Veteran Stories:
John “Hans” Rock


  • German prisoners-of-war playing chess at Camp 40, Farnham, Quebec, November 1945.

    Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-213875.

    Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-213875.
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"During wartime, it was 3,000 voluntary from Germany prisoners went out and worked at the farm."


I went in 1939 to the [German] Army. I have to go, if we wanted or not. So we get trained in Vienna, Austria, that was belonging to Germany together [since the Anschluss, the Nazi German annexation of Austria, formally completed on March 12, 1938]. I was there about four weeks, going into 1940, over Christmastime, and then we went down by train over Italy to Sicily. Take the boat to Sicily, Palermo, and we stayed there in Palermo. And I was with the anti-aircraft. Anti-aircraft, you shoot against tanks and planes. I was in North Africa from 1941 to two years in the war in the desert, not far from Tobruk [Libya], we went to the desert and then to Tobruk and we went from there to Sollum [Egypt] and in 1942, [Erwin] Rommel, our general, and then the rest of the army went back. So [General Bernard] Montgomery attacked, the [British] Eighth Army, the British, Australians, New Zealanders, and they pushed us back and we was caught on a island, right in the Mediterranean, about 80 to 100 feet high cliffs. We were still about two weeks before we get caught. Then from there, I went into prison, Australian tanks catched us and we had our hands up, we had to give us cigarette, they give us everything, they give us scotch, we was very surprised that they did that to us. And they respect us very, very good, I have to say that we never get punishment or beat up or something like that. It was very free, in German Army the training was very hard: 4:00 in the morning up, wake up, very cold water. At that time, there was no warm water to come out of the tap, like now in the free world. Well, and then we was in Cairo, from Cairo Rommel attacked again and then they take us in a hurry to the [SS] Viceory of India, that was as big boat. We went to the Suez Canal, we still didn’t know what to do with us. And we was about 12,000 German prison[ers]. But later on was then came more. Anyway, we went to the Suez Canal, then in the Red Sea to Madagascar, all the way to the Indian Ocean. And we landing in Durban [South Africa], where the World Cup is now [Mr. Rock was interviewed on June 30, 2010, during the World Cup in South Africa] , for me that’s interesting. I played [football] in the junior A before the war but when the war broke out, I could be a top player. In 1943, they send us in December the 7th to Lethbridge [Alberta] and then we stayed in Lethbridge in a [German prisoner of war] camp, be 12,000 and was another 12,000 in Medicine Hat. And we was not really in contact but I play a lot of football and I was chose for the football the best players in the camp against Medicine Hat. Football team, good players, it was all crowded. And we went down by truck, we was 12 players, we beat Medicine Hat 3-1. During wartime, it was 3,000 voluntary from Germany prisoners went out and worked at the farm in … up from Lethbridge and we was there right until end of the war, we was in the, worked in sugar beets, potato fields, cornfields. They was very good to us. The food, I have to say, in the prison camp, was three times better than what we get in the German food. In the morning, porridge, eggs, anything you want, bacon, brown bread, dark bread, white bread, coffee, tea, milk. The German in the morning, up 4:00, black coffee, without any milk, a little sugar and marmalade and two, three pieces of bread. Lost the war?! Whoo, I was glad it was over. Any time, you couldn’t speak. If you said that that’s the free speech, what you have in the [United] States and Canada, I couldn’t say how you can spell it. I could say he was a bad guy through and through, it don’t help. If I would say, example, [Adolf] Hitler was an idiot, he’s crazy; he could shoot me. Oh yeah. If they find out. We have to talk, you can talk of my grandfather, six guys under themself, together in a little pub and play cards. And he died lately. We was young guys, between 16, 17, we went down to basement from the gasthaus [a German inn/pub] that Gestapo is coming. The youth here, the young people what happened in Toronto again with this riots [the protests against the G20 Summit in Toronto, June 26-27, 2010] and all, they would be all shot during the Gestapo time. I’m lucky, I was 90 years old in March [2010]. Yeah. But I still do my exercises like in the German Army.
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