BY JANET HODGKINS Special to the Voice
During World War II so many Canadians enlisted that there was a labour shortage at home. The Erie Peat Company, which was mining peat at the Wainfleet Bog, needed workers. The company applied to the Department of Labour for assistance. The result was the establishment of a Prisoner of War Camp in the Wainfleet Bog.
Today the Wainfleet Bog, maintained by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, shows few traces of that POW camp. The collective memory of it is fading. Many local residents are unaware that such a camp ever existed. The Wainfleet Historical Society felt that the POW camp at the Wainfleet Bog was too important a part of our local history to let it fade away. The Society commissioned a plaque about the camp and had it installed at the Bog, where it was unveiled in a ceremony last Friday, May 6.
From August 1943 until November 1945 about 60 German prisoners of war were interned at Camp Wainfleet, where they cut peat for the Erie Peat Company. Although local residents were at first wary of having the enemy so near, they really had nothing to fear. The POWs were merchant seamen. As non-combatants, they were not a security risk. Although five did escape and were re-captured, most of the POWs interacted well with the community. Some supplemented their pay by making and selling handicrafts. Some families still have a ship-in-a-bottle made by a Camp Wainfleet POW.
Sometimes the POWs would sneak out of the camp at night to go to a movie in Port Colborne, but they always sneaked back into camp in time for work in the morning.
After the war ended, all of the POWs were sent back to Germany. At least one of the Wainfleet prisoners continued to correspond with a local family. Some POWs from Canadian camps did return to settle in Canada.