Discovering the History of Wainwright’s Prisoner of War Camp

Siegfried Osterwoldt, Leo Hamson and Eva Colmers - POW Tower in background - Erika Foley Photo
Siegfried Osterwoldt, Leo Hamson and Eva Colmers
at Camp Wainwright - POW Tower in background
Photo credits: Erika Foley

In October, 2004 the Royal Canadian Legion, Worthington Branch, held a special screening of the National Film Board’s The Enemy Within, a 2001 Eva Colmers unbiased and touching documentary featuring interviews with former internees and personnel of Canadian based internment camps, including Wainwright. These camps were the billets of thousands of German Officers, NCO’s and even some civilians, all of whom were British prisoners off the battlefields of the Second World War.

Although Wainwright's POW Camp was only open for a short time (January 1945 to June 1946), at the height of its operations it had almost 1,100 internees. There was also much in the way of activity behind the wire that went beyond the daily routine of head counts and barracks inspections--including the suicide of a German Air Force officer and several escape attempts. In one escape attempt, two prisoners made good their flight from the Camp dressed in coveralls made from mattress covers and touting wire spools. The sentries, thinking that they were Canadian Army Engineers, allowed them to leave the camp in broad daylight; the two were later re-captured a month later and several thousand miles away in Gary, Indiana and returned to Canada. These are but some of the interesting stories associated with the Camp.

Following the film, the producer and director, Eva Colmers, provided a short presentation to the audience about her work. Other special guests included one of the last Camp wardens, Leo Hamson, and German prisoner of war Siegfried Osterwoldt, both of whom were on hand to provide some insight into their wartime experiences and answer any questions from the audience. There were also period uniforms and artefacts on display with volunteer staff from the WATC MP Section to field inquiries.

For more information about the film, The Enemy Within, to arrange for a screening, or to purchase a video copy please contact the National Film Board of Canada.

The Enemy Within

Directed by
Eva Colmers

Produced by
Bonnie Thompson
Jerry Krepakevitch

The National Film Board of Canada

During World War II, a war-ravaged Britain realized it could not billet all its captured German soldiers. Canada stepped forward to house and feed more than 34,000 prisoners of war in 25 remote camps across the country. Today little is left of these war camps, but those who were there - inmates and guards alike - will never forget.

Among the captured German soldiers was Theo Melzer, father of filmmaker Eva Colmers, who spent three and a half years in a POW camp in Lethbridge, Alberta. Colmers, while growing up in Regensberg, Germany, had often been puzzled by her father's fond memories of his POW life. When she made Canada her new home, she set out to rediscover this little-known chapter in Canadian-German history.

Eloquently weaving poignant excerpts from her father’s letters with wartime archival images and dramatic re-enactments, Colmers’ film shares the powerful stories of these now elderly men, once the “enemy within.” Watch as they recall with gratitude, how their lives were changed forever because of the unexpected respect and dignity they received at the hands of their Canadian captors.