Lethbridge Prisoner of War Camp
By Isabella Lee
As the Allied forces took German prisoners of war (POWs) on the front lines of the Second World War, Great Britain grew concerned that enemy forces could be strengthened if the prisoners were ever rescued through an invasion of British territory. To prevent that from happening, Canada agreed to take the German POWs. Two concerns with this agreement were how to construct camps large enough for all of the incoming prisoners and how to ensure that the treatment and care of POWs in the camps met the requirements of the Geneva Convention.
Internment Camp No. 133 in Lethbridge was the second largest internment camp in North America, with 13,341 POWs immediately moving into the camp when it was completed in November 1942. The POW portion of the camp was surrounded by a low warning wire, then a double row of wire fencing with a no man’s land in between. There was one gate into the camp and 22 guard towers staffed with three soldiers each. Three sets of accommodations for guards were outside of the fence on each side of the compound.
With the large number of prisoners, the Lethbridge camp became a city within itself, occupying 638.49 acres of land. The camp was divided into six sections. Each section had six dormitories, mess halls, kitchens, entertainment facilities and administration buildings. The recreation halls within the compound were each 145 by 140 feet and could seat 5,000 people. In contrast, the six mess halls could seat only 800 prisoners which meant that meals had to be served in shifts. Some prisoners took on the role of cooks, while other prisoners with non-combat training were engaged in their professions in other areas of the camp such as tailors, barbers, doctors and dentists.
Even though the compound functioned like a city, it was still a prison. The prisoners required care and were guarded by the Veterans Guard of Canada to ensure none escaped.
You can learn more about the Lethbridge Prisoner of War Camp through materials in the archives and collections at the Galt Museum & Archives and at the Lethbridge Military Museum located in the Vimy Ridge Armoury near the Lethbridge Airport which is open from noon to 4 pm each Wednesday.