The Shoe Leather Express – “The Rabbit”

(Posted: January 23, 2012)

From Pages 17 & 18 of Joseph P. O’Donnell’s “The Shoe Leather Express” Book 1 . . . .

“The constant necessity to supplement our meager Red Cross Parcel supplies forced us to commit some acts that were dangerous and detrimental to our health and well being. As stated before, the role of the combine was the detail of seek and search for food, either by trading with the locals, or by confiscation (stealing). The latter was the predominate measure.

The farmer was raising some prize rabbits, and not realizing the starved condition of his unwanted POW guests, left the rabbit hutch unguarded. Knowing several daring and risky moves would have to be accomplished to gain access to the hutch by the POWs, several obstacles had to be overcome before the POW could assure himself of a pot of rabbit stew. One obstacle was the ever present guards; the second was the distance the rabbit hutch was located from the barn.

On rare occasions, we would spend more than one night at a barn, and this was one of those rare occasions. The POW’s thinking was that by dawn they would be well on their way to the next barn before the farmer noticed anything unusual about the number of rabbits he once had. To accomplish the risky task of transferring a rabbit from a hutch to a stew pot required the participation of several Kriegies under the veil of darkness. Several Kriegies asked permission to go to the toilet, but when outside they split in two different directions. This confused the guard, and by the time the guard had regained control of his post, another Kriegie had one rabbit with a broken neck safely stashed away beneath a pile of straw.

The next morning our inner alarm clocks and the guards failed to awaken us. The Germans knew that the rest of the day would be overcast with periods of heavy rain. Knowing what the weather conditions would be, they let us sleep in and delayed roll call until several hours after daybreak. We were then informed that we would not march that day. The Kriegies knew they had to dispose of the rabbit and the best way was to follow the original plan for rabbit stew. But instead of stew for supper, it was stew for brunch. The fire was ready, the pot was ready with all the ingredients – rabbit, potatoes, onions, and several greens of unknown origin. In about one hour, a lot of empty bellies would be bursting with satisfaction.

Before the hour was up and the evidence could be consumed, the farmer had counted his rabbits. Finding one missing, he put two and two together and called the guards and Captain Leslie Caplan to conduct a search, starting with the pots over the fires. Captain Caplan asked the guards for permission to persuade the guilty Kriegies to come forward. Permission was granted, but no one came forward. In the initial confusion, the stew pot was removed from the fire to cool. That way, the odor of cooked onions would be minimized, and it also allowed the stew pot to be passed from one group to the next. The stew pot was eventually detected and the Kriegies were requested to remove the lid. The guards knew they were getting closer to solving the mystery of the missing rabbit; but, much to their surprise, when the lid removed, all they saw was two undershirts and four pair of socks soaking in warm water.

I never knew whether the undershirts and socks were clean, but it was one of the best damned tasting rabbit stews. The chef was complimented for that something extra that no one could detect.

On one other occasion I was personally involved with the stew pot, but this involved a Hedgehog. A Hedgehog is similar to a porcupine and is native to Germany. The Hedgehog stew was bland tasting, probably needed salt. I wonder no, how many German farmers realized what happened to their canine and feline pets after the Kriegies left their farms.

That afternoon was clear, and at times the sun broke through the clouds and gave us a chance to warm ourselves and this was an opportune time to remove our shirts and try to kill some of those dirty little bastardly lice. It was impossible to rid ourselves entirely of these little bastards but it gave us some satisfaction of knowing there would be a few thousand less.

Our guards had asked for three volunteers to go on a wood gathering detail. I and two other POWs volunteered, after learning our reward would be a hot meal prepared by the farmer’s wife and served in the kitchen using real knives, forks and dishes. We left the barnyard in a horse drawn wagon with one guard and the farmer. We headed out of town, traveled about two miles to a patch of woods, we passed another wagon headed back towards town loaded with bundles of branches and three POWs riding on top of the branches. The branches had to be tied in bundles and it was quite an effort for us to lift the bundles on to the wagon, but working as a team we managed to load the wagon and headed back to the farm with visions of a hot meal and a full stomach. Our meal was delayed for about an hour and a half. We were informed that our work detail was not only to gather wood but to saw and stack as much wood as possible in one hour. The one hour limitation was due to the German electric rationing. From four to five every day the electric was turned on, and also for one hour in the morning. I believe we gave the farmer a good hour’s work, and he seemed appreciative of our efforts. We made every effort to maintain our presence as near to the farmhouse as the guards would allow. Finally just before dark, around 6 o’clock, we were summoned to the back part of the farmhouse. We followed the guard through a cow barn where we were allowed to wash our face and hands at the water hand pump that was used for watering the cows. We entered the kitchen from the cow barn. The kitchen was immaculate; our footsteps were immediately removed from the kitchen floor with mop and pail by the farmer’s wife.

No one talked, not the guard, the farmer, his wife, or us. We did not talk to one another for fear that a time limit was placed on us and we would be unable to finish our meal. The food was delicious (under any circumstances) and there was plenty of it, but to this day I cannot recall what the meal consisted of. Many days would pass before we would again have that satisfying feeling of a full stomach.”

2 responses to “The Shoe Leather Express – “The Rabbit””

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  2. chris says:

    Intriguing article – cheers. You often publish a riveting post. Thanks!

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