared to accept this number of prisoners, as they had expected to handle only Canadian civilian internees imprisoned under the Defence of Canada Regulations. But in the end the King government agreed to the British request. Fourteen permanent camps were established across Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick to meet this demand, with another three temporary sites set up so that the prisoners could be processed and moved along. None of these sites were actual prisoner of war camps, but were organized around existing buildings, such as empty factories or mills, which already possessed facilities for heating, sewage and lighting, and were located near a rail line. All could be occupied with a minimal outlay of cost, which was essential to the government.11
Once the Canadian government had set the precedent of taking prisoners from the British government, requests became more frequent. Another one thousand German Luftwaffe paws arrived in January 1941. In September 194J, a further request to house 2,010 paws was sent, to be followed in December 1941 by a petition to dispose of four thousand German prisoners captured in the North African campaign. The government agreed to both these requests, but immediately realized that this acceptance now exhausted the capacity of the existing system of camps in Canada. The Prime Minister wrote:
.... consideration will have to be given to the establishment of new, larger camps designed to hold thousands, instead of hundreds. Canadian authorities are considering plans for such units to take 1O,OOO P.O. W. each.12
On 6 May 1942, Camp 133 was opened at Ozada, Alberta under the command of Colonel Carson A.V. MacCormack O.B.E. It was located on the Morley Flats, some two-thirds of the way from Calgary to Banff, just off the main Canadian Pacific Railway line, and near the point where the Kananaskis River enters the Bow River. The camp itself was 1 1/8 miles square, with eight guard towers on each side, totalling some 28 towers. The enclosure was surrounded by a single wire fence. Inside the enclosure, there were about 3400 tents, in which prisoners were "housed". Ozada was indeed a "temporary" camp, to be used only until the larger, more permanent camps were ready. In writing about this period, the Camp Interpreter noted:
.... Unfortunately that summer and fall , the weather was terrible, almost continuous rain and some snow [due to altitude] every month of our stay. Every thing was under canvas and there were no permanent buildings ....13
The German prisoners complained bitterly to the Swiss Consul General that the accommodations in the camp were in direct contravention of the articles of the Geneva Convention. After studying the issue, the Swiss Consul General sided with the Canadian authorities, and pointed out that the Veterans Guard of Canada, most of whom were veterans of the First World War who were charged with guarding the prisoners, also were living in tents, and that therefore no blame could be placed on the Canadian government for living conditions in the camp. This was not good enough for the German prisoners, and the atmosphere in the camp steadily deteriorated into what would become known locally as "The Battle of Ozada."
The matter came to a head during the latter part of July 1942, when six German Luftwaffe prisoners who claimed to have been promoted to the rank of officer began to wear the badges of officers, and claimed that Canadian "other ranks" [non-officers] were required to salute them, in the same way that German "other ranks" and NCOs [non-commissioned officers] were required to salute Canadian officers. The Camp Commandant, Colonel MacCormack, ordered all of them to have these rank badges removed by 21 July. When they refused to do so by that day, MacCormack sentenced them to the maximum 28 days detention for "refusing to obey an official order", in a building built within the wire enclosure just outside the main gate of the camp. In retaliation for this sentence, German prisoners in the compound seized Lt.-Col. G. Armstrong, MC, the second in command, with two other officers and a staff sergeant, all of whom were conducting their early morning inspection at the time they were captured. The Canadian personnel were held as hostages for six hours, until they were released by an armed platoon of Veterans Guards which had marched into the compound to rescue them. Tension continued to be high in the camp after this incident, and during the next week, the German prisoners refused to parade for the daily count or to appoint a new camp leader, claiming that Feldwebel Steutzel, their main leader in this conflict, remained the German camp leader. MacCormack responded by declaring Ozada to be a detention camp, and the POWs then were placed on rations of bread and water. The six German prisoners went on a hunger strike, and refused to consume even the bread and water rations. It was not until 29 July that the German prisoners chose a new camp leader who was acceptable to Colonel MacCormack, and that full rations finally were sent in to the prisoners. The six identified as trouble makers were sent to other POW camps, where two later were court martialled for inciting the POWs to mutiny, resulting in three-year prison sentences for each of them.
11. NAC, W.L.M. King Papers, Vol. 292, p. 247153, Mackenzie King to Vincent Massey, 10 June 1940.
12. NAC, Director of Internment Operations, RG6, L, Vol. 10, File 4-2-1, Mackenzie King to Vincent Massey [#37], 7 January 1942.
13. Major Henry Smith [Ret], Veterans Guard of Canada, personal communication to the author, 21 August 1976.