AHGP Canada


Nova Scotia

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"

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.

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.

The 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 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