Pays-Bas / Musée

The dark side of the Canadian liberators




An unknown page in the military history of the Canadian Army are the serious violent crimes committed by Canadians in the Netherlands. Sadly, hundreds of Canadian soldiers were guilty of these. They committed the crimes primarily against their own officers, but also against Dutchmen. Naturally, the crimes did not go unpunished. For this, the Canadian army set up a special penal prison in the North Brabant town of Vught.

After the battle in Normandy, the Canadian army faced not only an increasing lack of discipline, but also increasing criminality among its soldiers. The daily stress to survive and the death of comrades caused problematic behaviour, often resulting in crimes. One can think primarily of murder and manslaughter, but certainly also rape, serious beatings and looting and theft of civilian property. Drunk driving also caused traffic accidents, fatal or otherwise.

The Canadian, military penal system distinguished between short- and long-term punishers (more than two years). For the latter group, confinement in a special penal prison followed. These severely punished people were not imprisoned all day, but had to perform work within the walls of a penal prison under strict supervision and discipline.

In late November 1944, the British management of the military penal prisons in Aalst and Lebbeke signalled to the Canadian army command that these locations were becoming overcrowded. For the few hundred Canadian long-term prisoners, the army command had to come up with its own solution. They found it in the partially empty barracks of the former concentration camp in Vught. After the liberation of the camp, it was set up as a punishment camp for so-called 'wrong' Dutch and German inhabitants of the Rhineland who had to leave their living environment and needed shelte

From mid-December, the first hundreds of Canadian prisoners arrived in Vught. The Canadian section of the former concentration camp was named 1st Canadian Field Punishment Camp. The number of long-sentenced prisoners increased rapidly in the months that followed because, unfortunately, the crimes started to focus more and more on the Dutch population. On 5 May 1945, there were about 750 Canadian long-term prisoners in Vught, with dozens of pending criminal cases for serious crimes. 

In the summer of 1945, the 1st Canadian Army allowed the first units to leave for the homeland. The penal camp in Vught was also disbanded and the entire occupation including the guard unit embarked for the return trip to Canada. The prisoners had to serve their further sentences there.




Nationaal Monument Kamp Vught, Lunettenlaan 600, Vught