The Shoe Leather Express – “Down on the Farm”

(Posted: January 26, 2012)

Sometimes the unusual happens, either by chance or by design, and on this particular day our march was terminated at one of the largest and richest looking farms on our entire march.  The fields were plowed and signs of the spring crop of wheat or barley tinted the fields with a blanket of green.  These tranquil surroundings would be for one fleeting moment and lead us to believe that a war never existed and we were there as tourists.  A shout from the guard “Rouse Gain” or “Feddic Marchin” brought us back to the real world.  A march of about one quarter of a mile from the main road brought us to the usual surroundings of two large barns constructed of half large stone at the base with the top half constructed of boards.  The third barn was smaller and constructed entirely of wood.  This barn was our motel for the evening. 

After our usual chores of locating an area for sleeping and gathering our share of straw for our bed we set out foraging for food.  When it comes to finding food, I believe a POW has a distinct sense of smell.  The olfactory organ must strengthen when the stomach is empty, somewhat, as I have often heard, as when one loses hearing in one ear or sight of one eye and the other ear or eye acquires some of the strength from the damaged ear or eye.  In this case, it was the nose.  Within a short period of time several POWs were cooking potatoes, but the usual potato mounds were either non-existent or were out of sight or the potatoes were removed from the mounds or placed in a potato cellar.  Since it was spring time in Germany, the latter was the most probable reason, and that’s where the POWs found the potatoes in the potato cellar beneath the barn.

 Some farm boy POW must have been raised in the potato farm belt of America in order to know the storage method for keeping potatoes and where the potato cellars were located.  An exercise in gymnastics and cooperation from two other POWs was required to get to the potatoes.  First there was an eight foot high boarded partition to scale.  On the other side of this partition was an area where the farm equipment was kept.  There was another partition at the right angle to the solid boarded partition.  The second partition was boarded but with a three inch space between each board.  This served as a ladder.  On the other side of this partition was an unoccupied area, and there was a two by four foot trap door that led to the potato cellar.  After all of this there was a four foot drop to gain access to the potatoes.

The first partition was scaled by one POW cupping his hands and hoisting the other two POWs, one at a time so they could grasp the top and pull themselves up and drop to the other side.  The second ladder like partition presented no problem, but, to gain access to the potatoes through the trap door, one POW had to assist the other POW down to the potatoes.  The POW in the potato cellar would fill a shirt knapsack with as many potatoes as he was able to carry.  He then handed the sack to the other POW.  He in return would assist the other POW back out of the potato cellar.  The two went back over the ladder-like partition to the area where the farm equipment was kept, then one POW would cup his hands and hoist the other POW with the potatoes to the top of the partition (this was the hard part), and he would then lower the potato sack to the third POW.  The POW on top of the partition would reach down and assist the other POW to the top of the wall, and then both dropped down to the barn floor.  All of this was accomplished in semi-darkness.  After three or four sorties by other POW groups, a system was set up with eight to ten POWs participating, somewhat like a bucket brigade but more like a line of Army ants.  It all stopped when the level of the potatoes dropped, which then made it impossible to get back out of the cellar.

For some unknown reason, our usual predawn departure was delayed.  This delay enabled us to witness our first look at a wood fired automobile.  A small automobile just slightly larger than today’s Volkswagen, pulled up to a woodpile.  The rear trunk lid was removed to allow a wood burning stove to be placed in the trunk.  A huge woman struggled to get out of the car.  She was six feet tall, with large hands and busts to match.  She wore high black boots covered with fresh mud, indicating that she had been inspecting the crops.  Our presence did not interest her in the least.  She was probably accustomed to the POWs.  She went to the woodpile, gathered an armload of wood, opened the stove door, threw in the wood, and got back in the car, with as much difficulty as she had getting out.  She shifted gears and putt-putted down the road.  We were later informed that this woman was a Baroness and owner of the farm.  This would account for the well-manicured and rich-looking farm.  We moved out.


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