Having fought in the First World War, Clemens Niekamp took action to make sure his sons wouldn’t have to fight in a second.
Bernard Clemens Niekamp was born in Sandloh, located in the Cloppenburg area in northwest Germany, on June 30, 1877.
On May 17, 1907, he would marry Maria Schlomer. In those days, he worked as a farmer and in a factory that produced wooden paint brushes.
In 1914, the First World War began and Niekamp would serve.
Dora Kiefer, his granddaughter, said that her grandfather didn’t really talk about the war, through sometimes he would discuss it with close friends his age when they came over. Some of the older members of the family did know what was going on and they relayed some information.
“I often wondered what part of Germany he fought in,” she said. “They’re often told you’ll be shipped here or shipped over there. I don’t know where exactly, but he picked up a lot of French words.”
Niekamp would receive the Iron Cross for his bravery.
The Niekamp family’s history book does have a few stories about his experience during the war.
Once, he dug a trench to protect himself. An officer of higher rank told him to get out so he could use it. Niekamp complied and dug another trench.
Sometimes, Niekamp was able to take a leave from the war and visit his home. Since his uniform was infected with lice, he’d stop several yards from his door and yell out, “Vater is hier voms der kreig,” meaning, “father is here from the war.” Maria would come out with a change of clothes and disinfect the uniform with lye.
Niekamp was once shot in the shoulder, but the bullet was caught by his knapsack
While Niekamp was fighting, Maria worked to help the family survive. She had to sell a work horse and would help a neighbour with farm chores in exchange for help with field work. They would raise rabbits for food. They would have to keep an eye on them to make sure they weren’t stolen.
When Niekamp returned from the war, his hair turned white and he suffered from ulcers. He would have been in his early forties.
Kiefer said Niekamp’s service was a point of pride for her and her family.
“We were quite proud of the fact he was a soldier. That meant quite a bit. He was fighting for what he thought was right, keeping everybody safe.”
In 1928, having witnessed unrest during the Weimar republic, Niekamp decided to immigrate to Canada.
“His main reason was he didn’t want to see his sons involved in war,” Kiefer said.
In October of that year, he boarded the Krefeld with Maria and their five children. Docking in Québec City, the family made their way to St. Gregor by rail. In 1929, the family bought land to farm and homesteaded.
In 1934, Niekamp became a Canadian citizen, something that Kiefer said her grandfather told her was a big occasion in his life.
“In – I don’t know exactly – 1950 or 1951, they took a trip back to Germany and when they came back, grandpa said, ‘Canada is the best. It’s good to be back on Canadian soil.’
When the Second World War came, Niekamp’s son, Benny, was conscripted into the military. Benny wrote a letter to Prime Minister Mackenzie King saying that while he was happy to serve his country, he didn’t want to fight his cousins from Germany. The Prime Minister’s office responded that they were looking into the matter and that he wouldn’t be forced to go to Germany. Benny didn’t go overseas during the war.
Niekamp would live out the rest of his days on his farm, living with his son – and Kiefer’s father – Joseph. He would die at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Humboldt on April 30, 1962 at the age of 84.