Remnants of Second World War internment camp remain in rural N.B.
Published Wednesday, October 30, 2013 4:05PM ADT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 30, 2013 7:37PM ADT
Sitting on the edge of the forest, along the lightly-travelled road between Fredericton and the mining town of Minto, N.B., are the remnants of a Second World War internment camp.
The decades-old crumbling concrete structure in Ripples offers a rare glimpse of the front that emerged here at home.
Beyond the cement water tower base near the road is a marked trail, guiding visitors around what used to be a bustling community, complete with guards toting machine guns.
Originally, it was home to German and Austrian Jews who fled the Nazis. Later, it became a prisoner-of-war camp.
Regardless of its role, few knew it existed. Retired teacher Ed Caissie has been piecing the camp’s past together for the last 16 years.
“I interviewed someone in Ripples and she said she was a nurse during the war. She knew there was a camp there, that’s all,” says Caissie.
“She didn’t know who was there, why they were there, how many were there or how they were treated, and that was right in her backyard.”
Fifty-two buildings once stood at the site, housing almost 1,000 men at any given time.
Once Internment Camp B-70 gave way to the prison camp, Germans and Italians from the front lines were locked up there.
“Escaping from Ripples turned you loose into a muskeg swamp and some pretty rough country, and if you did that in the spring, you probably weren’t going to get out with all your blood intact, let alone anything else,” says Marc Milner, an author and military historian at the University of New Brunswick.
He says the camp was set in rural New Brunswick on purpose, to help deter escapees. Milner says that worked, most of the time.
“There were tunnels dug and examples of that and there was one really quite interesting case of a group of U-boat captains who were there, U-boat officers who spent most of a year organizing an escape, and the Germans even sent a submarine that spent a week off of North Point, P.E.I., waiting for them,” says Milner.
Today the buildings are gone and a dense forest has risen in their place. Many of those who once lived there are also gone – only a few remain – and Caissie is happy to share their stories.
“We shouldn’t forget our history, and number two, we want to make sure we understand the history properly,” says Caissie. “It teaches us about humanity. It shows us that when war breaks out or tragic events, people can be, innocent people can be imprisoned.”
Hardly noticed by locals during the Second World War, not much has changed at the site. The fences and the guards and the prisoners are gone, but their stories live on.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Andy Campbell