20. CAMP PETAWAWA
I have already mentioned that the Italians formed the largest group in Internment Camp Petawawa. Besides them there were interned Germans (Canadian citizens), French Canadian fascists led by their leader Adrien Arcand, English fascists from Tom Farr's party, foreign sailors who had refused to sail into a war zone and large group of Canadian antifascists. Also interned here was the mayor of the city of Montreal, Camillien Houde who had called on French Canadians not to register for the draft during the national registration in July of 1940.
The group of Eastern Canadian antifascists comprised the following persons: Charles Murray, Scott MacLean, Charles Smythe, Alfred Campbell, William Beeching, Gerry McManus, Louis Binder, Roy Saunders, Michael Cohen, Tom Chopowick, Ernest Holwell, Fred Collins, Muni Erlich, Norman Freed, Charles Weir, Joe Wallace, James Murphy, Doctor Howard Lowrie, Professor Samuel Levine, Clarence Jackson, William Walsh, Joseph Billings, Bruce Magnuson, Nick Huculak, Fred Spivak, Peter Keveryha, Nick Pindus, Toma Boychuk, Pat Sullivan, Jack Chapman, Dave Sinclair, Jean Villeneuve, Jean Bourget, Joseph Duschene, Romeo Duval, Ernest Gervais, Paul Gervais, Joseph Sheer, Muni Taub, Napoleon Nadeau, Julius Neyerki, Jack Grey, Kent Rowley, A. Oubry and M. Charest.
Before we were brought here from Kananaskis, Mathew Popovich, Paul Duran, Sidney Sarkin, Syd Niel, Louis Baillargeon, Doug Betts, S. Bercovich, B. Moreyne, J. Laxer, E. Charest and C. Markman were released from Internment Camp Petawawa.
Later Jock MacNeil and Harry Esson were brought here.
The official spokesman for the camp was an Italian lawyer, Scandifio. Our group had its own spokesman who was Gerry McManus, former Communist alderman on the Regina city council. The camp commander was Colonel Pence. Sergeant major Beri was responsible for the military police. The military police which guarded the internees was composed almost entirely of French Canadians who were hostile in their relations with us but in every possible way helped the fascists, particularly Adrien Arcand's group.
Each political group of internees lived in separate quarters. Between us and the fascists there was a great boundary. We never met them, unless accidentally during lunch in the dining hall or with the sick in the infirmary.
The prisoners got up at 7:30 in the morning. Roll call took place in the barracks. Each prisoner stood beside his bed. The military police and a captain entered and counted the prisoners to see if they were all present. The second (and final) roll call was taken at 8:30 in the evening. At the signal of the gong the barrack-mates assembled near their barrack and the police called out their names. If it was raining or snowing, the second roll call was also taken in the barracks. Thus, we never encountered the fascists during roll call as happened at Kananaskis where the internees — Nazis and antifascists — stood in ranks according to number.
Here too, the prisoners were responsible for order in the barracks. Work duties were carried out by all the prisoners though not every day. Each morning, the sergeant major entered the barrack and told the barrack leader to assign so many persons to work. The barrack-leader would assign work to the prisoners in turn. The prisoners worked in the forest cutting timber, loading clay or rocks on trucks or repairing roads. After work or on a day off (of which there were more here) the prisoners passed their free time in the same activities as at Kananaskis: making souvenirs, reading literature, holding discussions, singing, and so on.
At Petawawa they fed us worse than at Kananaskis. The menu was composed of such foods: one day at lunch they served beans with oil, the second day — macaroni, the third — spaghetti. Seldom was there meat. The very serving system was poor. At Kananaskis all the prisoners had to go together to the dining hall early since they were served at the tables. At Petawawa the prisoners lined up in single file near the kitchen with their cups. They often had to stand in the rain. Also before lunch and supper the prisoners stood near the kitchen and entered the dining hall only when the number of their barrack appeared on the wall of the building. In the dining hall each prisoner served himself and sat at any table where there was a place. At Petawawa many Italians did not eat in the dining hall but took their servings and prepared lunch for themselves in their barracks.
Of course, having acquaintances among the cooks, the leading fascists received the better pieces leaving the worse portions for the "multitude". The antifascists also suffered under such a system because they were also left worse food.
