Smithville man was interned in Buchenwald concentration camp
Edward Carter-Edwards was one of a small group of Allied airmen who endured a harrowing experience during the last year of the Second World War.
After he was shot down and captured in the summer of 1944, the one-time Hamilton resident — who died Feb. 22 at the age of 93 at a Grimsby hospice — should have been interned in a prisoner of war camp, following rules of the Geneva Convention. But Carter-Edwards along with another 167 airmen — hailing from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United States — were placed in the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp, branded as “spies and saboteurs.”
“We assumed it was a PoW camp,” Carter-Edwards — one of 26 Canadians — told The Spectator in 1998. “Then we saw hundreds of skeletons walking around.”
He spent nearly four months in the camp that claimed the lives of 65,000 people, including nearly his own, but when he returned to Canada in 1945 he didn’t talk about it. Some of the other airmen found no one appeared to believe them because they had no proof — tattoos or documents — and Carter-Edwards believed the whole terrible experience was best kept to himself.
Over the last few decades, however, the story began to emerge and Carter-Edwards appeared in a 1994 documentary entitled “The Lucky Ones: Allied Airmen and Buchenwald” and in a 1999 book called “168 Jump into Hell.” The Smithville resident — he moved there in 1994 — spoke about his experience to high schools, universities and community groups, and the German government paid compensation to survivors in 2001.
Carter-Edwards was 20 when he was the wireless operator of an RCAF Halifax Bomber shot down by a German fighter outside Paris on June 8, 1944. He and other crew members hid with members of the French underground, but a collaborator with the Gestapo turned them over to the German authorities while they were on their way, in civilian clothes with false identities, to Paris.
They had military “dog tags” but Carter-Edwards said the Gestapo ignored them — tore them off and threw them away — and he and the airmen were loaded onto box cars with Jewish prisoners and others. They arrived at Buchenwald on Aug. 20, 1944, and were ushered out of the rail cars at bayonet point.
At the time, there were 89,000 people in the camp. Carter-Edwards told The Spec in 2001 “that it was very difficult for a human being to grasp what was going on.”
“The people in there were in terrible condition, living skeletons, with just about every imaginable disease,” he said. “We got no medical treatment at all — we were simply left there to die. Some would cry out the names of their loved ones just before they died ... Excrement was flowing through the beds, and once in awhile someone would come in with a hose and flush the whole place down, people and everything, right in their beds.”
Carter-Edwards developed pneumonia and pleurisy. Placed in what he called “the death house,” he was saved by a French university professor who used a syringe to drain the fluids out of his lungs. He was then placed on a work party laying railway tracks outside the camp, working 12- to 14-hour shifts. When he complained, Carter-Edwards said he was told “I could always report to the crematorium.”
He said a Dutch Underground captive, forced to keep a head count of the dead, took pity on him and placed him on the dead list. He was told to keep on the move and be as unobtrusive as possible. He mingled with the other prisoners and recalled seeing “a great hut full of bodies stacked like cord wood, ready for the crematorium which operated day and night.”
Carter-Edwards and the other airmen were removed from Buchenwald by the German air force, the Luftwaffe. He was taken out in November 1944 and transported under guard to Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Poland.
“Life there was rough — no heat, little food and continuous harassment — but to me it was heaven compared to Buchenwald,” said Carter-Edwards.
Born in Montreal, his family moved to Hagersville and then Hamilton before the war. He worked at Westinghouse/Camco after he returned home and lived in Ancaster for about 40 years. He was a member of numerous veteran groups. Carter-Edwards is survived by his wife Lois, two children, five grandchildren and three greatgrandchildren.
We assumed it was a PoW camp. Then we saw hundreds of skeletons walking around.
Edward Carter-Edwards in a 2012 Spectator photo. Carter-Edwards died last week. He was 93.