Nova Scotia

Amherst event will mark 100 years since POW camp closed

It's been a century since a prisoner-of-war camp housing Germans in Amherst, N.S., shut down. An event Tuesday marking the event will unite two countries.

600 prisoners of war were held at the camp in during WW I; some died there

Approximately 600 prisoners of war were held at the camp in Amherst. (Library and Archives Canada)

The town of Amherst has a long and storied military history.

But what many people don't know is the story of a First World War prisoner-of-war camp that operated in the town between 1915 and 1919.

"Halifax had a prisoner-of-war camp at the Citadel but it wasn't big enough," said Cumberland-Colchester MP Bill Casey. "So they put them on a train and brought them to Amherst and set them up in an old factory."

Casey will be one of the dignitaries attending an event on Tuesday to mark 100 years since the camp closed.

Many people from Germany will be at the event, including a 50-piece Luftwaffe band.

Casey said one of the instruments to be played at the event has a strong connection to the camp.

This wooden ship made by a prisoner during the First World War is one of two artifacts that have ended up with Bill Casey's family. (Submitted by Bill Casey)

"One of the prisoners made a cello, a very basic cello, made from the materials they had in the prison camp a hundred years ago," said Casey. "We're going to have it played with the German band for the first time in a hundred years."

Photos, letters and artifacts made by those imprisoned at the camp will be on display at the event.

Some items have come from private collections while others are from three local museums — the Age of Sail Heritage Museum in Port Greville, the Cumberland County Museum and the Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum.

Many of the items made by the inmates were sold to local people during the war, including one that ended up in Casey's family home.

Ray Coulson of the Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum stands with the cello made at the camp 100 years ago. (Submitted by Bill Casey)

Casey contacted the German embassy in Ottawa to share details of the camp.

Soon after that conversation, German officials, largely unaware of the Amherst connection to their country, began doing some research.

"They started at the Amherst cemetery where 11 of the German soldiers were buried," said Casey. "There is a gravestone there with all their names on it and they were really surprised by that.

"Then they went to the Cumberland Museum and they were really surprised that there was a whole slew of artifacts from the prisoner-of-war camp. You could have heard a pin drop when they saw all of these items."

Casey said the prisoners helped build Amherst's Dickie Park and the nearby Nappan Experimental Farm.

The commemorative event will begin Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at the Amherst armoury.