by Edgar J. Lavoie in Summer 1989
The first time Georg Schuchmann and Emil Jochum saw Canada, they were prisoners of war. They spent months in a remote bush camp near Longlac, Ontario. Huge red bull’s-eyes on their backs presented targets to armed guards.
Recently, after a 43-year absence, Schuchmann and Jochum fulfilled a longtime dream to revisit the area. With the help of new Canadian friends, they rediscovered old Camp 26. When he was 19 years old, Georg Schuchmann served in the 301st Infantry Division of the German army. Assigned to a 120-man supply unit, he drove a team of horses that pulled a camp kitchen wagon. After the Allies landed in Normandy, France, on June 6th, 1944, they surrounded Schuchmann’s division.
The Germans broke out towards Germany. Encircled again, they broke out again. Said Schuchmann, ” I swim with my two horses the River Seine.” Once more surrounded, “We saw that the war was lost.”
“My best friend, an older chap, 34 years old, said to me, ‘ I must come back home. I have two brothers lost in Russia, and I am the last one. ‘”
“So, this morning he said to me, ‘Georg, we stay here for POW. We are sure to come back to Germany again.'” Near Ghent in Belgium, Schuchmann and about two dozen others surrendered themselves to two British soldiers on September 6th.
Eventually Schuchmann and about 2,500 other POWs shipped out of Glasgow, Scotland, on the 36,OOO-ton lie de France. Alone, without escort, the ship zigzagged across the North Atlantic to avoid detection by German submarines, and arrived in Halifax seven days later.
Schuchmann arrived by train in Medicine Hat, Alberta, on October 4th, where he was interned in Camp 132. In May 1945, he and several others entrained for Longlac, Ontario, to work in a labour camp operated by Pulpwood Supply Co. Ltd., the forerunner of the present-day Kimberly-Clark of Canada operation.
Emil Jochum was serving in the coastal artillery on the Isle of Guernsey in the English Channel when the Allies invaded France on June 6th, 1944. Three days later he was captured. He met Schuchmann at Medicine Hat, but Jochum left for a labour camp in Longlac soon after he arrived.
Schuchmann and his contingent walked to the Pulpwood Supply headquarters at Longlac. He had a vivid memory of being overwhelmed by the “mess hall”, as he called it, with its quantities of wholesome food. Even more exciting was the vision of three young women waiting on the tables. “For one year we have seen no women,” he said.
Boarding the train again, the POWs travelled west a few miles to Octopus Siding. Met by his compatriots, including Jochum, he began life in Camp 26 on the shores of tiny Octopus Lake. That first night his comrades scared him with stories of ferocious bears which prowled outside the “barracks”.
Isolated from the world, Schuchmann settled into the life of a bushworker. The Company set a quota of one cord per day. Each prisoner cut 8-foot pulpwood using a steel-framed bucksaw and hand-piled the logs into frames four feet wide and 4 feet high. For their efforts, the prisoner received a credit of 50 cents a day at the camp store.
Used to heavy work on his family farm, Schuchmann found the work easy. “I work three-four days a week and then finished. ” rest of the time prisoners relaxed.
On a sports field bulldozed for them by the Company, the prisoners played soccer. Perhaps twice a week they fired up a sauna, sweated themselves clean, and then dove into the lake in summer or rolled in the snow in winter.
In Reinheim, West Germany, when Schuchmann received an invitation to help Longlac celebrate its 60th Anniversary of Logging this summer, he determined to come. Jochum happened to visit him, learned of chuchmann’s intentions, and announced that he was going too. Schuchmann brought along his i3-year-old
grandson, Gerrit Wagner.
First they visited Minneapolis, Minn. , where Schuchmann’s daughter lives. Mechthild Stiegler and her husband and infant accompanied them to Longlac . They quickly found friends in residents of Longlac, among them Paul Mengelberg and his wife, Aggie.
Mengelberg spent time as a German prisoner of war in Pulpwood Supply camps, No. ‘s 15 and 27, far down Long Lake. After the war he wrote from Germany asking Allan F. Buell, the Woodlands manager, for a job, and the Company sponsored his immigration.
Buell, now living near Ottawa, met the two former POWs during Anniversary Week. He commented that the meeting was one of the week’s memorable experiences, for their return was evidence of the good treatment they received at the hands of the Company.
The German visitors also met Ken Budge, another Longlac resident. Budge served in the 4th Division, 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade/WS during the invasion of Normandy. In a matter of minutes the three veterans were chatting excitedly. Said Budge, “Before we were enemies. Now we are friends!”
