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SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse 

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During First World War, Amherst had arguably the largest prisoner of war camps in Canada. The prisoners came from several different countries but mostly from Germany. The first prisoners to arrive at the camp where sailors from the German armed cruiser SS Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse. This German ship had been cornered by the British Navy off Africa and then sunk. 


Approximately 680 members of the crew were brought to Canada to be imprisoned for the duration of the war. They first landed in Halifax and then they were transported by armed train to Amherst where they were imprisoned in an old factory that had been converted into housing and a POW camp. 

Many of the prisoners turned out to be very talented artisans. One of those artisans made a beautiful model of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, the actual ship that the sailors sailed on.   This model ship has been in my family for as long as I can remember.  Growing up, my father lived just across the street from the POW camp, and he walked by it going to school every day.    I played with the ship when I was a little boy.  Unfortunately, I never asked my father how and when he acquired the ship, but I am glad that he did. 









Another one of many POW artifacts in the Amherst area is this World War I Army Tank.  The detail is incredible considering what the prisoners had to work with in the Amherst POW Camp.

As the 100th Anniversary of the closure of the POW Camp approached in 2019, my nephew Matt Casey and I were examining the model.  By this time, it was missing some significant parts like the bridge and many lifeboats, funnels etc.  Matt is also an artisan and agreed to restore the ship by making new parts and re-rigging it etc.   He did a super job, and the ship is now like it was when the builder made it in the POW camp 100 years ago. 

For the 100th Anniversary of the closure of the POW Camp, we invited the German Embassy in Ottawa to participate in a celebration.  The embassy sent four representatives to Amherst to assess the possibilities and they were amazed at the collections of artifacts at the Cumberland Museum and at the Regimental Museum at the Armouries.  They took a special interest in the model of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse as well.  I told them it would be wonderful to know who the builder was and maybe find his family.   


A few weeks after their return to the embassy in Ottawa, they called me and said that they had news.  The embassy had contacted Berlin for any documents about the Amherst POW Camp.   Some of the items that Berlin sent back to the Embassy were several editions of the newspaper that the prisoners wrote while in prison.  One of those papers named the builder of the model ship.  One article described a sale that the prisoners had where they sold their models and toys to local people to earn money.   Here is the translated mention of the ship.   



Durch uberaus naturgetreue Nachbildung zeichnete sich auch ein Modell des Hilfdkreuzers "Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse" von Herrn G. Wackerbart aus, wahrend die ausgestellten Krauzer und sonstigen Kriegsschiffe nicht alle so gut gelungen zu sein schienen , als Zahllose fruher hier im Lager angefertigte. 



A model of the auxiliary cruiser "Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse" by Mr. G. Wackerbart was also distinguished by its extremely lifelike reproduction, while the cruisers and other warships on display did not all seem to be as well-done as the countless numbers that had previously been made here in the camp. 


Above is one page of the many issues of "Amherster Spatz" provided by the German Embassy in Ottawa.  They obtained the copies from the Government in Berlin.  This was the prisoners newspaper.

I am astonished that these newspapers survived World War One and World War Two, and are still in excellent condition.   I am amazed that the German officials were able to access them and send them to Canada after 100 years.  I am thrilled that we now know the name of the artisan who built this ship.     

So, now we know that G Wackerbart was the sailor that made the model ship.  It would be wonderful if anyone out there has a connection that might lead us to the family of G. Wackerbarth, a sailor on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. 


If you have any ideas, please let me know.   

Also I want to thank again the German Embassy for their major participation in the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the closure of the Amherst POW Camp.  They sent several representatives and the entire Luftwaffe Band which conducted an incredible concert at the local armouries.  Those in attendance will never forget it.   

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        Actual Ship Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse                 Model of ship Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse

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Morris Haugg and I looking over copies of the "Amherster Spatz" newspaper provided by the German Embassy.  We were very surprised that these Amherst POW newspapers survived 100 years and were filed away in Germany.

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