Excerpts from Joe O’Donnell’s Diary of Days Spent in Stalag Luft IV

(Posted: March 12, 2012)

Following are excerpts from the writings of Joe O’Donnell as a Prisoner of War in Stalag Luft IV from pages 78-81 of his “The Shoe Leather Express” Book 1.  Joe has done so much to keep the history of what the prisoners of war experienced alive.  He details dates and events that occurred on the dates.  Sometimes there’s not much going on but even those entries I find significant.  I can imagine that it would be very difficult to keep track of days, particularly when it is the same routine day in and day out and not many opportunities to write about any exciting happenings.  And, it seems to me, that it was better to have a boring day with not much to write about because any excitement could only mean that something bad had probably occurred.  Of course, the days had to be so long and depressing.  I think Joe’s journal gives many indications of the depression that days in captivity generated. . . . .

The *notes are all the author, Candy Brown’s thoughts.

From Page 78 of “The ShoeLeather Express” Book 1:

“We left Dulag on a Thursday afternoon and arrived at a small town (Kiefheide) 50 to 60 miles from the seaport on the Baltic Sea called Stettin.  After a march of about a mile and half we arrived at our permanent camp, Sunday May 21, 1944.  We spent several months on a splendid diet of dehydrated cabbage, black bread and boiled potatoes.  Red Cross parcels finally came in and then we quit smoking what butts we could find and smoked the American cigarettes that were in the parcels.  New men continually arrived and in due time our lager was filled and we were to move in seven days to another lager.”

“Things were pretty bad in camp before the Red Cross came.  Watches and rings refused to stay upon our wrists and fingers.”

“Our barracks consist of 13 rooms, ten of which are used for occupation and the other 3 are used for washing and as a latrine.”

“On June 20, 1944, one of our fellows was shot by a German guard.  He was said to have leaped out of the barracks and spit at a guard.  Tig was then taken to the hospital.  He lived until the next morning.  The bullet traveled through one shoulder and out the other.  he was buried at the East edge of the compound.”

“We finally moved to a different compound but things were pretty much the same.  Except Red Cross parcels were coming in pretty regular.  We first started out with only 16 men to a room, now we have 22 men.  July 21st another camp moved in on us due to the advancing Russians.  These men were from the Heydekrug Camp located around Memel.”

“After their arrival they told us of the treatment they received on the journey.  They were put in the hold of a ship far too small to accommodate all passengers, no water, very little air and hardly allowed to toilet.  Upon their arrival at the station at Kiefheide they were double timed from the station to the camp and also some were bayoneted because they couldn’t keep up with the group.  It must have been difficult to run because they were handcuffed together and carrying food, cigarettes, etc.  One fellow got seriously ill due to the wounds inflicted by the bayonets.”

*Note that my Father was in this group of men that Joe describes from Heydekrug.  It is possible that my Father is one of those who told Joe of the treatment received in their journey from Stalag Luft VI to Stalag Luft IV.  Needless to say, and I know I’ve said it many times, Joe O’Donnell has been like a stand-in Father to me.  His roles as a B-17 Ball Turret Gunner and POW have made him my greatest source of information.

From Joe’s writings:

“Our camp then consisted of English, American, Polish, etc.  Shacks were built between the barracks.  They were to accommodate about 4 men, 10 slept in them.  August 2nd a thundershower came up.  As usual we were all inside shooting the bull when suddenly lightning struck something nearby.  Upon further investigation we found it had struck one of the shacks outside of our barracks.  One English Sergeant died several hours later and the rest were revived but carry some scars of a good scare for the rest of their lives.”

*Note: My Father mentions this “English Sergeant” on a page in his notebook.  It is one of the most meaningful pages in Dad’s notebooks.  I have felt that my Father lost a good friend in the death of this “English Sergeant.”   The page follows:


Joe continues on page 79 of “The Shoe Leather Express” Book 1:

“It seemed like killing was a part of the camp.  It wasn’t long after the lightning incident that a German guard was electrocuted while fixing a lamp on one of the poles.  Of course GIs had to crowd to that corner of the compound; they soon scattered after the guard made a move for his gun.”

