Prisoner of War Descendants visit Canada

Over the weekend of September 21 and 22, John and Verna Olenick of Reston had some unique houseguests. Dr. Ernst and Pauline Möseneder and their son, Matthias of Austria were first time visitors to Canada and wanted to see where Ernst’s father, Hermann Möseneder was a prisoner of war (P.O.W.) during the Second World War.

 In 1946, Hermann was kept briefly in the P.O.W. camp in Melita. Verna Olenick can remember being a small child and the prisoners were brought to their farm to help with the threshing. “I remember the men stooking the fields with an armed guard standing on each side,” said Olenick. “I was only nine and my sister, Mary was eight, so as children, we were more scared of the guards than the prisoners.”

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During the period of August to October, 1946, Hermann Möseneder and another gentleman named Leo stayed with Verna’s family at the Norman and Mildred Halls farm (now the farm of Brian and Sheila Boulton), north of Broomhill.

 Ernst said that his father stayed in Ontario the winter before they came to camp at the River Park Fairgrounds in Melita. He is not sure on the length of time they stayed before coming to stay at the Halls’ farm.

 Verna has fond memories of the men staying, she remembers that one day her farther let Leo borrow his car to go to the neighbour’s and Verna said that she and her sister, Mary tagged along. “Leo drove slowly out the lane with her father watching,” said Olenick. “Then once out of sight he pinned the car, driving real fast with Mary and I hitting the roof as the car bounced along.”  Verna can remember her family playing tricks on the prisoners as well, like putting thistles in their sleeping quarters or “French” sheeting the beds.

 Ernst said that his father was captured in the St. Lawrence River in a submarine. They were first deployed  to England and then eventually sent back to Canada to help with the harvest. It was early October, 1946 before they got back home to Austria.

“The men, including my father didn’t want to return to Austria,” said Ernst. “They wanted to return home heroes but instead felt ashamed as they lost the war.”

 There wasn’t a lot of opportunity for work in Austria in that time. Hermann returned, married his long time girlfriend, Ernst’s mother Freda in 1948 and  became a dairy farmer and a coalminer. Together, they raised seven children: Werner, Hermann, Ernst, Elfriede, Rudolf, Gerhard, Wolfgang.

  After 30 years, in 1976, the Halls family finally received correspondence from Hermann. Sadly this was a short-lived reunion as Hermann passed away in 1978 and Norman in 1979. Verna took it upon herself to keep writing to the family of Hermann. “I have kept every single card and letter that was written to us in an album, said Olenick. “I was very happy to present this album to Ernest upon their arrival.

 This was the Möseneder’s first trip to Canada and their first time meeting the Olenicks. “I must mention that my father thought kindly of the Halls family, they treated him like a family member,” said Ernst. While in Reston, the new friends, went out to Broomhill and visited the farm. “The house is gone,” said Verna. “But we checked out the barn and shed and the well where the men carried cold water for their bath every night.” The Möseneders are staying in Canada for two week, travelling back to visit Toronto, Niagara Falls, Ottawa and Montreal. They had rented a car in Winnipeg and drove out Friday afternoon. “John met us at the Rest’n Inn and I recognized him right away from the pictures that Verna sent over the years,” said Ernst.

 Hermann is a retired dentist but always wanted to visit Canada to see where his father was kept and meet the family that treated him like family.

 Note: There are no records in the Melita History book of the P.O.W. and very little in the RM of Pipestone’s “Trails Along the Pipestone”. John Olenick said it was something that very few talked about and was mostly kept out of the newspapers and history books. The following is an excerpt from page 17 of the Trails along the Pipestone: During the late thirties and early forties World War II saw many of our young men in the armed forces and this of course resulted in a great shortage of man power. A prison camp had been set up in the Reston Fairgrounds and a large number of German prisoners were held there. A farmer could go there and get some of these men to work in the harvest fields for a very small sum. Some of these men had to be returned every evening but some were allowed to be kept in the farmer’s houses. These men had to wear khaki coloured uniforms with a bright red patch on their backs. John said he was only 11 but can remember travelling with Tom Cook to the fairgrounds in Reston to pick up two prisoners.

 Excerpt from page 413: German war prisoners were brought in to work in the harvest fields and were put in camp in the fairgrounds.

© Reston Recorder