International rules to govern the treatment of POWs were first formulated at Geneva in 1864 and were refined at The Hague in 1899 as part of a broader codification of the rules of war. Canadians taken prisoner during the SOUTH AFRICAN WAR had little need of these rules, since the Afrikaners, fighting a guerrilla campaign for most of the war, had no facilities for holding prisoners. After being relieved of their weapons, equipment and supplies, prisoners were usually released.
The Hague Convention was revised in 1907, and the 2818 men of the CANADIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE taken prisoner during WORLD WAR I, as well as the 2005 German POWs held in Canada, were treated in accordance with the revisions. But in Europe there were many complaints that the spirit of the convention was not observed. In 1929 a Geneva Convention relating specifically to the Treatment of Prisoners of War was negotiated through the LEAGUE OF NATIONS. Prisoners were to be treated humanely, subject to the need to secure them. A prisoner need only give his captors his name, rank and number; he might be required to work but must not be assigned to work with direct military implications.
In WORLD WAR II about 8000 Canadians became German POWs and were generally treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. Two glaring exceptions were the execution of some participants in a mass escape attempt from Stalag Luft III in March 1944 and the manacling of British and Canadian prisoners in October 1942 as a reprisal for the temporary tying up of German prisoners taken at DIEPPE and in a minor British commando raid. The British retaliated by shackling some of their prisoners and asked the Canadians to do likewise. Canada acquiesced and some Germans were handcuffed until the British and Canadian governments decided in December 1942 that retaliation was counterproductive. The Germans continued shackling until November 1943, but long before that most of the prisoners were only manacled while on parade.
Among the 30 000 German and Italian POWs held in Canada during the war, Luftwaffe Oberleutnant Franz von Werra distinguished himself as "the one that got away," escaping from a train near Prescott, Ontario, the night of 23-24 January 1941, crossing into the US, and subsequently returning to Germany. He was later killed in action. Others escaped but did not succeed in recrossing the Atlantic; one, at least, got to Mexico. Several POWs were murdered by their fellow prisoners for not conforming to Hitlerian standards of conduct.
Thirty-two Canadians were taken POW during the KOREAN WAR and treated harshly, neither North Korea nor the People's Republic of China being signatories to the revised Geneva Convention of 1949. Efforts were made to "brainwash" them in attempts to alter their political perceptions; none died in captivity. Canadian soldiers were briefly used to guard POWs after a rising of North Korean and Chinese POWs in a UN prison camp on KOJE-DO in May 1952.
See also INTERNMENT.
Author BRERETON GREENHOUS
Links to Other Sites
Canadian War Museum
The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa is dedicated to the men and women who served with valour and distinction in Canada’s armed services. Their website features a virtual tour of the museum and multimedia online exhibits that depict how Canada met and overcame wartime challenges throughout its history.
The War Amps
The War Amps website commemorates Canada's proud military heritage and the sacrifices of Canadian war veterans. Check out the "Canada's Military Heritage" section for extensive documentation, photographs and veterans’ accounts of their wartime experiences. Features a special section devoted to the 60th Anniversary of D-Day.
Search the Legion Magazine website for online feature articles about Canadian military history.
Canadian Military History Gateway
Search this website for authoritative information about Canadian military history. Provides links to websites for Canadian museums, libraries, archives, and other heritage organizations. Also features an online glossary of military terminology, educational resources and much more. From the Department of National Defence.
Canada's Forgotten PoW Camps
CBC Archives takes a look back at the reality of life behind barbed wire in Canada's forgotten Prisoner of War Camps.
Internment Camps: Second World War
A listing of archived documents relating to Second World War internment camps. Provides a glimpse into the operation of internment camps in Canada. From Library and Archives Canada.
Industrial Development of Lethbridge: A Geographer's Interpretation
An account of the industrial development in the City of Lethbridge from a geographical and historical perspective. A paper by Ian MacLachlan, The University of Lethbridge. Click on the link at the bottom of the page for the PDF version of this document.
Internment Camp 135
A history of Internment Camp 135 from the website for the Wainwright Main Street Project.
D-Day in Bowmanville for Nazi PoW camp
A news story about a prison camp in Bowmanville that housed high-ranking Nazi officers captured during the Second World War. From thestar.com.
The Memory Project: Hong Kong
Listen to an interview with a Canadian veteran who describes his harrowing experience as a prisoner of the Japanese during the Second World War. Also check out related digitized artefacts and memorabilia. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...