|Stalag VII A: Oral history|
A.L. (Bud) Lindsey
A Soda Jerk Goes to War
By A.L. (Bud) Lindsey
During the time just Prior to Christmas of 1944, we were able to observe the German civilians in Munich having Christmas decorations, however limited in quantity, not unlike those displayed in my hometown. This was somewhat a surprise to us as we thought the German civilians were not allowed to exhibit signs of Christianity.
Most of us began to get the Christmas spirit and tempered our negative feelings of the British noncom cadre at Barracks 53. I don't remember who in our barracks originated the thought but we took up a collection of cigarettes to give the British cadre as a Christmas gift. The number of cigarettes was substantial and, by standards of a POW in Stalag VII A, they became wealthy. We did not expect a gift, or gifts, in return as it would have been impractical, if not impossible, for the British cadre to supply such. I suppose the Brits did thank us, but they still looked upon us as being ill-bred and uncouth. And we still looked upon them as being "uppity."
The diet of the dank, heavy German bread created quite a bit of intestinal gas which had to be emitted on occasion in public places. This was a real problem for me, while in transit from the place of my capture and the prison camp at Moosburg, as we were riding a civilian train for some hours one night and I, along with other prisoners, had no choice but to get rid of the gas. We tried to look innocent and hoped the others an the train would blame the German guards. However, we did refrain from any finger pointing.
The gas problem persisted while in Stalag VII A and became the sport of some of the men in barracks 53. At the time one of the men had the "urge" he would jump up on the single table in the barracks, position himself so that his posterior was handy and yell, "Match." Anyone who might have an extra match and wished to use it for the purpose could ignite the expelled body gasses, an activity which might be viewed by the British cadre and others as being a sign of poor upbringing.
Most of the men in our barracks were from the northern states and being the only one from Texas, naturally I was called "Tex." We were in groups of twelve, being assigned to bunks in a tier of that same number. We were given a single German blanket and slept on (or in) the three story high bunk bends which were about a foot too short and six inches too narrow. The bunks were equipped with a thin mattress of burlap type material and stuffed with straw, and infested with every type of parasite known to man, dogs, chickens and other and livestock.
The soldiers having the rank of private, I being one, were lucky in one respect - we had a free ride into Munich. True, we were supposed to work shoveling snow and debris, but we became masters of shovel-leaning, a working technique not unrecognized by the guards, but some did not care. Working in Munich allowed the POWs to trade any articles or foodstuff items from the Red Cross parcels for food, namely the heavy, dark German loaves of bread. A normal sized loaf of this bread may have weighed five pounds - it was very dense, but filling. Filling was what we needed. I feel that the nutritional benefits of this German bread were not great - some said it consisted mostly of sawdust but it was the best we had.
The Red Cross parcels were wonderful and gave us the calories that were lacking in the daily food the Germans furnished. Most of us used the cigarettes that came in the parcels for trading both in Munich and within the camp. Most of us smoked, but had not acquired the habit to such a degree we could not forsake such. Cigarettes were our monetary system, a pack of Chesterfields buying as much as three loaves of German dark bread.
The brands of cigarettes the parcels usually contained were either Old Gold or Chesterfield brands, the least desirable of the American brands. Most G.I.s felt the Lucky Strikes went to the officers. None were ever found in the Red Cross parcels. The British Red Cross parcels contained a lot of mutton and other strange items along with Players cigarettes, the least desirable of all cigarettes. Never the less, any brand of American or British cigarettes were relished by the German civilians and the German guards.
The number of loaves of German bread which might be traded for a package of American cigarettes varied with the supply and demand. When I first became involved in trading cigarettes for bread, a package of twenty cigarettes would trade for perhaps four loaves, but with the influx of more prisoners after the battle of he bulge, this figure dropped to two or three loaves.
Naturally it was "verboten" (forbidden) to trade with the German civilians, but by bribing the German guards, it was allowed to some extent. The trades with the German civilians would be hurried with the guards being sure there were no unwanted observers of the activity. I should imagine the American and British POWs were the source of the major part of the black market in Germany.
Periodically the POWs were searched at the main gate as we entered upon returning from work parties. This was a quick search with only about one in five or six being stopped for a "patting" down. If bread was found it was removed from the POW and tossed into a growing pile on the ground. I had found a French overcoat for which I traded. The reason I desired this type of coat was because it flared at the bottom and I was able to sew two pockets on the bottom inside of the coat to be used to place loaves of bread, a location that would not be noticed in the cursory search at the gate. Another technique quickly adopted by the POWs was to jockey into position at the gate where the chances of being the one in six searched would be unlikely. My overcoat idea worked quite well and I was never relieved of bread which was in the pockets.
One night after dark, when we were being searched under searchlights, I observed a POW in front of me with his hands raised above his head being searched for bread with the guard patting him down. But the clever POW had a loaf of German bread in each of his hands which were raised above the guard's notice. He passed in the gate with his bread being intact.
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