My most recent research project focused on a First World War veteran who served in the Veteran Guards of Canada (VGC) during the Second World War. Resources pertaining to the VGC are thin on the ground and sadly their war diaries have yet to be digitized. Fortunately I did uncover a wonderful film by Eva Colmers, released through the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in 2003.
Eva Colmers is the daughter of Theo Melzer, a former German Prisoner of War who was captured in North Africa and sent to a POW camp in Canada. The film tells the story of her father’s captivity through his letters and his recollections of his experience in Canada. The film is greatly enhanced by its extensive use of interviews with half a dozen former POWs, many of whom would emigrate to Canada after the war. I never tire of listening to veterans speak about their experiences, and this includes those we fought against. There are also many references to the VGC who were responsible for guarding the prisoners and internees. Although most of the men who served in the VGC had passed away by 2003 the film includes an interview with a soldier who guarded German prisoners after returning from Europe in 1945.
Many Canadians are aware of the internment camps that held Japanese-Canadians during the war but far fewer will know about the 38,000 Germans held in more than two dozen POW camps across the country. Not only does this film shed light on this aspect of the home front but it also shows the unique relationship that developed between prisoners and their captors. Early in the war there were escapes and riots however the situation improved, especially after the government allowed prisoners to volunteer for paid work in labour camps and on farms where there was a desperate need for farmhands to replace the young men fighting overseas.
Over 6,000 German POWs requested to stay in Canada after the war however all were eventually repatriated, via the UK, in early 1946. That didn’t stop thousands from returning in the years that followed, settling and raising their families in communities across the country.
The 52-minute documentary can be viewed online for free at the NFB website and is highly recommended.