|Stalag VII A: Oral history|
A.L. (Bud) Lindsey
A Soda Jerk Goes to War
By A.L. (Bud) Lindsey
One of the men in our barracks had a small Bible which he shared with everyone. Many of us, including myself, took advantage of his offer and read the Bible from cover to cover. Church services were offered aboard ship on the journey from the States to France, but little time was available for such after we landed in France. Earlier in the war it was my understanding church services were held at Stalag VII A; however, I was not aware of any being held after I arrived in early December of 1944. I believe if someone had wished to conduct religious service the camp's Commandant, Oberst Burger, would not have interfered.
It would be rare indeed to find a soldier of either side who had not acquired a type of "fox hole" religion during a time when artillery rounds were falling nearby, many making adamant promises to God, some kept and some not kept after the shelling ceased and the war was over.
The food served at Stalag VII A was only minimal. I have no idea how many calories were involved. There were certainly no calories in the cup of hot so- called coffee we had each morning. Lunch was usually a cup of barley, rutabaga or cabbage soup. Our evening meal was a tad better being soup and occasional piece of meat, of unknown origin, and a chunk of the dark German bread, and sometimes potatoes, boiled with their skins intact.
For the evening distribution of the barley, rutabaga or cabbage soup, each twelve-man group would alternate in spooning out the portions out of a large kettle which appeared to hold 20 or so gallons. The privilege of dispensing the soup was alternated between the groups each day. One evening as our group's turn came to "cater" the evening's soup pot, I was selected to be the dispenser. Using a large ladle, I carefully gave each POW a ladle full in their cups. Unfortunately I ran out of soup with about six or eight men being left without soup. I being one of the six or eight who went to bed hungry, not an unusual circumstance. There was naturally some grumbling and negative comments tossed my way, criticizing my ability as a soup dispenser, but no outward threats upon my life.
One day I traded cigarettes for what the POW vender called a rabbit, already skinned, dressed and ready for cooking. I was able to cook the dressed animal on the little blower type cook stove. I'm not sure now, or then, if it was indeed a rabbit. It could have been a cat or other small animal including a very large rat. It was delicious!
Our Red Cross parcels were available depending on transportation by the Germans and the temperament of the German command. We were in groups of twelve, which coincided with our bunk tiers, to receive the parcels. Depending on the availability, sometimes we had four men on a parcel per week, sometimes two, sometimes none, but at Christmas of 1944, we received a parcel per POW.
We welcomed any parcel, but the American parcels were most desired over the British as they contained coffee, rather than tea; American cigarettes; cheese, rather than plum pudding; crackers; sugar cubes; powdered milk; Spam rather than mutton. Hormel, the inventor of Spam, may have won the war, of course with a little help from General Eisenhower and myself.
We found we could crumble the German bread, mix it with some powdered milk, add sugar, raisins, put the mixture in an empty can and hang it out the window to freeze - it made a nice pudding or whatever you might call it.
One report calculated the calories obtained from the German rations of soup and bread would be about 800 per day. Even the Russians who were supposedly fed twice the German ration would only receive about 1600 per day, a figure which I understand is minimal for an adult under such conditions.
The typical American Red Cross parcel consisted of four ounces of powdered coffee, twelve ounces of corned beef or Spam, eight ounces of sugar cubes, sixteen ounces of powdered milk, eight ounces of crackers, four ounces of orange concentrate, eight ounces of cheese, a small bar of soap, a chocolate bar and some raisins or prunes. There were also packages of cigarettes. Each parcel was designed for one parcel per man per week, a goal hardly ever reached. The typical distribution was one parcel per week for four men, or perhaps up to twelve men.
One report which I read estimated the calorie content of a Red Cross parcel was about 7,000 calories.
Some Red Cross parcels of clothing, toilet paper and other necessities were distributed to other camps, however, I was never the recipient of any or had knowledge of any in Stalag VII A.
Any place, other than at Stalag VII A, when you have a group of nineteen year old Army soldiers together, the talk naturally turns to girls and their physical merits, with some of the less gentlemanly conversationalists telling all of their exploits with the opposite sex. Even though being young men with high testosterone levels, girls were mentioned but the main subject of conversation was food. Home cooking and what our mothers cooked. We were constantly hungry and the conversations about food were not welcomed by all as talking about food was mental torture to some. There was one POW who bunked in the tier next to mine, on the top bunk (I have forgotten his name) who withdrew, did not communicate with the others and did not stand up to life in POW camp very well. I offered the group the benefit of my knowledge of how to mix up delicious malts or milk shakes of various flavors, ice cream sodas, coke floats - we called them frosted cokes - and the best hamburgers in Central Texas. I feel sure the withdrawn POW on the top bunk next to ours did not appreciate my narration.
During our captivity we did not discuss the events leading up to our capture and our ordeals from that time until we arrived at Stalag VII A. Always our conversations centered on other subjects other than the war.
Each of us had plans of what to do when, and if, we got back home and what type of vocation we would seek. I had some experience in drug store pharmacy work, mixing cough syrups and the like, and thought I would like to become a pharmacist before I was imprisoned by the Germans. After my capture, and experiencing such hunger pains, I thought I would like to open a bakery.
There was very little stealing between the POWs and one of us could put his hoarded food and other belongings at his bunk and be reasonably certain it would still be there after returning from a work detail in Munich.
When we were not working in Munich we could, weather permitting, go to the parade ground and walk the perimeter, staying carefully away from the trip wire.
The camp had an open air stage where some innovative prisoners sometimes performed, showing their talents, desiring cigarettes rather than applause for their efforts. A black soldier, one of the few, if not the only one in camp, was very talented doing a tap dance, not unlike Sammy Davis, Jr. I was told this soldier was captured after his ship was sunk not far off the North Carolina coast two days after the war with Germany was declared. I have no idea if the story is true, as I never asked the question of the tap dancer.
One of the men in our group was very adept at acting out and singing the complete tune, "Juke Box Saturday Night," which was quite popular at the time. One of the men had a deck of cards and I learned to play pinochle, a card game which was new to me.
Nothing was wasted. Paper was at a premium. We had no toilet paper and even though my dysentery had somehow cured itself, many of the men had digestive problems. The empty cans obtained from the Red Cross parcels were utilized for cooking and saved as they had value in trading.
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