Virginia & Allen Capel
Virginia Capel was a five-year-old farm girl in Kent County during the war, whose primary experience involved German POW’s on her family farm. Allen Capel also grew up in Kent County, Maryland, on a farm.
In this interview, Virginia Capel shares her stories regarding German POW’s working on her family farm, and the impact that their presence had with her family. Allen, her husband, shares his experience of his family’s self-brewed beer fermenting and popping in their bottles.
POWs Working on the Farm – Virginia Capel
We had German prisoners here that came every morning, and then went back to their—not barracks, but to Centerville. They had them on buses and took them around to the people who wanted their help because all their men were gone. So my brother was a bombardier, and they were coming down from Maine, and the pilot says, “Mulligan, don’t you have family in this area?” And he said, “Yeah.” So they came over the farm, and the pilot looked down and saw many men out here in the yard, and he said, “Mulligan, what do you got out in your yard?” Because they were putting up hay in the barn. And he [Mulligan] says they were German prisoners, and he [the pilot] got very angry. He [Mulligan] had to really convince them that, “Hey, I’m gone. Who is supposed to, you know—someone has to do the work.” But it was amazing to see him standing at the door of that airplane going over, and it’s just like, “No, this is not possible”. But yeah, it was fun.
Feeding the POWs – Virginia Capel
The first morning Dad picked up the men at the hill, they didn’t have anything to eat, and he said, “Oh, where is your food?” So he called, the people, and said, “These men don’t have anything to eat.” He says, “They left here with a buttered sandwich, and that’s what they get.” So mother told them that we have a house out back, a little shack, and she said, “Go into it and I’ll hand lunch out to you.” And if there were a different then the four that came regularly, and they were here for about 6 months, and if it was different than the four that usually came, they wouldn’t come up. Finally, Mom made arrangements if it happened that way, that they would come up singly, and the other guy wouldn’t know what they are doing. So they fed them. I mean they worked hard; they had to be fed. So they handed food out the back door, and it’s kind of always funny that we’ll hand out food out the back door to you because, you know, that’s what mom did for the prisoners.
Taking Care of POWs – Virginia Capel
We had four German prisoners, and if one of them did not come in the morning and so forth, they would put another one in. There were two of them spoke English. My brother, of course, did not meet these men. They were very nice, very reliable, and my brother and Tommy went over to see them maybe fifteen years ago or so and stayed with them. They weren’t able to talk, but they communicated quite well. They stayed at their house for about a week and had a very nice time. They would write us, but, of course, we’d have to get an interpreter to write back. My sister was at Washington College at the same time because she was a year younger so she knew them better, and she would write to them, and they’d interpret. But gradually the correspondence stopped. They were reliable, got the work done, very, very nice men and were really tickled to see the Chesapeake Bay. They thought they would never, ever see the Chesapeake Bay. It was quite an experience. I was much younger. I was 11 years younger so they couldn’t figure me out. I was like 5 years old. They couldn’t figure out who I was in this group of people. They thought I was Katherine’s daughter where Katherine was my sister. But they were very nice, very nice men. But I’ve heard many times that the Americans took care of the German prisoners when they were over here by feeding them that they weren’t supposed to and so forth. Whereas the American prisoners in Germany, the German people took care of them. So it wasn’t the people that were involved in this war, it was the government because everyone took care of each other when they had the chance to.
Father’s Experience with German POWs – Virginia Capel
We had a German person, American but German, who lived next door to us, and he was quite angry that dad has these men here. And in this group of people, in this neighborhood, they were many of the same family, and they didn’t trust them or [were] afraid of them. My dad was from New York. He was Irish originally, and he came down during the Depression from New York. Farming was different and new to him because he was a taxi driver. So when he got down here, it was a totally different way of doing things, and he trusted these men. He was supposed to have an interpreter with them at all times since they were German, and he hired him and the man was here. Couple days afterward, he [her father] said, “I don’t need to be watching these men; they are not going to do anything.” When they came off the bus one time at the top of the hill, one made a different move, and the guards pulled a gun. And my father got out of the truck and says, “Don’t you pull a gun out on these men.” He says, “They’re not going to do anything. Leave them alone.” And, you know, they just trusted each other, and they worked. I mean at that time, you got up the wood for the winter, had to chop the wood, you had to get everything in ready for the winter plus all the crops. And it was shocked corn; they were in little shocks.
Basement Beer Story – Allen Capel
Was there a black market in Chestertown?
I’m sure there was. Probably the biggest black market would be for booze. Yeah, well everybody had a still. And there was no shortage of liquor and beer. I do remember two beer labels — Arrow Beer and Gunther. Then there was what we call, One Eye National Bohemian, and we had that. They all come in bottles in those days. But everybody made their own. We were sitting in the house one evening, and they put the beer down in the cellar to ripen, I guess. And they used bottle corks. They didn’t use caps; they didn’t have cappers. They capped it with cork. We were sitting there eating dinner, and all of a sudden we hear this, “Plink, plunk, plunk, plink, plink.” The damn beer—it was a hot day—and the beer started fermenting, and they was shooting them corks out. Everybody ran down to the basement and started drinking beer as fast as they could.