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German Brutality to British Prisoners of War (11 May 1915)

Prisoners of war were common in the First and Second World Wars, and their treatment varied. However, if they wrote home or escaped, their experience could shape how the home front viewed prisoner camps and could either ease or increase their fears for a loved one if they were captured. Major C.B. Vandaleur was a British officer who had escaped from a prisoner camp at Crefeld. He claimed he was cursed at, pushed around, and he and fifty-two other prisoners had been confined to a wagon and starved on the three day journey from Douai to Cologne.


“German Brutality to British Prisoners of War,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, May 11, 1915.


Pro-German Man Rejoicing (11 May 1915)

4Around noon on May 10, Arthur Kimpel was at the Car and Coach Company plant expressing his pro-German views, including praising the sinking of the Lusitania, a passenger ship torpedoed by the Germans on May 7. Cassel, a British man, was listening and a fight ensued. Kimpel and his father went to Magistrate Webster after dinner, wanting Cassel to be arrested. While at the Magistrate’s office, father and son spoke highly of the German army, prompting the Magistrate to write up an arrest warrant for the two men and they were arrested by Chief Crawford twenty minutes later and were held in the local police cells until they could be transported to London.


“Pro-Germans Rejoiced over the Murder,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, May 11, 1915.



Italy on the Brink of War (11 May 1915)

3Throughout May it became clear that Italy would soon be joining the war. Until late May 1915, Italy had been neutral, but it gradually became clear that Italy could not avoid the war. By early May, the citizens in Rome knew it was only a matter of days until they either declared war or had war declared against them.





“Italy on the Brink of War,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, May 11, 1915.


Outfit Was Too German, A Simple Mistake (12 May 1915)

3Theodore Hotacker was a young German man who had come to Canada to learn farming techniques and was also working as a clerk at the Merchant Bank. Unfortunately, his new farm clothes caused him to receive suspicious looks on King Street as the cut of the suit was similar to that of a German soldier and was tucked into black boots. He caught the attention of Chief of Police O’Neill, who asked to speak with him privately. After learning that Hotacker wanted to become a Canadian citizen and had not realized the similarities between the suit he had made for farm work and a German soldier’s uniform, O’Neill advised Hotacker to only wear the suit on the farm, to which Hotacker agreed. This incident, despite the tensions between those of German heritage and non-German heritage, was depicted as a simple misunderstanding and is favourable towards Hotacker’s character.


“Outfit was too German,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, May 12, 1915.


Sending Mail to Canadian Prisoners of War (19 May 1915, 3 June 1915)

Prisoners of war were able to receive mail parcels not exceeding eleven pounds and to the knowledge of the Post Office Department in Ottawa, there was no restrictions on parcel content and tobacco could be sent duty-free. Instructions on how to communicate with a Canadian prisoner were given to Canadian citizens from the Post Office Department through newspapers. These instructions claimed that content within letters should only contain local and family news and business information if needed. There would be no paid postage, letters were to be left open, and any mention of military, naval, or political information would cause the package not to be delivered. Letters were also to never be placed within a parcel and no newspapers, under any circumstances, were to be sent. While it was preferable to send postcards, if a letter was being sent, it should not exceed two sides of a piece of note paper. Money could be sent as well; while sending actual bills was not recommended, an arrangement could be made with the post master for a remittance. Finally, there was no guarantee of delivery to or from a Canadian prisoner of war.

Letters were to be addressed as:

Rank, initials, name

Regiment or Unit

Canadian Prisoner of War

Place of Internment



“May write to War Prisoners,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, May 19, 1915.

“Re Correspondence for Prisoners of War in Germany,” Elmira Signet, June 3, 1915.


Canadian Prisoners of War Treated Well (27 May 1915)

Censorship in the First World War varied and became more intense as the war continued. This article, however, is still surprising. A Canadian prisoner of war being held in Giessen claimed that he and some others had surrendered after being heavily fired upon for two days and nights by rifles, machine guns, and shells. This soldier himself had bullets go through his sack and cap. While he hoped that those at home would understand why they surrendered and not be disgraced by their actions, they were being treated well. Their prison was very clean and they were well fed, receiving three meals per day, including bread and coffee for breakfast and vegetable soup for dinner and supper and they could buy butter and sardines. The soldier claimed in regards to cleanliness and comfort, they were better off in the prison than at Salisbury Plain. The experiences of this Canadian soldier and British officer C.B. Vandaleur stand in stark contrast to each other.

