August 22, 1914
In St. John’s, the local papers reported as early as August 18, 1914 “that one Carl Winicarski, an Austrian fireman (stoker) was held as a prisoner of war.”
On August 20, 1914 “the police (in St. John’s) arrested another German as a Prisoner of War, there are now detained on the Police Station two Germans and a Pole.”
These were all men working on foreign vessels, that happened to be tied up in St. John’s harbour, that were carrying passports of the enemy countries, the Central Powers, Germany, Austria-Hungary and The Ottoman Empire (Turkey).
It appears that the Police Station was inadequate for the purposes of holding ‘Prisoners of War.’ The St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram reported on August 21, 1914:
“Owing to complaints being made that the Police Station was unfit to quarter Prisoners of War (POW’s) yesterday afternoon two German’s and a Pole were removed from there to the Penitentiary, where they will be allowed a certain amount of liberty.”
Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP) on Quidi Vidi Lake became the home for the prisoners of war in St. John’s. Initially, “prisoners of war” were also held in Corner Brook and Harbour Grace in the town’s Police or Court House cells. As the numbers increased they were transferred to a facility in Donovan’s, (on the outskirts of St. John’s) and eventually to a larger facility in Amherst, Nova Scotia.
The Amherst Camp was the largest prisoner-of-war (POW) camp in Canada during World War I with a population of 853 prisoners. The most famous prisoner of war at the camp was Leon Trotsky.
The Prisoners of War in Newfoundland “were allowed a certain amount of liberty” and remembered fondly their time in Newfoundland and the people that they met while they were incarcerated.
Richard Frohner who had been arrested in Harbour Grace wrote from Amherst in 1917:
“I would rather be in Harbour Grace as here. (Amherst). Our best times we had over there (Harbour Grace) and in Donovan’s but I know that we will not get back as POW’s, we hope that this war will be over and we will be free once more…”
Recommended Archival Collection: Distinguished Service: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War, this on line exhibition documents the lives and experiences of the province’s soldiers and aims to encourage interest in research on the Royal Newfoundland Regimen. The service records of the First 500 and others are available at the Provincial Archives at The Rooms. Many of the service records (but not all ) are on line , http://www.therooms.ca/regiment/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp
Recommended Exhibit: Beaumont Hamel and the Trail of the Caribou. The First World War had a profound impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. It involved thousands of our people in world-changing events overseas and dramatically altered life at home. Our “Great War” happened in the trenches and on the ocean, in the legislature and in the shops, by firesides and bedsides. This exhibition shares the thoughts, hopes, fears, and sacrifices of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who experienced those tumultuous years – through their treasured mementoes, their writings and their memories.