See Chapter 
1...3...4...5...6
Contents
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Our Introduction to the Afrika Korps ..
On 21 August 1943 we traveled by train (Illinois Central, rolling stock that was made up of  museum  pieces:  wicker seats  and pot-bellied  stoves.)  to the  fields in Fulton County, Illinois. We disembarked to find a new camp complete with an empty POW
stockade.      Camp  Ellis  had  been  carved  into what  had   been  farmland  between  the Mississippi  and Illinois Rivers.    It  backed up against the Spoon River, the   river   of   Edgar  Lee  Masters’   poetry  anthology  of 1915-6.   The  nearest  town  was tiny Table Grove to the southwest.   Due east is Lewiston, the seat of Fulton county.  Southeast was small town of Ipava; further to the northwest was the larger college town of  Macomb.   To the northeast was “sin” city,  Peoria,  which became the favorite for those lucky enough to receive overnight passes.
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............Friday 27 August 1943
...............“Last  night  we  tested  the  efficiency  of  the stockade.  They put us inside as prisoners and the other company  (the 476)  pulled guard.  I tried from 8 P.M. 
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Pvt.John Belshaw waits for a pass
at Camp Ellis
until 3 A.M. to escape.   I had very little luck.   We set off  two smoke bombs in the barracks and hollered ‘fire!’  The fire department came and we had a bit of excitement.  A few of the boys got out.  Tonight we pull guard and the other company is going to try to escape.  Wish us luck.”

..........The tour of duty at Camp Ellis was a  “shakedown cruise” for the officers and men of the 475 M.P.E.G. Company.  This was uncharted territory for a new command and a new company.  Through the  practice  of  supervising,  organizing,  and  guarding  the  prisoners of  war  in  all  aspects  of  their confinement  was  a  proving  ground  for the system.    The first of what would swell to over  480,000 German P.O.W.s were being brought to the Zone of the Interior.   The stay of the 475 at Camp Ellis led to the production by its commanding officer and his cadre of a series of detailed recommendations dated  December 1943  regarding training programs  to  the C.O. of  the 1661 Service Unit, Provost Marshal General’s Unit Training Center, Fort Custer, Michigan.

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..........Saturday 23 October 1943
..........“Today 5 of us had 60 Germans out working on a woodpile.  It was cold and drizzly so we had four fires built.   One [was] for the guards and three [were] for the prisoners to keep warm by.  OK huh?  We’ve never had any trouble with them – yet.”
..........Sunday 24 October 1943
..........Nothing  much  new.    Prisoner  of  War Co. 6  beat the pants off POW Co. 11 in a rough game of what the Germans call  ‘handball.’   It’s a combination [of] basketball and football.  A rough  game.   One  fellow  got  a  fractured leg out of the melee.   I watched the game from my guard post and got comments on it through the fence from an English-speaking prisoner.
..........Tuesday 26 October 1943
..........“I had good intentions about writing,  but our guests had plans that Interfered.   We were called  out  at  7:00 P.M.  and  spent  4 hours  searching  the  prison  camp  barracks  and other buildings
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...........Apparently  I  didn’t  write much concerning my military duties between  that  last  letter and those of the following  spring.    I had,  however,  made two trips to Michigan on three-day passes.  Peoria was also singing her siren song.  I was “seeing” a young lady in Peoria, a farmer’s  daughter who worked in a war plant.   I spent Christmas 1943 at the farm home of her family.  Troops from the 475 regularly took POWs to Peoria to work in  a   commercial   laundry   there.    The  POWs  were accompanied by several shifts of guards. 
..........When  luck and  the orderly  room  assigned me to that guard detail,  I could  arrange  for a bit of time, when off  duty, to go visit her.
..........When   the  thermometer  dropped  to  a  rumored –30 degrees Fahrenheit, the wind chill was rather nasty.  Our tough Afrika Korps POW’s  decided it was  too cold to go out  and work for the farmers.   Their labor  stoppage  was  short-lived, however.   Picture   several   hundred   POWs    standing     in formation   facing   the   bone-chilling   early   morning     wind. Also picture  the  armed  guard  detail   sitting   in   the  heated cabs of trucks  closely  watching  the  POWs.    That  was an effective strike-breaking tactic.
..........Favorite  prison chasing details that  winter  were  those on  the post.    There  were  small work details of  POWs with two  guards  painting  medical clinics  all  over  Camp Ellis.    I think  that  some  of those  clinics had enough coats of paint to last them several lifetimes.    After  a  night of  revels in Peoria, most members of  the 475  found  on-post prisoner-chasing duty  more  desirable  than  standing  guard  in  a  drafty guard tower. 
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Ready to go on pass to Peoria

..........By  late  1943,  the  manpower  shortage in Germany was partially answered by  the conscrip- tion of  youth  from conquered countries.    In one draft of POWs there were many young Poles.  In the   Camp Ellis   stockade   these boys  were the targets of  rather vigorous hazing  by tough  Afrika Korps veterans.   For  their  protection  the Polish prisoners were segregated from  the Germans and placed  in  a  separate  barracks.    Guards armed with  Billy clubs  were put inside the compound to protect  them.    Since  they  shared  latrines  with neighboring barracks,  a duty of the interior guard was  to  clear  the  latrine  of  Germans  at specific 
times so that the Poles could utilize the facility.  On New Year’s Eve in 1943, luck of the draw had me inside   the  stockade guarding  Poles.     They  were  furnished  several  cases of  3.2 beer to celebrate 1944’s arrival.   I toasted  the New Year  with  these  lads.     Next  morning  we  encountered  a  little resistance  from  the  Jerries  in  the latrine.    One  fellow  was particularly adamant  in stating that he’d not had enough of something.     Because  of  my  limited  German vocabulary,  I heard him say  that he hadn’t enough  soap (Seife)  but  what  he  really  said was that he hadn’t enough time (Zeit).   I  pulled rank and he was “raus” rather quickly.
..........Sunday, 9 April 1944 (Easter)
..........This  morning  I  witnessed  an  Easter  parade  that  would  rival that on  Main street any where/  Our guests blossomed out in their Afrika Korps uniforms and Italian campaign uniforms for church  [parade].   These  were  sand-colored  desert  infantry  uniforms,  baggy  pantaloons tight at the ankles,  short jackets with red,  black,  and white insignia,  long peaked caps.    Tank men in field gray with silver buttons.   Luftwaffe in blue,  green,  or white;  high gloss boots with sparkling leather bottoms.  The blue faded from weather and washing is an egg-shell hue, which with the light green,  reminds  me of spring.   Iron crosses,  other medals,  ribbons remind one of the former accomplishments of these  veterans of the rape of Poland,  Norway,  and the Russian campaigns.    Though  slightly  larger  in circumference they are still the same men who,  defiant and proud marched here from inglorious, as they put it, defeats.  Today, no doubt, more of them went to church than any Sunday since they’ve been here.” 
 About one week later, on 15 April 1944, we had our group picture taken  and entrained for our next duty station.

 

Footnotes, Chapter 2


1 Camp Ellis  -  World War II Facility.    Dickson  Mounds  Museum,  Lewistown,  Illinois
....had a program  about Camp Ellis in 1998 with displays continuing  thereafter. 

2 Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology

3 See FootnoteChapter 1

4 See Appendix 
5 See Home Page
 

 

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