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Camp 30, WWII skirmish

By Valerie MacDonald, Northumberland Today

NEWCASTLE - The only skirmish on Canadian soil during the Second World War took place near Newcastle, at the prisoner of war camp known as Camp 30.German POWs were held here in buildings that today have smashed-out windows and an air of derelict abandonment. A rezoning sign leans over near the roadside fence on the Concession Street East property and a no-trespassing sign is posted on a tree close to a pair of attractive gates barring the front entry of the facility. But it has obviously suffered from the visits of vandals over the decades. Most of the time the collection of brick and wooden buildings, some burned out, stand silent except for those arriving on fundraising tours.Cobourg residents Gail and Tony Rayment, who emigrated from England some decades ago, were visitors recently, attending the tour with members of a Northumberland County-based Probus club. You may have seen advertisements of the Spirits of Camp 30 tour presented by the Clarington branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario. The 90-minute tour is a fundraiser for the formation of a foundation to preserve Canada's last intact POW camp. For information you can contact 905-623-2734."They are very handsome buildings," Gail Rayment said during a recent interview.Some are art deco and the architecture is lovely, she continued, seeing past the damage of time. She said she expected her husband Tony, a WWII buff who remembers sneaking out from under his school desk to watch dog fights in the sky over Britain, would be interested in going, and so arranged the outing.During the tour, a guide explained how this former boys school was converted into the POW camp in the early-1940s and he provided interesting details, Gail said.It was a POW camp like no other because the prisoners, many of them higher-ranking officers, were able to request and receive fine quality food, clothing and other items from Germany during their time behind bars in Canada.Indeed, according to Internet sites including www.Camp30.com, the prisoners lived better than most of the people in the homes and farms surrounding the rural camp."There were few complaints about the conditions inside Camp 30 but it was the prisoner's duty to try to escape so they tried but none was successful," the website states.The guide's version, relayed by Gail, is far more interesting.Every once and a while, to do their duty, the prisoners would dig their way out of the camp. They would go to a nearby farm where they would have a hearty breakfast the next morning - and then ask the farm family to "capture" them and return them to Camp 30, tour-goers were told.The Battle of Bowmanville, referred to at the beginning of this story, took place when, it is said, Hitler ordered all Canadian POWs to be shackled and the British government retaliated by ordering the same. When volunteers were sought for the shackling, none stepped forward at Camp 30. Instead, according to the web information, the POWs resisted from Oct. 10 to Oct. 12, 1942 and a skirmish occurred throughout the various buildings. The Germans used baseball bats, jars of jam, anything at hand to resist, but with reinforcements from Kingston, they were overcome by their Canadians keepers.They were to remain shackled until the Canadian POWs were no longer in chains. This took place on Dec. 11, 1942, according to the website.The tour guide and the Internet, however, said that before that date the Canadians would throw a key in at night so the German prisoners could unlock themselves.Overall, it appeared a comfortable life, as told by the tour guide, Gail said, and "they didn't want to leave it."After the war many returned to the area, she was told.Camp 30 - located close to Camp X, the spy training camp in nearby Whitby - was one of a kind."It was a country club camp for officers," said Gail, whose father and brother were in the army during the war.Her brother, Guy, took a tour through Normandy recently, including Dieppe, and offered a little more about the "chaining policy."Gail wrote about this and included his comments as part of her ever-growing e-mail list about interesting places, things and people that she sends to friends and family."Apparently one of the senior officers, a brigade commander I believe, rather unwisely took with him a complete copy of the operational order for the raid, which inevitably fell into enemy hands when he was captured, despite his best efforts to bury it in the shingle on the beach," her brother wrote."When they analyzed the document, the Germans were incensed to find it contained the detailed administrative instruction that prisoners were to be shackled and led back to the boats and thence to England, and in retaliation, from that time, all Canadian prisoners were shackled."Hearing about this, the Canadians issued a tit-for-tat shackling of German POWS, hence the riots at Camp 30."He also wrote that it was through the Red Cross in Switzerland that the chaining of prisoners was stopped on both sides.If you are further intrigued about Camp 30 but can't take a tour, you can still see a closer up view of Camp 30 by visiting www.blogto.com/city/2009/07ontarios_forgotten_landmarks_camp_30/ where photographer Jonathan Castellinio has posted some interior shots, as well as winter-time exteriors.vmacdonald@northumberlandtoday.comtwitter.com/NT_vmacdonald