Camp for Amherst"... That's what the Amherst Daily News
headlines read on Wednesday, December 30, 1914. From 1914
to 1919 the Town of Amherst contained the largest POW camp
in Canada; a maximum of 853 prisoners were housed at one time
at the old Malleable Iron foundry on Park street.
The building was 1/4 of a mile long and 100 feet wide. The
south end was composed of officer's quarters, camp hospital
and medical inspection room. The north end housed the soldier's
barracks, washroom, mess hall and recreation room. The entire
compound was surrounded by barbed wire entanglements.
The first prisoners of the camp arrived from Halifax on April
17, 1915 aboard armed trains. A total of 640 sailors of the
captured vessel "Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosser"
A total of 265 guards were needed at one time during the camps
four year history. A number of these guards derived from Amherst,
and some of their families still reside here.
In The Camp
The life of the German POWS in Amherst is difficult to assess.
Their living conditions when they first arrived were very
poor - clouds of dust would roll down from the rafters, creating
breathing problems for some. For the most part however, conditions
were seemingly better than Allies POWs in Europe. They were
given the same rations a Canadian soldier would receive, as
well as ample exercise and materials necessary for music,
theatre, and craft-making. To pass the time of internment,
many prisoners took up the art of wood-craft. Today these
items are on display at the Cumberland County Museum and are
a lasting memory of these German Prisoners.
German POWs were also put to work during their stay in Amherst.
During the summer of 1916, prisoner labour was used at Nappan
Experimental Farm, cleaning forest for farm land. Other groups
worked on the maintenance of the Canadian National Railways
or helped create Dickey park. These legacies, combined with
various pieces of craft created by prisoners, remind us of
this unique and Troubled era.
Things were not always peaceful within the confines of the
barbed wire. On June 25, 1915 a group of prisoners refused
to enter the compound upon a guard's order. The riot that
ensued resulted in one guard being injured, but more importantly,
one prisoner was shot and killed and four others were wounded.
An inquiry found that discipline had been lacking and the
camp commander, Major G.R. Oulton, a veteran of the Boer War,
was replaced by Colonel Arthur Henry Morris.
Leon Trotsky, one time prisoner of the internment camp recorded
this in memory in his biography:
"The Amherst Concentration camp was located in an
and very dilapidated iron foundry that had been confiscated
from its German owner. The sleeping bunks were arranged in
three tiers, two deep on each side of the hall. About 800
of us lived in these conditions. The air in this dormitory
at night can be imagined. Men hopelessly clogged the passages,
elbowed their way through... Many of them practiced crafts,
some with extraordinary skill.. And yet in spite of the heroic
efforts of the prisoners to keep themselves physically and
morally fit, five of them had gone insane. We had to eat and
sleep in the same room with these madmen." [When
Trotsky was Interned in Amherst, N.S. Canadian Geographic,
April/May 1988. p63]
1919 a peace treaty for World War 1 was dictated to the Germans
within the halls of Versailles. With this peace, came the
repatriation of the Amherst POWs back to Germany. During the
four years of the camp, Six prisoners successfully escaped
while approximately eleven others had died during their internment
because of accident, or ill health. A tombstone, located at
the Amherst Cemetery, marks the death of these POWs. Their
bodies were returned to Germany in 1919.
The Amherst camp officially shut down operations on September
27, 1919 after the last of the POW's were repatriated.
a list of known prisoners in the camp
Civil Liberties Association