“Day after day 4 German pursuit planes usually gave us a good demonstration of flying.  The fellows watched for something to happen.  Finally on September 20, 1944, one plane seemed to be giving the camp an unusually low buzz exhibition.  It was low, right down to terra firma.  He cracked up but a few miles from our camp; you could hear bullets popping and could see the large billows of smoke and flame coming over the trees.”

“October 15, 1944, the guard in the towers test fired their guns.  We were herded to one end of the compound behind the mess hall.  They fired into the compound and the bullets ricocheted in the barracks.  One fellow found a bullet in his overcoat.  The bullet knocked over a box of sugar and also knocked a button from his overcoat.”

“Several camp shows were put on by the fellows in camp and they were really good.  Musical equipment, sports, books, clothing and other necessities came into camp and it livened things up considerably.”

“We have triple decker bunks in the rooms now.  You need an oxygen mask on the top one.”

“Mail has been coming in regularly but so far I have yet to get a letter.  We have seven chairs.  18 beds, 4 men sleep on the floor.  In the morning we usually get Jerry coffee, or hot water for American coffee, if we have it.  At noon we get soup, 2:30 English tea, 4:00 P.M. boiled potatoes.  (OH how I would like to have a dirty old steak thrown on the floor several times.)  We’re allowed 6 slats for our beds – it’s not quite enough.  My bed is like a washboard.  In one of the rooms in the barracks we have a small boiler.  This is where all of the bathing and washing is done.  It’s one of the warmest rooms in the barracks.  (Wednesday) November 1, 1944 – Today we received a stove in our room.  The fellows worked hard last night making a smoke stack out of powdered milk cans.  The paint burnt on the cans and like to smother us.”

“(Thursday) November 2, 1944 – A beautiful morning, autumn is painting her pictures over the landscape.  This morning we’re supposed to have ham and eggs. (K-rations)  Each fellow will receive about 1 teaspoon full.  (Pretty lucky to get that.)”

“We usually have roll call at least twice a day, rain or shine.  Another day finished.  The chopped ham and eggs were excellent.  It was the second time in almost 6 months that we had any eggs.  Everyone has an empty stomach day and night.  A cup of soup at noon isn’t very much.  Before we had but 16 men in the room, we got a bucket of soup; now we have 22 men and still get a bucket.”

*Note:  To those of us who have never felt hunger or wondered when and if we were going to be provided food, it is hard to imagine these feelings day after day after day.  As Joe says “OH how he’d love to have a dirty old steak thrown on the floor several times.”  It gives us an idea of their deprivation; a “dirty old steak” would be a luxury; any food item for that matter would be a luxury.  To rely on your enemy to supply you with food is unfathomable for those of us who have never experienced this hardship.

“My tail gunner, Orvil L. Stark, has  been receiving mail from his girlfriend quite frequently.  He lets me read his letters and by the looks of things Orvil’s getting married when he returns to the states.  All of my crew members have at least received one letter from home, but I remain the black sheep.”

Note:  The loneliness that was certainly felt by the POWs when there was no word from home is heartbreaking.  It could take months until the loved ones received word that their son or husband was still alive.  It was disheartening for both.  The POWs had so much time to think and wonder about their family members and when they would hear from them.  A husband could question his wife’s commitment.  A boyfriend could wonder about his girlfriend’s devotion.  The imagination could go wild on both sides of the ocean.

From Joe’s account:

“Usually about three times a week “Pop Gingrich” gets the boys together and they have a bit of singing – “Pop is the oldest in the room, 55 to be exact, a little bald-headed too.”

“We usually kid Orvil about married life.  He says that he will have separate bedrooms for him and his wife, but we finally convinced him that he’d spend too much money for ‘worn carpets.”

The following excerpts are from Page 80 of “The Shoe Leather Express” Book 1:

“The ‘Honey Wagon,’ what a contraption.  It is one of the German inventions.  Its purpose is to excrete the human waste material from the latrines.  It’s a large boiler on wheels, pumped with an explosive gas, a long flexible hose extends from the tank to the latrine, a fuse is lighted and the gas ignites causing a vacuum which draws the dung into the tank.  When the gas explodes it sounds like the sound of flak.  Everyone in the camp usually jumps.  (Who wouldn’t)

“Our camp consists of four compounds or lagers, A. B, C, & D – two more are being built in a diligent manner.  Our combound (B) is approximately 1/8 of a mile (sq.) – consisting of 10 barracks, 2 latrines and wash houses – along with a mess hall, potato bin, coal shack & 70 huts.”

