The past, re­stored

Bill Casey restor­ing ship built by POW at First World War Amherst in­tern­ment camp

The Amherst News - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAR­RELL COLE

For decades, a wooden ship has sat in the homes of Cum­ber­land-Colchester MP Bill Casey and his fa­ther.

Casey knows it as built by a pris­oner of war at Amherst’s First World War in­tern­ment camp, but he doesn’t know who built it, when it was built, or even what the ship is a replica of. Now, his nephew, Matthew, an ac­com­plished wood­worker, is restor­ing a piece of his­tory more than a cen­tury old.

“It’s been in the fam­ily for as long as I can re­mem­ber,” Casey said. “It’s very in­tri­cate and very de­tailed. The work­man­ship is won­der­ful con­sid­er­ing he prob­a­bly had very few tools to work with.”

The in­tern­ment camp in Amherst, lo­cated on the cor­ner of Park and Hick­man Street (where Casey Con­crete is presently lo­cated), was the largest in Canada dur­ing the First World War. It oper­ated from April 1, 1915 and closed in Septem­ber 1919.

It was home to 853 pris­on­ers of war, the most fa­mous of which was Leon Trot­sky, who was held from April 3, 1917 to April 29, 1917, and would go on to be­come the Min­is­ter of War for Rus­sia and the founder of the Soviet Red Army.

There are many ar­ti­facts from the in­tern­ment camp. Many of them are lo­cated at ei­ther the North Nova Sco­tia High­landers Reg­i­men­tal Mu­seum in the Col. James Lay­ton Ral­ston Ar­moury or at the Cum­ber­land County Mu­seum. There are prob­a­bly still items from the camp in house­holds in Amherst.

Casey said there are likely many in Amherst who know lit­tle of the town’s con­nec­tion to the First World War.

“I’ve talked to peo­ple who have no idea of this part of Amherst’s his­tory,” the MP said.

The long­time MP, who will soon cel­e­brate the 30th an­niver­sary of his first elec­tion win in 1988, es­ti­mates the ship has been in the fam­ily fNorovaetm­le­baestr years.

“My fa­ther had a com­mer­cial re­frig­er­a­tor and it had a big stor­age space un­der­neath. That’s where he kept it. I think he planned on restor­ing it, but never got around to it. I started try­ing to re­store it and made some lifeboats, but I have no idea what be­came of them,” Casey said.

Casey is amazed at the skill in­volved in build­ing the boat.

“Even with the equip­ment avail­able to­day it would be hard to do, can you imag­ine try­ing to build this a hun­dred years ago in a prison? It’s a work of art,” Casey said. “It has re­ally de­te­ri­o­rated, but we’re go­ing to re­store it.”

Matt Casey said even he would have a dif­fi­cult time build­ing some­thing with the tre­men­dous de­tail of the model.

“Even with my mod­ern work­shop, I think I would have a hard time do­ing what the per­son who built this did,” Matt said. “The de­tail is stag­ger­ing. There was even a rail­ing across the top that looks like it was made from bone, or some­thing like it. I wish I knew ex­actly what ship it was be­cause I would like to re­store it ex­actly back to what it was.”

Matt said he’s go­ing to re­place the rig­ging and rail­ings as well as

“Even with my mod­ern work­shop, I think I would have a hard time do­ing what the per­son who built this did.”

– Matt Casey

the bridge, the lifeboat cra­dles, in­takes for the en­gines, the pro­pel­lors and rud­der.

The ship, which looks like a replica of the RMS Ti­tanic or its sis­ter ship, the RMS Olympic, at one time had a pair of masts and a line of lifeboats on each side of the ship. Casey said there were once stair­ways and sev­eral build­ings on the top deck along with rig­ging from the four stacks.

Over the years, the ship sat in var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in Casey’s home as well as his fa­ther’s. He has no idea how the fam­ily ac­quired the ship, but it was com­mon for POWs at the camp to trade hand­made items to com­mu­nity mem­bers for things like tobacco and food.

“What would be re­ally nice would be find­ing out who made it and whether he has any fam­ily some­where, but that would likely be next to im­pos­si­ble. It would have been so nice to talk to the guy who made this.”

Casey said he and his nephew are go­ing to re­search the ship as much as pos­si­ble and he is hop­ing once it’s re­stored it can be dis­played promi­nently some­where in town as a part of Amherst’s his­tory.


Cum­ber­land-Colchester MP Bill Casey and his nephew, Matt, look over a model built by a pris­oner of war at the Ger­man in­tern­ment camp in Amherst dur­ing the First World War.


Ray Coulson, cu­ra­tor of the North Nova Sco­tia High­landers Reg­i­men­tal Mu­seum, looks through a book of in­for­ma­tion about the Ger­man in­tern­ment camp that was lo­cated in Amherst dur­ing the First World War from April 1915 to Septem­ber 1919.


The Amherst in­tern­ment camp, that held more than 800 Ger­man POWs dur­ing the First World War, is lo­cated in the bot­tom left of this aerial photo shot in the early 1930s.


Ger­man POWs work at the Nap­pan ex­per­i­men­tal farm dur­ing the First World War.

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