Poof Tardiff: POWs of Stark

The writer had responded gladly to an invitation presented to newspapermen to pay a visit to the camp at Stark and view woods operations being carried out by the men being interned there for the duration of that war.

An enjoyable 18-mile automobile ride brought this writer to the camp, and under the direction of Major Simmons, they were escorted through the various buildings that were occupied by natives of Germany as prisoners of war.

The grounds about the building showed signs of effective work on the part of the prisoners. A drainage system, garden plots and trees, indicated a cooperative movement among the prisoners in an effort to make the living area the attractive.

The sleeping rooms were clean and comfortable with double bunks lining the sides of the rooms. Here and there were tables conveniently placed for the use and purpose of letter writing, facilities being on hand as provided by camp officials and an occasional home-like touch was evident as one caught site of a photo or snapshot adoring the walls of the sleeping quarters.

The kitchen, also, was found to be spotlessly clean and appeared to have ample table space for the diners. Two large refrigerators gave evidence of the fact that the food had little chance of spoiling, but rather guaranteed its being kept in excellent condition.

Food here was the same as that supplied to our own men in the service, the cooking of which was cared for by members of the POW group.

A trip to the infirmary convinced the writer in 1944 that adequate measures were being taken for the physical well-being of the colony members and this together with the fact that they were being fed, assured the visitors that the men at work should be healthy and fairly happy.

A recreation room furnished opportunity for games of various types, and it was learned that the men in general favored soccer as an outdoor sport. The stockade canteen, connected to the recreation room, provided and opportunity to secure candy and tidbits as they might desire.

It was learned that plain chocolate was favored over the cream filled candies, that milk was preferred to beer, when available and that the prisoners were more fond of pipe smoking than Americans.

After the building was inspected, the writer got into a Dodge truck and took to the woods where the German prisoners of war were working. It was a 6-mile journey combining a vehicle and hiking.

Upon reaching the scene of operations, an occasional tree weakened with the aid of a saw and wedge and was falling to the ground. As the first tree gave way and landed, hand clapping was heard, accompanied by a strenuous shout “gut, gut.” This told the writer that the POWs were interested in a piece of work well done.

The foreman on the job at this time was a man named Richard Lapointe and he informed the writers of course, that these were not professional woodsmen, but added that they were doing a good job.

Selective cutting was carried out and hardwood 6 inches in diameter along with spruce 8 inches in diameter were being felled. The amount of wood cut per day was said to be one-third cord per man, but production would increase as the woodsmen (POWs) became more experienced.

The men were said to be in good health and it was added that not a single accident had occurred since the foreman had taken over. The showing of movies by the Brown Company emphasizing safety measures, plus the printed pamphlets distributed to the men being largely responsible, would seem for the fine results that were being achieved.

Several score of men were engaged in the operations at Milan and a similar number at the Brown Company site in Stark. Work was said to be suspended during severe fire weather and on rainy days. Showers, of course, did not interfere with the cutting.

The schedule of work contained six days of nine hours each day, with 10 minutes rest after 50 minutes of work. Sundays were free from labor and church services were provided for those who cared to attend. Two-thirds of the members of this POW camp were were Protestant with the remaining one-third Catholic or other.

Mail was delivered to the prisoners as soon as it arrived, as were packages from family, relatives and the Red Cross. Each prisoner was allowed to write and send one letter and one post card each week.

The age of these German POWs ranged from their 20s to late 30s, and the average was somewhere between these years.

The camp at Stark was a branch of the Fort Devens, Mass., camp and was under the command Major E.G.S. Schwartz. The Devens commanding officer was Colonel Simmons, with Harold G. Stork, director of personnel relations.

The group at Stark had chosen a spokesman to represent them in all camp matters, and there seemed to be few or no complaints among the men, according to the writer.

As the author of this story left the camp for Berlin, he could hear the attractive voice of a baritone prisoner, but he was not singing. He was saying that “if he had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls he would fly,” but why should he, as the atmosphere, conditions of life and labor seemed to be such that one might be well satisfied with the situation in Camp Stark.

Also, as the writer continued toward Berlin, it was impossible for him not to entertain the hope that the American boys now prisoners in many enemy camps in various parts of the earth might have been receiving somewhat nearly the splendid treatment given the German prisoners in the good old USA.

Even though those POWs in Stark were well treated, some of them always tried to escape and make a dash for liberty. Within one week during the beginning of July 1944, five escapes had taken place.

Although they were routinely rounded up and brought back to Camp Stark, the newspapers in Boston brought to the attention the fact that German prisoners were escaping with alarming regularity here.

There were also concerns in the minds of the locals that these escapes could create larger problems, but it did not take place and all the escapees were captured eventually.

Poof Tardiff writes a weekly column for The Berlin Sun. Questions or comments email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Also, join the many fans of “Once upon a Berlin Time” on Facebook and guess at the previously posted weekly mystery pictures.

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