“There’s a warning rail running completely around the compound.  This rail extends some 20 feet from the barbed-wire fence.  (Try jumping over this rail.)  We have 8 guard towers around our compound with a machine gun located on each one.  Singing is over for tonight.  Time to retire.”

“(Friday) November 3, 1944 – Yes today.  I finally received a letter.  The first one in 6 months.  Dot Reney from Massachusetts sent it.  It sure was good to find out that everything was going along fairly good at home.  I waited patiently for a long while and finally my patience was rewarded.”

“Today was another beautiful day.  This morning we had some oatmeal and apricots.  The rest of the day I spent in reading a good detective story ‘Shear the Black Sheep.”

“Lock up time is at 6:00PM sharp.  Taps are blown by the camp trumpeter.  It gets dark early, at 7:30 PM.  Jerry guards come around and march several men over to the mess hall for brew.  It’s quite hard to get men to go out due to the fact that one morning before the barracks was opened a Jerry guard walked down from one of the barracks and was shot.”

“Do you blame them for not going out?  The search lights play back and forth on the Kriegies.  Pop G’s Kriegy quartet didn’t sing tonight.  Thank God.”

“I was raising a mustache while I was living in “A” lager but we rolled cigarettes out of Jerry newspapers and every time I’d take a drag the cigarette would catch on fire and burn my mustache.  I immediately shaved it off.  We keep the fire going pretty good in the evening and some of the boys fry food on the lid.  It makes the room smell like a cheap dive or a greasy restaurant.  I’ve been in both – it smells good though, especially when your stomach is as empty as ours.  Some old greasy bacon and eggs would go good now.”

“(Saturday) November 4, 1944 – Last night our room occupant total was boosted up to 23 men.  Also last night a German barracks caught fire and burned practically to the ground.”

“Today is somewhat cold and cloudy.  We usually keep in our rooms for the biggest part of the day except when a football game is being played.  A camp school is being put into operation soon.  I intend to enroll for at least 3 classes – French, Algebra and Aircraft Engines.  Bedtime again, so I close until tomorrow.  (The Kriegy Quartet sang tonight.)”

“(Sunday) November 5, 1944 – Another Sunday, today is Mr. Green’s birthday -24 years old.  All the boys chimed in on “Happy Birthday” to Greenie this morning.  I spent my 21st birthday here.  If I was back in the good old U.S.A. at that date I would have really had a good old ‘Binge’.”

“Finally got some ‘long johns’ last night, keep plenty warm now.  We received some Polish cigarettes today.  They’re a pure mixture of horse, sheep, cow and elephant dung mixed together.  Two cigarettes and your lungs are ‘copoot” (German).  I can speak German eloquently now.  I can say water, yes, no, light, thank you and get out, pretty good eh!”

“This afternoon the camp band consisting of a bass violin, guitar, accordian, trumpet and drums gave a bit of a jam session.  A sure cure for barbed wire fever.  Tonight J.H. Cox wrote a bit of a poem in memory of A. Teague killed in the camp.”

The following concerning the death of Aubrey Teague is from page 77 and is written by J. Hunter Cox . . . . .







Following Excerpts From Page 81:

“Monday, November 6, 1944 – Weather, rainy and warm.  Big argument last night on whether spaghetti had hole in it or not.  Mail came in tonight and B. Little got several letters.  His wife had a baby girl born August 20, 1944.  He’s been sweating it out since May.”

*Note:  This entry brings to light the sacrifices made by the loved ones on the ‘home front’.  B. Little had been waiting and wondering about the birth of his anticipated baby.  The wait in itself would be agonizing; would everything be okay?  What relief to hear from his wife that he now has a baby girl.  He would hope that some day he would be able to hold this little girl.  He would have to wonder how old she would be by the time he returned.