“Canadian Prisoners of War are Well Treated,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, May 27, 1915.


The Name of Canada Now Has New Meaning (1 June 1915)

05For many Canadians, Vimy Ridge is the battle where Canada defined itself as a nation in the Great War. However, the idea of Canada defining itself on an international scale began earlier in the war. On June 1, 1915 the Berlin Daily Telegraph printed “The Name of Canada Now Has New Meaning” with the sub-title “Glorified before World by Magnificent Deeds Preformed by her Soldiers at Langemarck and Ypres”. The article even stated: “The wave that fell on us around Ypres had Christened the Dominion into Nationhood: the mere written word “Canada” glows now with a new meaning before all the civilized world.”

The First World War is where Canada’s birth through blood and sacrifice narrative is usually believed to have originated, and this article proves this narrative was being used years before Vimy Ridge.

This report was written by Sir Max Aitken, the “eye-witness” reporter with the Canadian troops on the front line, who also ensured Canadian deeds were reported on and featured in many newspapers. His aim was to ensure the deeds of Canadian soldiers were recognized as deeds done by Canadian troops, not just troops of the Dominions or Britain, and therefore, his works took on a very nationalistic and patriotic tone.


“The Name of Canada Now Has New Meaning,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, June 1, 1915.

Jeffery A. Keshen, Propaganda and Censorship During Canada’s Great War (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1996).


The Scientific Barbarian (10 June 1915)

scientific barbarianPortrayals of German soldiers were usually not favourable in English language newspapers, as is clear by this image printed by the Berlin Daily Telegraph. While the image and text is used to evoke fear and distrust in the reader, it also demonstrates how the First World War was changing the way Western countries fought and the equipment used. Before the war, Germany had the strongest chemical dye industry in the world and when the war started, it turned into a war industry. Initially, Germany was hesitant about using the gas as many of the soldiers and Generals did not like the idea of gassing soldiers as if they were insects. As the war continued, the German high command became desperate and at the Battle of Ypres, the Duke of Wurttemberg decided to use the poisonous gas.


“The Scientific Barbarian,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, June 10, 1915.

Tim Cook, At the Sharp End: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1914-1916 Volume 1 (Toronto: Viking Canada, 2007).


Canadian Reinforcements (10 June 1915)

Canadian ReinforcementsAccording to this announcement, Canada would soon have two complete military divisions, comprising 60,000 men at the front. In addition, there were two divisions training in Canada that would soon be sent to the front as well. One hundred doctors would also be sent to Britain or France in response to a request made by the War Office for additional medical aid. Once the new Canadian divisions were sent to the front, Canada would have about 300 doctors and 450 nurses in hospitals in England or France.



“Canadian Reinforcements,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, June 10, 1915.




War Pictures Barred From Ontario Movies (24 June 1915)

Ontario moviesCensorship is a natural part of any war, and during the First World War, efforts were made to sanitize war images, whether they were real or not. This article is a good example of this phenomenon. The Ontario Provincial Board of Censors, in communication with the Militia Department, decided that any images of war, real or fake, that showed “ghastly scenes of actual bloodshed,” would not be permitted. Marching troops with colours flying and bands playing were allowed, but any ghastly images or scenes had to be removed.

The removal of these types of images occurred throughout the war; even newsreels and films that were sent to Canada by Britain for propaganda purposes had scenes removed. These included the removal of scenes of Entente soldiers suffering after the Battle of the Somme in the British film Battle of the Somme and in 1918 the less graphic film Heart of the World had some of its battle images removed in fear that it could cause rioting as tensions caused by conscription were rising. Short articles such as this one are but one part of a much larger censorship movement.


“War Pictures Barred from Ontario Movies,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, June 24, 1915.

Jeffery A. Keshen, Propaganda and Censorship During Canada’s Great War (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1996).