Fred Kohse and his cousin Victor Heiny at the Vernon Internment Camp

Fred Kohse and his cousin Victor Heiny at the Vernon Internment Camp

Stories shared from behind Vernon lines

As detailed in From the West Coast to the Western Front, Vernon played a role in the First World War.

Vernon played a pivotal role as Canada responded to the hostilities and carnage that embroiled Europe from 1914 to 1918.

As detailed in From the West Coast to the Western Front, the small Okanagan community was host to a military camp as well as an internment camp during the First World War.

“One was sending men to war and the other was putting so-called enemy aliens behind wire,” said Mark Forsythe, host of CBC Radio’s B.C. Almanac, and co-author of the book with Greg Dickson.

The internment camp, where W.L. Seaton Secondary is now, became home for people whose ancestry was connected to aggressor nations, including Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Among them were women and children.

The Vernon News reported at length on the activities in the internment camp.

“By digging a tunnel nearly 100 feet in length which started under the kitchen in the internment camp and came out on the premises of a nearby German resident named Frank Scherle, 12 alien prisoners at the Vernon camp of detention made their escape on Saturday night,” states a News article from Sept. 7, 1916.

Much of the information compiled by Forsythe and Dickson comes from family members or historians, including Andrea Malysh, a Vernon resident with the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund.

“I never could have imagined that Ukrainian and others of Eastern European descent were held here,” wrote Malysh.

“This is where the government sent families, and some were still behind barbed wire here in 1920 when the camp was finally closed.”

From the West Coast to the Western Front covers a variety of topics, including the First Nations contribution overseas. Among the native soldiers was Private Johnny Harris of Armstrong, who enlisted Jan. 22, 1917.

“Harris was shipped overseas in the summer of 1917 and served with the 47th Battalion. He saw some desperate fighting at Passchendaele and Amiens and was part of the now famous Hundred Days campaign, the Canadian Corps’ dash to victory,” states the book.

“Johnny Harris would not seek his wife and children again. Harris took a gunshot to the head during the height of fighting. He died of his wounds Aug. 15 and is now buried at St. Sever Cemetery, near Rouen.”

Dickson relates the history of his great-uncle Theo Dickson, who was in a training camp in England when he died from an illness at age 22.

“His name is on the cenotaph in Vernon but bodies were not sent home in those days and he was buried in a military cemetery in Wiltshire,” writes Greg Dickson.

In 2014, Dickson travelled to England and visited his great-uncle’s grave.

“We left a Canadian poppy on his grave and took a moment to remember the brother who never made it home,” he wrote.

Royalties from the sale of the book will go to the Canadian Letters and Images Project at Vancouver Island University.

“Letters, photos and diaries from the war can be sent to them for their archives and they send them back to you,” said Forsythe.

With Forsythe retiring from the CBC in December and this his last book associated with B.C. Almanac, he hopes From the West Coast to the Western Front will resonate with people.

“We need to know our history more and we need to appreciate it for the good and the bad,” he said.