“Tuesday, November 7, 1944 – OH Happy day.  Today I received 11 letters.  3 from Mildred Cook, 1 from Dot Reney, 1 from Charles Imhoff, 1 from Mrs. Fisher, 1 birthday card, a letter from Marie, 2 letters and a birthday card from Mother.”

“Wednesday, November 8, 1944 – It seems I must have read those letters 50 times and each time I enjoy them with more felicity.  Rain again today.  We fry bread and cold potatoes on the top of our stove, it adds taste.  The gramaphone is in the barracks and it really brings back memories.”

“Thursday, November 9, 1944 – Rain again today.  Several days ago a Kriegie was said to have been trying to escape by crawling under the guard rail in Lager “A,” he was shot in the arm and leg.  His arm may have to be amputated.  We received our ration of writing stationery today – 2 letters and 3 postcards.”

“Friday, November 10, 1944 – It’s been exactly 6 months now since I was shot down.  (How much longer?)  Another rainy day.  Lock up time is now 5 o’clock P.M.  Red Cross came in tonight.  Time to retire.”

“Saturday, November 11, 1944 – 26 years ago today the Armistice was signed.  I only wish they’d end this war today.  It rained continually all day.  We had roll call on the inside.”

“Sunday, November 12, 1944 – Clear today.  Met a fellow (Fatoma) I knew in the States.  At 7:00 P.M. it started to snow.  Our first snow since we’ve been here.  (Pyzan can freeze fish heads now.)

“Monday, November 13, 1944 – A little excitement took place this morning.  Rose & Meyers were wrestling around in the room, they knocked over the stove (Speedy Freeman Young) almost caught it before it fell over.  He would have done so if he only had his eyes open and feet off the floor, then again he was almost 3 feet from the stove.  That’s a good 5 minutes walk for him.  A very cold day today.”

“Tuesday, November 14, 1944 – Snowed again today.  Little or nothing much happened today, except the usual arguments.”

*Note:  Just imagine spending day in and day out with the same people and not getting on each other’s nerves at one time or another.  There will be all different kinds of men with all different kinds of habits that could grate on someone’s nerves.  Maybe if it was in small doses it would be tolerable but 24/7 would take an incredible amount of patience.

Continuation of Excerpts from Joe’s diary taken from Page 81:

“Wednesday, November 15, 1944 – Cloudy and cold – 7:30 P.M. we had a short blackout – we had about 7 to 8 raids since we’ve been here.  One night I was awakened by a tremendous roar.  Upon investigation I found it to be a bombing raid; the sky in the west was lit up like a morning sunrise.  This lasted for over an hour, from 1:30 ’til about 2:45 (Stettin must have taken a beating.)”

“Thursday, November 16, 1944 – Received a letter from ‘Cookie’ dated September 26, 1944.  (How could she spare it.)  We’ve been cut to a quarter of a parcel on Red Cross.  Things are getting rougher.  I spend most of my time in reading and thinking of home.  I was late in signing up for the school, so now I won’t be able to go.  Some other classes should open soon so I should be able to enroll.  I promised Orvil Stark a Winchester and several boxes of good cigars as a wedding present.  I think Stewart & Scranton are gone for good.  Two swell fellows.”

“Friday, November 17, 1944 – Received two letters today, one from Mom and one from Jim Ricardi.  The Jerrys were practicing mortar fire today.  Cookie turned 21 on September the 19th.  Three carloads of Red Cross came in today so I think we will have enough for next week.  Another camp show is now in operation.  Our barracks turn to go is Monday (back data).  Upon our immediate arrival at the vorlager, we were first interrogated then fingerprinted, pictures taken, then searched.  A thorough search it was too.  We were completely stripped, hair, mouth, nose, armpits and even our rectums were inspected for compasses, hack saws, etc.”

*Note: Excerpts from Page 82-84 are forthcoming in “Excerpts from Joe O’Donnell’s Diary of Days Spent in Stalag Luft IV – Part II


One response to “Excerpts from Joe O’Donnell’s Diary of Days Spent in Stalag Luft IV”

  1. Donell Turner says:

    My dad William D Turner was in the front carrying Teague coffin to buried. I found a photo on a website.

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