Exhibit tells story of war prisoners’ experiences

Alfred Weiss fell in love with Alberta. Six years after being released from a prisoner of war camp near Picture Butte, the former Wermacht soldier, captured in Germany during the Second World War, returned to Picture Butte and bought the farm where he had worked during his internment.

Rory Cory

Rory Cory

Alfred Weiss fell in love with Alberta. Six years after being released from a prisoner of war camp near Picture Butte, the former Wermacht soldier, captured in Germany during the Second World War, returned to Picture Butte and bought the farm where he had worked during his internment.

The hay knife he had used was still there and is now part of a travelling collection currently on display at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery.

For You the War is Over looks at the prisoner of war experience from two points of view: that of the Canadians captured by the Germans and that of the German soldiers captured by the Canadians and held in Canada, where a very cold ocean and thousands of kilometres of real estate separated them from their units.

In addition to the travelling exhibit, the Red Deer and District Museum and Art Gallery is putting together its own exhibit dedicated to the 14 Calgary Tank Regiment, which recruited heavily in Central Alberta during the Second World War.

By most accounts, the Germans brought to Canada fared much better than the Canadians imprisoned in Germany, including those who were in on the escape from Stalag Luft III, immortalized by a cast of stars in a Hollywood movie, The Great Escape, released in 1963.

Of the 76 prisoners of war who took part in the escape, only three got away. The rest were recaptured and 50 of them were shot dead in front of their comrades.

Wermacht prisoners held in Canada, on the other hand, were given better rations than the Geneva Convention required, often receiving a bigger share of butter and sugar than most Canadians, whose supplies were rationed to serve the war effort.

A few tried to escape but attempts were relatively rare, says information posted in the exhibit.

Canadians serving in Germany were much less likely to want to stay, including the 138 members of the Calgary Tanks who were among the 2,000 Canadians captured during the landing at Dieppe on Aug. 19, 1942.

The 14 Calgary Tanks Regiment set up recruiting offices in Stettler, Red Deer and Olds. Red Deer officer Tom Cornett and Bob Armstrong from Bentley were in the first tank to land in the ill-fated mission.

Their tank was immediately mired and the crew waited helplessly while German soldiers rounded them up for the trip to Stalag 8D, where they were supposed to spend the rest of the war.

Because he was an officer, Cornett was taken to Oflag 7B.

Armstrong, always determined to escape, was later moved transferred to Kolditz Castle, where the Germans felt his exploits could be more easily managed.

They were deadly serious in their efforts to discourage Canadians from escape attempts, which is identified as a soldier’s duty under the Geneva Convention.

An excerpt from a poster conveys that message: “Stay in the camp where you will be safe. Breaking out of it is now a damned dangerous act. THE CHANCES OF PRESERVING YOUR LIFE ARE ALMOST NIL.”

By the end of the war, Canadians who had been well cared for at the outset were suffering from severe hardships, says information in the museum exhibit.

Their fortunes appeared to have ebbed and flowed with those of the German military.

As the Wermacht lost ground against Allied forces, food supplies dwindled and conditions worsened for the prisoners of war.

The travelling exhibit is now open for public viewing with the section devoted to the Calgary Tanks to be ready this weekend.

An opening reception and curator’s talk has been set for 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6.

Also scheduled is a showing of The Veteran’s Voices Project, a compilation of video stories told by veterans from across Canada to freelance journalist Allan Cameron of Sylvan Lake. Veteran’s Voices will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 23.

Visit www.reddeermuseum.com or call 403-309-8405 to learn more.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com