Serving Once More: Guards at the POW Camp
By Isabella Lee
The Veterans Guard of Canada were a group of soldiers who had served in the First World War and were called to serve again during the Second World War. They were unable to fight overseas due to their age but their previous experience allowed them to be an important part in training recruits, protecting military installations and crucial infrastructure, and guarding prisoner of war (POW) camps. In the latter part of the war, new military recruits were sent to work as guards alongside the Veterans Guard of Canada.
Internment Camp No. 133 in Lethbridge was guarded by the Veteran Guard of Canada, which consisted of the Headquarters Company and two guard companies. Each guard company did an eight-hour shift and consisted of two officers, a sergeant, three corporals, 72 soldiers, one bugler and one jeep driver. There was a ratio of sixteen prisoners to each guard on duty and each guard was given a rifle. To detect escape attempts, unarmed guards called Scouts, would walk inside the compound looking for abnormalities and inconsistencies.
Beginning in 1943, POWs across Canada were sent to work on farms. Normally, the prisoners and their guards were put on a truck unaware of the destination. In an interview with Galt collections technician Kevin MacLean in 2008, Joseph William Hurst, a former soldier and guard at the Lethbridge POW camp, stated that “The usual shift was two hours on four hours off, however, on trips to the farms, we stayed with the twenty men assigned to us for the entire day.”
The farmers would often invite the prisoners and guards for meals. Hurst commented on this: “My Lee‑Enfield .303 rifle would accompany me into the house. Being I had full trust in my charges, I would remove the clip of bullets from the rifle and put it into my pocket. The rifle was then reared in the corner until after mealtime.” The trust Hurst had in his charges was not uncommon and the relationships built between the guards, farmers and prisoners eventually meant that many guards stayed and farmed in the region after the war, and several former prisoners returned to do the same.
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.