The Shoe Leather Express – THE BUTTER CAPER

(Posted: February 20, 2012)

THE BUTTER CAPER – Found on Page 28 and 29 of The Shoe Leather Express Book 1

We arrived at our next destination in total darkness and estimated ten-hour march, with nothing to eat except some morsels from our depleted Red Cross parcel or a small chunk of stale, hardened, black bread; to expect any food from our captors at this time of the night would be ludicrous.  We were starving and exhausted, but still had something to be thankful for – we were not wet and freezing.

We encountered a unique and different type of sleeping environment since our usual country farm and barn or on the ground sleeping place changed.  We were now in close proximity to a large town.  We marched through the streets and entered through an iron gated stone archway into a cobbled stone courtyard.  Cobblestones are always wet and make walking very difficult.  Our sleeping quarters were stables and the odor of recently departed equine inhabitants was readily detected.  Before we could finish making our straw beds, we were told that there was food available and to form a line outside the stable.  Within 30 seconds, we were ready and waiting.  We expected more potatoes, but in the dim light of the guards shaded flashlights we could see a huge wooden wagon with yellowish blocks suggesting a possibility of cheese.  Our elation soon diminished.  Although the first bite into the yellow brick proved differently.  We all had a pound of rancid butter!  We ate it and suffered for it later. 

Price, Mays and I were still combines.  Prentice H. Price was a Mississippi boy whose ambition before, during and after the war was to become a minister.  I wrote a poem in my Log Book about all of the POWs in Room #9, Barracks #3, Stalag Luft IV.  It’s called “Kriegie Characters:” and the little ditty about Price was: 

Prentice H. Price is a character,

The Golden Gate he’s seekin’.

He’s usually reading the Bible

‘Cause he’s the room’s chief Deacon. 

It may be corny, but to this day I can recall each of the thirty-three POWs in Room #9.  After we received our pound of rancid butter, Price approached Mays and I and told us that he had been praying for food during the entire days’ march and continued praying for food even when it seemed hopeless.  Then he said his prayers were answered; even though rancid butter was his reward, he still kept the faith.  He then admitted that he took an extra pound of the rancid butter that would have deprived another POW of his share.  He said he was going back to return the butter, but we tried to convince him that his taking the butter was actually helping a fellow POW.  There had been more than enough to go around.  After some of the POWs had tasted the butter many more could have had seconds.  Price returned the butter to the wagon.  I guess the moral of the story is, “Don’t steal rancid butter.”

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