Throughout the years of World War II (1939-1945) only one battle was fought on Canadian soil. The Battle of Bowmanville unfolded over three days in October 1942, in a prisoner of war (POW) camp east of Toronto known as Camp 30.
The Battle of Bowmanville was sparked by a wartime tit-for-tat. When German führer Adolf Hitler learned that allied forces had shackled prisoners after the August 1942 Dieppe Raid, he ordered that allied prisoners should also be shackled. Winston Churchill, in return, ordered Canadian POW camp commandants to shackle 100 of their detainees.
At Camp 30 the highest ranking German officer was asked to choose the men to be bound. He refused. Prisoners were then asked to volunteer to be shackled. They were furious—they would not surrender twice—and they barricaded themselves in the mess hall and barracks.
Ordered to use nonlethal force, guards and soldiers from a nearby installation tried to eject the detainees with empty rifles and baseball bats. The Germans drove them back with a hail of broken furniture, bricks and kitchen objects. (One guard sustained a fractured skull from a well-aimed jar of jam.) Ultimately high pressure hoses were brought in to flush the prisoners out. Only minor injuries had been incurred.
DETAINED IN PARADISE
When German POWs first arrived at Camp 30 in 1941, they were shocked to discover how large, bright and open their compound was. Along with the barracks and mess hall there was an administration building, a gymnasium with an indoor pool, a senior officers quarters and hospital, a sewage treatment facility, athletic fields, and land for raising livestock and growing produce.
Although there were barbed wire and guard towers, inmates were treated very well, given real autonomy. They had lectures from University of Toronto faculty. They performed their own plays and concerts. They competed at hockey and soccer, did gymnastics and swam. On their word of honour (Ehrenwort in German) they took day trips to shop or to sunbathe on the shores of Lake Ontario.
Most of Camp 30’s inmates were high-ranking officers, among them generals who had served under Field Marshall Rommel in North Africa, and a decorated U-Boat captain, personally responsible for sinking more Allied tonnage than any other German submarine commander.
Of course some of the men refused to accept captivity. Coded letters were exchanged with Germany and a plot was hatched to rescue a group of U-boat officers by sending a submarine to the east coast of Canada. The plan was discovered, however, and the German vessel, avoiding a naval ambush, left our waters without its Camp 30 contingent.
Tunnels were dug repeatedly but always discovered and collapsed. One of these efforts was exposed when a ceiling collapsed under the weight of soil that had been spread above it.
As the war in Europe wound down in 1945, some of the POWs in Camp 30 realized that repatriation to Germany was much less appealing than staying in Canada. Despite their wartime disgrace, many prisoners had been so charmed by their experience that they asked to remain in Canada. Other former inmates organized reunions in Germany with invited Canadian guests.
Camp 30 is not a pretty sight these days. Age and vandalism have taken a toll. There are plans for a major restoration. Your tour guide can tell you more.
Note: This version of the story of Camp 30 was assembled from multiple sources with multiple views of the events. The writer makes no claim to authority on any of the details.
TOURS OF CAMP 30
Guided Tours of Camp 30 (Ehrenwort Trail Guided Tours) are offered by volunteers from the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, Clarington Branch. Tours normally run every other week from May to Thanksgiving weekend. For details email firstname.lastname@example.org or ACOCAMP30@gmail.com.
Self-guided tours are possible too. A brochure is available here: https://www.clarington.net/en/heritage/resources/Walking-Tour-Jury-Lands.pdf. Visitors who choose to go it alone are advised to stick to the paths and to wear masks and maintain social distancing when appropriate. Security cameras are in use. And a caution: asbestos was used in the construction of the buildings.
Written by: Rob Morphy