Amherst Internment Camp
"Concentration 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"
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.
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
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
Leon Trotsky, one time prisoner of the internment camp recorded
this in memory in his biography:
"The Amherst Concentration camp was located in an old
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]
In 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.
List of known prisoners