This Week in History


Canadian Veterans Called Up Again

For the week of Monday, May 23, 2016

On May 23, 1940, the Veterans Guard of Canada was formed by the Canadian government. Its members were First World War veterans between 40 and 65 years old. Too old for overseas service but still physically fit, they were recruited to serve again during the Second World War.

Veterans Guard of Canada recruitment poster
© CWM 19750317-021 / Canadian War Museum

The Veterans Guard acted as a security force at power plants, factories, and Royal Canadian Air Force stations, freeing up younger men to go overseas. Their main function was to guard prisoner of war (POW) camps in Canada. They also served in Newfoundland, the United Kingdom, the Bahamas, and British Guiana. The Guard originally had 3,000 soldiers divided into 12 companies. In 1943, it reached its peak with 10,257 men.

The Veterans Guard placed large amounts of trust in its prisoners, perhaps because they were experienced soldiers themselves. At many camps, POWs were allowed to leave during the day to work on nearby farms or to pursue leisure activities. Each prisoner was required to sign a parole stating he would return before curfew. Despite some escape attempts, trust between POWs, their guards, and neighbouring communities prevailed.

Inspection of Veterans Guard, Internment Camp 130, February 24, 1940
© William J. Oliver/Library and Archives Canada/PA-188742

The only major incident occurred in October 1942. Guards at Camp 30 in Bowmanville, Ont. were ordered to shackle POWs, after Allied POWs captured at Dieppe, France, were chained by the Germans. This sparked a riot that resulted in the prisoners barricading themselves in several buildings with one guard held hostage. It was three days before the Guards regained control. POWs were treated very well in Canada and many even immigrated after the war. The Veterans Guard continued to serve after the end of the war and was disbanded in 1947.

The Detention of Second World War Military Prisoners of War and of Enemy Aliens sent to Canada from Great Britain is a national historic event. The Bowmanville Boys Training School/Camp 30 is a national historic site. For more information about POWs in Canada read Canada Agrees to Hold Second World War Prisoners and German Prisoners of War at Camp 30 and the Battle of Bowmanville in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada. Also, visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada for information about national historic designations.

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