Who doesn’t like a mystery? Today, I have two to solve. One is modern while the other is more than one hundred years old. Both come with people to seek and stories to unravel. They also both come in boxes.
The first mystery is in a metre-long heavy cardboard box. When my husband and I moved to Edmonton in September, the movers lost some of our items. (Please e-mail me to get the name of the company so you don’t EVER use them.) In October, the company told us they had found our stuff and were dropping off our boxes at 6 a.m. one weekday morning. Great.
Ten boxes were offloaded into our lobby and the mover started piling them onto a dolly to bring them into the condo. Hmmm. Something seems off. Oh, they weren’t the right boxes. Nope. None of them were ours. Back they went, into the truck. Except for one – the long and cumbersome box. The mover knew he had left it because he called me while he was driving away and said he would return at a later date.
We’re still waiting.
We’ve had this box in the closet for almost six months. While I was switching winter clothing for spring today, I thought I’d might as well open the box in case there’s an address inside. There’s not. Just four heavy wooden shelves that aren’t good for anything other than being shelves. So, if you’ve lost a box of shelves, get in touch. We might have your stuff. As for ours, no one knows.
The next enigma has legs. It’s a small wooden box that my husband and I bought at an estate sale yesterday. The sale was held at a 5,500 square-foot home in Edmonton that was full of amazing antiques – everything from porcelain figures, to vintage clothing, to beautiful and grand furniture. One item that caught my husband’s eye was a squat butterscotch-coloured cube with three legs inlaid on the top. He looked closer and saw a sign that described the box as “Prisoner of War art.”
We bought it.
At home, we cleaned the item with a damp cloth and took a closer look at a small inscription on the bottom: POW 6011 Knockaloe I.O.M. We googled it and found that Knockaloe was a First World War internment camp in Patrick on the Isle of Man, U.K. (The three legs on the box is a triskeles and is part of the island’s coat of arms.)
I had seen some Prisoner of War art done by Allied soldiers at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence when I was there last year. It was fascinating and I was struck by the detail and intricacy in the drawings — and in some, a humour that was most likely non-existent in reality. To me, PoW art is part of a historical and human story. It’s a personal record from a time when prisoners couldn’t exactly take snapshots.
The PoWs at Knockaloe were almost all civilians with German, Austrian and Turkish backgrounds. Some of these “enemy aliens” had lived in the U.K. since childhood and couldn’t speak a word of their language. (Of course, Canada had its own internment camps in both WWI and Second World War.) The Knockaloe prisoners were regular folk who got caught up in the war in 1914 and held until 1919, some months after the Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. After it was all over, few records of the prisoners survived. Britain just wanted to move on, but now families who have connections with the camp want information. That’s why the community charity, Knockaloe.im, is asking for stories before they become lost forever. The endeavour is huge as 23,000 PoWs and 3,000 guards were on the island. I’m going to contact the Knockaloe foundation and tell them about my husband’s find. Perhaps the little box found in Edmonton can add a piece to the legacy of the camp.
Update: Today, on International Museum Day, I have news to share about the decorative POW box. In less than a week of discovering the artwork made in the Knockaloe Internment Camp and reaching out to the community charity, Knockaloe.im, I’ve received a response. Vicky Crellin, Knockaloe.im Events and Communications Coordinator, wrote that a trustee also has a similar box with the same POW number.
It is interesting to find two items the same because this means that the internee would have made them for commercial purposes rather than as a gift for a loved one or friend. Artifacts with names or inscriptions on them were generally made for family members and had a more personal touch. Items such as yours were more for commercial purposes, the internee would have made such items to sell to raise money to spend within the camp or more likely to send home to their family. ~Vicky Crellin, Knockaloe.im Events and Communications Coordinator
Vicky added that the group is working on collecting Knockaloe internees’ information for the Knockaloe and Patrick Visitors Centre that’s opening next spring. In the meantime, she asked if my husband and I would consider loaning the box so it could sit beside it’s twin. I think that’s a great idea.
May 18 is known as International Museum Day. It’s day to mark how museums are an important means of cultural exchange.