Fear and Familiarity

Some residents of the Eastern Shore met Germans face-to-face without leaving their homes. When able-bodied men like Allen Capel went off to war, their family farms faced a labor shortage alleviated in part by the nearby German prisoner of war camps. His sister Virginia describes how the prisoners were bussed in daily, labored by day, and were fed illegal lunches by her mother. Feelings about these foreigners spanned a spectrum from outright fear to tentative friendship, as some resented them from afar and others built relationships based on proximity and trust. While Ralph Deaton was wary of German prisoners housed close to his home, Shelly Spicer invited POW’s to participate in a neighborhood baseball game. Howard Cook describes the difficulty of reconciling the presence of Germans who “were good people” on one hand, yet deserving of retribution “for killing our men” on the other.

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.

Childhood Fear of German POWs—Ralph Deaton

That used to be a prison camp. That was a German prison camp. Back after the war, when they brought these German prisoners over here, they had them stationed over on 213 just outside of Churchill. And that’s something that scared me to death. ‘Cause back in 1945, I’m nine-years-old now. And I used to like to ride on the trucks with my father, grandfather, that type stuff. But if I found out that some of those prisoners were working out on the farms, I wasn’t going. You know, you’d be lying in bed at night; it seemed like to me I could feel these guys coming up out the woods or something like that. So, I was unnerved by the fact that, you know, the prison camp was that close.

German POW Baseball Game—Shelley Spicer

We had a superintendent in school. He was real conscious of sports, and he wanted us to be able to play sports in our senior year, our junior and senior year. A lot of these guys, they were coaches. They were gone. They were already in the service. So he was the superintendent of the school so he saw that we still had sports in other towns. We had a tough time getting there. We had to furnish our own transportation if it was an away game, and the tires were terrible to get. They were rationed car tires. So some of us boys had cheap cars. I didn’t, but we had cheap cars, and, of course we didn’t have no money because we were going to school. We bought cheap cars, and tires weren’t that slick. But we loaded up in these cars, about three cars, and go—we took probably about ten or eleven men, or boys, in our broken down cars and stuff like that, and we made it there. And when we got there, there was just a little booth at where we entered, and it was almost one man maybe two was able to get into it in case it rained. The fence was just a minor fence. The Germans wasn’t a lot of problem. So they had worked on playing baseball a little bit. They knew a little something about it because our superintendent of schools had talked with someone up there to start with, and I think he got somebody to go in there and kinda train them a little bit. So anyhow, we went in, and we played baseball with them, and it was kind of funny. I mean they couldn’t speak English, and we couldn’t speak German so we used sign language. But we made it, and they enjoyed it. They got more out of it because they didn’t know a thing about it when they got there, and so they enjoyed it. We played them, and, of course, we were better than they were, but we had training. But it was okay. We couldn’t make too much conversation, but we tried to explain something to them by using our hands or whatever. So it was okay.

Working Alongside POWs—Howard Cook

Yuh! My God! We had a POW—I’m glad you asked that question. We had a POW building up here as you go on Route 213 up here by Church Hill. They had prisoners there. We was husking corn, and my father [would] go up there, and we’d get four German prisoners. My father would go up there and pick them up, and they’d bring them back, and they’d husk corn for my father. So anyway, we’d go up there, and my father would get four of them, and I felt sorry for them. They come here, and they was well educated people. One of them was a doctor, and one, I don’t remember, but they was Germans. And I don’t think sometimes the people up there treated them right, but they was prisoners; they was killing our men. So they come here one day and my mother looked and see what they had—for bag for dinner. It wasn’t much. So my mother said, ‘You come on in the house,’ and my mother fed ’em everyday until [unintelligible], and they was so appreciative. I can’t find the letter. When they got out—one of them was a doctor—he wrote my mother a letter thanking her for the kindness she give him. But that’s what they was, prisoners of war. They were good people, but they couldn’t control their lives because of Hitler getting in.