Budge said that no German soldiers ever surrendered to his unit. However, by coincidence, when he returned to Canada in 1946, he voyaged on the lie de France.
Schuchmann has a fair command of English, but Jochum relied on Mengelberg to translate for him. On Monday, June 17th, the visitors set out to locate old Camp 26. Joe Kraemer and Verdun “Mac” Gauthier, Longlac residents, acted as guides.
Kraemer served as a POW in Camp 8, a remote location down Long Lake. An avid fisherman and hunter, he had stumbled on the site of an old camp at Octopus Lae.
Gauthier, whose family settled in Longlac more than 50 years ago, found a camp in the same area when he was prowling the bush, and remembered it for the ruins of a 13-hole outdoor privy. Schuchmann recalled that the outhouse could serve 12 or 14 men at a time.
Following a narrow gravel road north of Highway 11 between Longlac and Geraldton, the party came to the CN track after two kilometres. Just north of it, a partially overgrown road runs east towards Octopus Lake. In less than a kilometre one finds evidence of an old bush camp in a stand of 40-year-old timber.
Schuchmann and Jochum poked around vigorously. Evidently most buildings had been long removed. Small heaps of rotting lumber spotted the bush. Some rusty artifacts remained, such as sleigh hardware, wash basins, and stove parts. Among the several pits was the trench for a privy with the rotted remains of a i3-hole bench.
An extensive garbage dump of bottles and rusted cans lies on the south side of a knoll. Schuchmann recalled himself and his comrades sneaking up the knoll in the evening to spy on the bears rummaging through the dump. Beyond lay the railroad track, now completely hidden by bush. He recalled an eastbound train every
morning, and a westbound train at 4 p.m.
Only one wall remains of the former buildings. A log wall sags disconsolately in the brush about 200 feet from the lake. A barrel stove, pipes and scattered rocks identify the site as a sauna. Nearby is a clearing about the size of a town lot, lush with waist-high grass. Emil Jochum remembered it as the sports field.
Jochum recalled that prisoners used boats on the lake for recreational purposes. One was a dugout made from an enormous log. They used bedsheets as sails.
As a pastime, Jochum built suitcases from the boards of packing cases and gave them away to comrades. He and others also made illicit homebrew. Sitting down for a meal, a prisoner held a tin can between his knees, filled it with food from his plate, and then reached for more. Ingredients such as raisins, prunes and oranges fermented in secret places. He recalled that guards either looked the other way, or joined them for a friendly drink.
All POWs had red “target” patches on their backs, but documents reveal that guards had instructions that they should never fire on prisoners attempting to escape. The remoteness of the camp, accessed only by railway, the wilderness with its flies in summer and bitter cold in winter, and the relatively good living conditions in bush camps during wartime, ensured that prisoners stayed put.
Schuchmann recalled one death in his camp. His best friend, who bunked next to him, died of a fractured skull when a chiko (standing dead tree) hit him. He was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Thunder Bay, and on his return to Minnesota, Schuchmann was resolved to locate his grave and photograph it for the man’s family
On Easter Sunday, April 21, 1946 , Schuchmann turned 21. Next day he walked across the honeycombed lake ice to the cutting area. A few nights later it rained, and the snow and ice disappeared. The prisoners learned they were leaving.
They walked down a trail to Highway 11, saw Long Lake for the second time, and eventually shipped out of Halifax for England. The British put many POWs to work. Schuchmann recalled jobs in southwestern England building house foundations, harvesting sugar beets, and working on a farm.
In February 1948 he was sent home, where he resumed life on the family farm. Today he runs a dairy farm with 60 head of cattle, and expects his son to take over from him soon.
Before leaving old Camp 26 for the last time, Schuchmann had to do two things. He dipped his hands into Octopus Lake. As he explained in German to Mengelberg, it was a sentimental gesture.
Secondly, he collected souvenirs a small rock from the sauna, a coil of wire used on hay bales, a U-bolt for use of a padlock, and a short rusted piece of blade from a bucksaw. He lost the blade coming out of the bush, probably snagging it on the brush.
Actually, this was the second return visit for Schuchmann. He made a quick trip in March 1988, having been visiting his daughter in the U.S.A. He found the right bush road without any help, got out of his car, and climbed the hard-packed snowbank. He stepped into snow up to his chest, and gave up the idea of trying to locate
old Camp 26.
Next time, said Schuchmann, he will return with his wife. He is not alone in remembering his time in a Canadian bush camp as the good ol’ days.
All photos from Greenstone History files.