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,
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.
27 August 1943
night we tested the efficiency of the
stockade. They put us inside as prisoners and the other company
pulled guard. I tried from 8 P.M.
Belshaw waits for a pass
|..........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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
to go on pass to Peoria
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)
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
and entrained for our next duty station.