"The Long Road to Repatriation"

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Here is part 8 in our series of recollections by Canadian Lt. Leo L. Hamson, regarding his time as a guard at the Wainwright POW camp. (minor typos corrected)

(The full set of Recollections is online, with photos.)

The Long Road to Repatriation

By March 1946 operations were winding down at Wainwright, and drafts of POWs were being shipped out on the long journey eastward and eventually back to the UK and the large POW holding camp at Lodgemoor near Sheffield. Many had accumulated substantial amounts of personal effects that they could not take with them, such as phonograph records, but mostly things they had made themselves - handicrafts, works of art, suitcases and the like. What they could not take they would have to dispose of. Their only hope of salvaging any value from it was to sell it to the Canadian camp staff for whatever they could get for it. They assembled it in what today would be like a garage sale.

For trivial sums I and other camp staff officers purchased a good deal of it, sometimes bidding against each other for the more desirable items. I bought a water-colour of one of the mediaeval gates of Rothenberg-ob-Tauber in Bavaria, a plaster wall plaque of one of Columbus’ ships by one of the few survivors of the Bismark, a well-crafted suitcase made of scraps of wood, a wooden chest as a toy box for my infant son, a leather-covered hand-wound Telefunken portable record player from Col. Hauk, the senior German officer, and a large collection of 78 RPM classical records in pristine condition in fine albums. Many of the POWs had written their names and POW numbers in the albums, crossing out the preceding name as the recordings were passed around as a sort of lending library. Phonograph needles were scarce, and they showed me how they made their own from the thorns of wild roses growing in the area. They sharpened these with sandpaper, and being softer than steel needles, they were kinder to the records.

When we were living in our isolated veterans’ settlement in the north with no electricity or access to recreation or entertainment, our group would meet in one of the rough houses we built and after a hard day’s work crank up Colonel Hauk’s Telefunken 78 RPM record player and listen to these prized recordings of classical music and opera, some of them sent from Germany. It enabled us to cling to some vestige of culture as we hacked our homesteads out of the wilderness of Northern Alberta.

About five years ago, when I discovered that there was a museum in the old Wainwright railway station devoted to the vanished POW camp, I donated many of these items to their meagre collection, including my Army uniform and some items of military equipment that I had stored away all these years. I still have the wall plaque and most of the record collection in excellent condition. Being 78 RPM they are never played now.

Copyright 2004 by Leo Hamson; used with permission

Related Posts:
   1. "The Long Road to Repatriation" (Aug 30, 2010)
1 comment, 0 trackbacks (URL) , Tags: Leo Hamson
Joe McWilliams on July 18, 2012 at 6:22 p.m.
I enjoyed reading the small piece by Leo Hamson about the items he and his colleagues collected from the departed German POWs. That bit about making phonograph needles out of rosebush thorns is priceless; who would have imagined something like that was possible? Not me, but it's not the first time I've heard people remark about the resourcefulness of some of those POWs. I've talked to local people who worked with and lived near the logging and sawmill camp at Fawcett Lake and they were impressed by how those fellows could make things and fix things.
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