The Italian fascists here were quite slovenly. Their barracks were neglected, there were piles of garbage and leftovers lying about, trash lay strewn about under foot. Many of them did not wash or shave and rarely laundered their underwear. Here, as at Kananaskis, were chiefly interned Italian upstarts. Rarely did one find a worker or farmer among them.
Discipline here, as has been mentioned, was easier; however, the procedure for issuing shoes and clothing was better.
The camp commandant was Colonel Pence, a person who was entirely unsuitable for the post because he was unable to maintain order and did not command the necessary authority. Pence wanted to gain the sympathy of the prisoners for himself with chit-chat and flattery. But from day to day his prestige decreased and the prisoners began openly to mock him. With regards to the antifascists he revealed himself to be a petty politician. He promised that he would send all of our demands to the Ministry of Justice in Ottawa, but at the very same time he "shelved" them, thinking that he could fool us. Nevertheless the deception was immediately exposed by us when it was revealed on the outside that not one of our demands had gotten to Ottawa. Then, he often came into conflict with our spokesman Gerry McManus.
Sergeant major Beri, who was responsible for the internal military guard at the camp, was a reactionary and a disgusting antisemite. Once, in a quarrel with Louis Binder, he growled that all the misfortunes in the world were due to the Jews. But he said that he would fix things with the dirty Jews. We protested vehemently against him and requested his removal from the camp. The commandant had to transfer him somewhere far away from us.
Concerning our letters, matters were bad. The censors would withhold the prisoners' letters for weeks on end. The antifascists' letters were severely censored. Any sort of conjecture or suspicious lines were cut out. This very much worsened our contacts with friends and relatives on the outside. We did not have here any sympathetic soldiers who might want to help us, particularly with regards to the letters. Prisoners were deprived of even censored letters for the least offence.
However, at Petawawa the prisoners received newspapers the next day. We were promptly informed of events. True the censor mercilessly cut out that news which was considered "unnecessary" for us.
At Petawawa we were able to develop greater political activity because we were all together. Our two barracks were situated near one another and we could pass on news and make ourselves understood with no hindrance whatsoever.
The antifascists from both barracks arranged joint meetings at which political lectures were given, the next day's activities were planned and concerts and get-togethers were arranged. We were happier now because we were all together and could fight for our rights more effectively. I want to emphasize that among us existed strong cooperation, exemplary solidarity and discipline. All the same, this does not mean that minor misunderstandings did not arise between individual comrades. They were quickly resolved, however, and left no bad effects.
When we arrived at Petawawa our comrades informed us that they had sworn affidavits that they were ready to take up arms and fight against fascism. They had sent their affidavits to the Ministry of Justice. We followed their example and made out similar affidavits. This significantly helped our friends outside to develop a broad struggle for our release.
Commandant Pence tried several times to block our efforts. However, by round-about means we informed our relatives of our efforts and the text of our affidavits appeared in the press.
These were the first steps of that movement which gradually evolved into a mass struggle which was joined by trade unions, political parties and many famous public figures. This struggle finally forced the federal government to open the gates of Hull Jail (where we were later transferred) and let all the antifascists go free. But the struggle was prolonged and persistent. Only after a year, in the spring of 1942, did the government humble itself and free the last group of antifascists.
I would like to mention that when we were transferred to Petawawa several antifascists still had not had their first hearing before the commission. For example, I had been waiting eleven months for my hearing and some comrades had waited even longer — fourteen to fifteen months.
As I have already stated, we did not break our backs to get our hearings before June 22, 1941, because we knew that this was superfluous. Our fate, not to let any of us go free, had been decided by the authorities. Now, in the new circumstances, however, we demanded hearings and desired to go free in order to mobilize the labour force for the war effort and for the battle against fascism.
At the beginning of August 1941, I received notification that, after several postponements, my hearing would finally take place on August 16. The hearing now occurred not before a single judge as had been the case previously but before a commission of three judges and a representative of the RCMP. But, we were later convinced, this changed nothing. We were further detained in the camp because the commission did not decide, but rather the RCMP had the last word. And that word was: keep the communists in camp.
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