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Battle of Bowmanville

The Battle of Bowmanville is said to be the closest Canada ever came to the fighting in WWII but it is probably one of the strangest war battles you will ever hear about. This battle was not fought with guns and bombs it was fought with baseball bats, hockey sticks and anything else they could find. This battle occurred between Saturday, October 10th, 1942 and Monday, October 12th, 1942.

What caused this battle? Well the shortest, easiest way to explain it is that Hitler gave the order to have Canadian PoWs shackled. So Britain said that they would do the same and sent the order to the Canadian government that German P.O.W.s would be shackled as well and the shackles would not be taken off until the Germans removed the shackles from the Canadian P.O.W.s. So when the word came down to Camp 30 that it was to shackle 100 German prisoners the head of the camp met with the highest ranking soldiers within the camp and asked for volunteers to be shackled. I'm sure you can imagine the response this request received. There were no volunteers and the next time the guards went into the camp to for a roll call they found that the P.O.W.s had barricaded themselves into the buildings and refused to come out.

The Camp 30 guards then called in reinforcements, commandos in training from Kingston and Barriefield. These young trainees were eager to fight the Germans.It took two attempts to regain control of the Mess hall, this is where a few Canadian soldiers were injured, one was struck in the head with a jar of jam. During the second and successful attempt to regain control of the Mess hall soldiers also chose to retake House 4 at the same time. Their approach for this building was much different than the one used for the Mess hall. For House 4 soldiers set up a fire house and poured water into the basement of the house (where the prisoners were hiding). The German soldiers eventually gave up and came up the stairs 2 by 2 with their hands in the air. After this the remaining Houses were taken back without much incident.

After the battle of Bowmanville the soldiers remained shackled until December 11, 1942. Although, it is said that much earlier as a guard was leaving he dropped his keys so that P.O.W.'s would be able remove their shackles during the day and put them back on for roll calls.

History of Buildings

Camp 30 is located at 2020 Lambs Rd. in Bowmanville, ON. From October 1941 to April 1945 this was known as Camp 30 but what was this area used for before that or after the P.O.W.'s left? That is what this article is about, how camp 30 became camp 30.

In 1922 Mr. John H. H. Jury donated his 300 acre farm (also known as the Darch Farm) to the government for them to build a school for "unadjusted boys who were not inherently delinquent". In 1927 the buildings we know as camp 30 were complete. School continued here until April 1941 when the government gave word that the school had to find a new home for the boys because the site would be turned into a prisoner of war camp right away. It is said many of the boys went to their respective homes while some others were relocated within Bowmanville to the "Rathskamoray" (the present day Lion's Centre) and some other locations.

Canadian officials had barely seven months to transform 2020 Lambs Road from school for boys to prisoner of war camp. Luckily the school was designed to hold lots of people but there were many tasks to covert this school to a P.O.W. camp: build wire fences (15ft apart), guard towers (9), gates and barracks for the Canadian guards. This was completed in October of 1941 as the first P.O.W.s began to arrive.

After the war concluded the prisoners were shipped back to Europe and the students from the boys school returned to their classes as usual.

"Word of Honour"

Ehrenwort is a german meaning Word of Honour. This was a very important phrase within camp 30 for the following reason: if german prisoners gave their word that they would not try to escape they were permitted to leave the camp. They always returned so the prisoners of war were permitted to go swimming down at the lake in the summer or in the winter go cross country skiing. To my understanding this was extremely umcommon in P.O.W. camps and probably not what the Canadian soldiers had in mind when these men were taken prisoner but in camp 30 Bowmanville it worked, the guards were happy and generally so were the prisoners.

Escape Attempts

During the years that 2020 Lambs Rd. was the home to several hundres prisoners of war there were many escape attempts, none of which were successful.

The first escape attempt occurred November 25, 1941 as a prisoner attempted to crawl underneath the barbed wire. He was caught immediately and given 28 days detention.

On December 30, 1941 one prisoner attempted to escape by hiding in a laundry truck that was leaving the camp. He was consequently caught and held in Oshawa Jail until he was returned to the camp later that same day.

During a routine inspection of a P.O.W. enclosure a tin can with a map and escape tools was found on July 29th, 1943.

There were many escape attempts as the prisoners felt it was their duty to try to escape in spite of the above average conditions in camp (it is say they lived better than most families in Bowmanville and in Germany). Perhaps the most notorious escape attempts were the tunnels. Several tunnels were attempted, some were found more quickly then others but all were eventually found, stopped and closed off. The most famous tunnel was started in Victoria Hall (prisoners referred to it as Haus IV) in the northeast corner of the floor which was closest to the fence. The tunnel was 50cm by 50cm square, it had been wired for lighting and ventilation had been installed using tin cans. Supports were positioned approximately every 1 -2 meters, the wood for these supports were taken from the attics of other buildings within the camp. The dirt removed to create the tunnel was deposited in the attic of Victoria Hall via a trolley system and men passing a bucket up to the attic via a hole cut in ceiling. Finally in September, 1943 after months of work the attic of Victoria Hall collapsed due to the weight of the dirt. This alerted the guards and consequently they found the tunnel and collapsed it.

Inside Camp 30

Inside the camp there was daily head counts at 9am and 5pm and some housing searches throughout the week. The camp having been a boys school previously had many amenities that the other P.O.W. camps were without such as the indoor pool and athletic complex as well as soccer and football fields. The prisoners played many sports including Canadian football and hockey in the winter. The P.O.W.s also took it upon themselves to build a tennis court and a mini zoo. Prisoners also received regular mail from family and sent mail as well. They received new uniforms from Germany as many were captured in adequate uniforms for daily life. They also received their regular pay which allowed them to purchase items from their canteen. The canteen offered many items for sale such as cigarettes, cigars, tobacco, pipes, matches, writing tables, pens, pencils, ink, toothpaste, toothbrush, mouthwash, razor blades, combs, soap, hair brushes, scissors, shirts, socks, mitts, shoes, sausages, eggs, cheese bacon, milk and much more! Medical and dental services were available from German doctors in Victoria Hall (Haus IV). There was also an orchestra and a theatre group that put on various shakespeare plays.

Due to the prisoners working at the Darch Farm their meals were far above the prisoner of war camp standards. Breakfasts consisted of coffee, jam and butter. Lunch could include roast beef, gravy potatoes and carrots. Dinner was made up of macaroni, ham, soup, cheese bacon, and/or tea.

There were very few complaints from the prisoners about the conditions within the camp. At one point there was a slight problem of over crowding but that quickly rectified by shipping some prisoners to another camp. The most common complaint was about the bathroom facilities as they had been built for small boys (being that they builders were built originally as a delinquent boys school) but it is said the prisoners made due.

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