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Life as a prisoner of war

It has been called the most controversial battle Canadians have ever fought. On Aug. 19, 1942, after nearly three years of waiting in England for a chance to fight, Canadian troops were sent to raid the French coast at Dieppe. But the Germans were ready for them, and the attack became a massacre. Of nearly 5,000 Canadians sent to Dieppe, only 2,000 returned. More than 60 years later, the operation remains divisive: was Dieppe an essential trial run for D-Day, or a shocking waste of lives?

Only a third of the nearly 5,000 Canadians involved in the Dieppe raid make it home. The rest are killed on the beaches, or taken captive by German forces. Maj. C.E. Page is one of the lucky ones. Though he spent a year in a German prisoner of war camp, he has been repatriated and is now a free man once more. In this talk for CBC Radio, Page describes the conditions faced by the Canadians captured at Dieppe. 
. Approximately 9,000 Canadians became prisoners of war during the Second World War. Many were captured in the Pacific, including some 1,689 Canadians taken by the Japanese at Hong Kong on Christmas Day, 1941. Those PoWs were kept in horrendous conditions, starved and abused for 44 months. You can learn more about the hardships endured by Canadians captured in Hong Kong in the CBC Archives topic Continuing the Fight: Canada's Veterans.

. There were 1,946 Canadians captured by the Germans at Dieppe. Many were transferred by rail to the giant Stalag VIIIB PoW camp near Lamsdorf, Germany. Regular soldiers, many badly wounded, were crammed into railcars. In Forgotten Heroes: The Canadians at Dieppe, author John Mellor says that in one instance, German captors stencilled the railcars in chalk with "Churchill's Second Front Kaput!") Captured officers were transported by regular railway coach.

. According to Jonathan Vance, an assistant professor of history at the University of Western Ontario, conditions in PoW camps run by the Germans were relatively good. "By the time Dieppe PoWs arrived the system was up and running," Vance says. Prisoners were relatively well housed and well treated - at least at first.

. The Canadian Red Cross sent parcels for prisoners, one for each man per week (although the men often didn't receive them that frequently). The parcels contained tinned meat or fish, dry biscuits, dried fruit, tea, jam, powdered milk, chocolate and soap.
. Prisoners considered the Canadian Red Cross parcels superior to those from the British, American and New Zealand Red Cross. The Canadian parcel contained 2,070 calories, more than any other.

. Prisoners were also permitted to send and receive letters, but mail was subject to censoring by both Canadian and German authorities.
. Families could also arrange and pay for private companies to send care packages to prisoners. Besides food, the most desirable items were cigarettes, which could be traded in the camp for virtually anything else. Other items permitted in care packages were books, playing cards and games.

. The treatment of prisoners got worse as the war went on. By 1944, the German war machine was beginning to crumble, and prisoners were sometimes denied food or forced into labour. In the camps, dysentery was rife, and lice, fleas and bedbugs were rampant.
. Many German prisoners of war were sent to PoW camps in Canada. You can read more about them in the CBC Archives topic Canada's Forgotten PoW Camps.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio Special
Broadcast Date: Nov. 9, 1943
Guest(s): C.E., Major Page
Duration: 13:58
Photo: National Archives of Canada, C-014171

Last updated: August 10, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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