Here is part 9 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 back online, with photos.)
A Face From the Distant Past - A Strange Encounter
Years passed, memories receded, and I never met anyone again who had been at Wainwright on either side of the wire - until an amazing encounter in 1967. That year I was wandering Europe on my own, marvelling at the incredible recovery from the devastation of the war. I had gone down the Rhine by ship to Koblenz and transferred to a smaller boat on the Moselle, bound for Trier to see the impressive Roman remains there. I was the only passenger for the first part of that Sunday morning as we stopped at many pretty villages to take on or discharge freight. Alone, I sipped glasses of Moselle wine as I admired the stunning scenery. Then at one town a boisterous group obviously on an outing swarmed aboard laden with picnic baskets. Soon an accordion was unpacked and everyone joined in rollicking German songs.
They noticed me watching from a corner table and insisted that I join them, fascinated to learn that I was a Canadian. One man, about my own age, fetched the accordion case and used it as a drum. Something about him, something vaguely familiar, held my attention. He had a great scar on his face as though part of his jaw was missing.
During a lull in the festivities, he approached me on the outside deck and said that he had been in Canada once and had enjoyed our hospitality. Guardedly, I asked him when and where. “I was a prisoner-of-war,” he grinned, “In Alberta.” I sucked in my breath. “In what camp?”
“Wainwright” Then I remembered the Luftwaffe fighter pilot who had part of his jaw shot away just as he bailed out of his crippled Messerschmitt over England. “Do you remember,” I exclaimed, “how many times we stood as close to each other as we do now in the daily prisoner count at Wainwright?” He stared at me for a long moment and then seized me by the arm. “Come! We must have a drink!”
Copyright 2004 by Leo Hamson; used with permission