Prisoners and internees

For some, being a POW or an interned alien during the Great War was not much better than being in the trenches.


Soldiers and enemy alien civilians suffered alike as interned prisoners during the Great War.

For allied troops captured by the Germans, being a POW meant suffering all kinds of abuses. Despite being a signatory of the Hague Convention of 1899 — which outlined humane treatment of prisoners of war — allied captives were physically abused and often fed fetid rations that were poor in quality and had few calories. Hunger and sickness abounded.

All told, approximately 3,800 Canadians were made prisoners of war during conflict. The largest number of soldiers captured on a single day was 1,400 men during the 2nd Battle of Ypres. Of these POWs, three hundred died in captivity, while 175 escaped. The most famous escape from a German POW camp took place at Holzminden, Germany, in July 1918; twenty-nine men successfully escaped through a tunnel designed by a Canadian POW.

Canada also created POW camps for enemy soldiers it captured on the battlefield. These camps were placed throughout Canada, and prisoners were often made to perform manual labour.

Prisoners of war in Canada were divided into two classes: First Class prisoners being primarily German officers and Second Class prisoners who were civilian enemy alien labourers from Austria-Hungary.

The Canadian government also interned immigrants from enemy countries out of fear that they might be disloyal to Canada. Immigrants of German descent, or those with roots in Austro-Hungarian Empire, were viewed with suspicion by many Canadians of British and French stock. Nearly nine thousand enemy aliens were placed in internment camps during the war.


Hidden Messages and Code Words

Hidden Messages and Code Words

This article reveals the hidden messages in Bill Alldritt’s letters home that facilitated his escapes from POW camps.
Dan Koneszynigi

Dan Koneszynigi

Like many Ukrainians, Koneszynigi came to Canada with the promise of opportunities. Instead he found himself in an internment camp.
Ernest Edward Boyce

Ernest Edward Boyce

He was put in charge of a POW near Amherst, Nova Scotia, likely due to his advanced age—he was fifty-years-old when the war ended in 1918.
Fred Armstrong

Fred Armstrong

He was shot in the leg while running across an open field and was sent to a hospital in England before he returned to Perth in 1919.