“Whittling” as an Art Form

Among the many activities offered to prisoners of war during their internment at camps across the country, woodcarving was a notable pastime. At Camp Hearne, we have been privileged to receive several woodcarving projects, or what some might call “whittling,” created by prisoners and generously donated to our exhibit.

These carvings vary greatly in terms of detail and craftsmanship; some are intricate masterpieces, while others are more modest in their execution. However, each of these works of art represents a prisoner’s earnest endeavor to occupy their time and make the most of their confined space. Beyond their intrinsic artistic value, these carvings held an additional significance as they became a form of currency within the camp. Prisoners would offer their creations to guards they considered friends or trade them for coveted items like cigarettes, coffee, soap, and other necessities.

Recently, we had the privilege of receiving a remarkable woodcarving project, a hexagonal box, as a donation to the Camp Hearne Exhibit. This unique artifact was generously contributed by Catherine Mottet from Lubbock, Texas.
Catherine’s uncle had served as a guard stationed in Texas during WWII. Before leaving the state, he contacted his niece in Dayton, Ohio, to inquire about any mementos she might want from Texas. She requested a pair of cowboy boots. However, as time passed, she expressed curiosity about whether he might possess one of the inlaid boxes crafted by the camp’s prisoners. He informed her that he had, in fact, held onto a hexagonal box created by a German POW.

For years, Catherine took great care in preserving this distinctive piece of artwork, and she eventually decided that it deserved a place in a museum. We are incredibly fortunate that she chose Camp Hearne as the final home for this historically significant and visually captivating creation.

“Coupon of the Day”

Scrip is a form of currency that was often used by the US Army in the past. It was essentially a substitute for regular currency, and was used primarily in situations where traditional forms of payment were not available or feasible.

Obviously, giving German prisoners US dollars would not be a good idea. So, the War Department issued each enlisted man or NCO $3.00 in Camp scrip in 1-cent and 5-cent coupons allotments each month. Since the Geneva Convention required equal treatment between U.S. and enemy soldiers, each prisoner compound included common buildings to house their infirmary, canteen/post exchange and administrative offices. This provided the “company store” where prisoners purchased items from their post-exchange that you might find in a hotel gift shop today. Various brands of personal hygiene items, writing supplies, tobacco, candies, etc. were routinely stocked. Prisoners could even buy postcards with pictures of the Camp activities to send home.

A favorite item of the POW canteen was a pint beer. Unfortunately for them, the War Department limited each prisoner to only one pint per day. As any resourceful man will tell you when it comes to beer, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” Groups would pool their coupons to allow one in the group a sufficient number of pints to get an occasional good buzz.

Although NCOs were not required to work except to supervise, enlisted prisoners might be ordered to work doing general house-keeping or maintenance chores around the camp for $.80 (80-cents) per day. Some worked in their own barber shops, kitchens, infirmaries, post office or clerical offices to earn a few “cents.” Others might join crews to work chopping or picking crops for neighboring farms. A few even worked in one of the downtown cafes.

Earned tallies would be recorded by Camp bookkeepers and the equivalent scrip coupons issued to each prisoner accordingly. The more coupons earned, the more services and goodies they could purchase.

Read more about Camp Hearne’s POW canteen, post-exchange and utilization of labor in Michael Waters book, Lone Star Stalag: German Prisoners of War at Camp Hearne.

“Postcards from Across the Pond”

The Geneva Conventions of 1929 allowed prisoners to send and receive personal correspondence, including packages. Of course, all in-coming and out-going mail was examined and censored according to War Department instructions. The postage was free, but correspondence was restricted to War Department-issued POW stationery. Other rules related to the type of ink and number of letters and/or postcards that could be sent by each prisoner varied throughout the war due to backlogs and inability to efficiently process the high volume of correspondence. By 1944, each enlisted or NCO prisoner was allowed two letters and four postcards per month.1

Former POW Heino Erichsen remembers the news was always late and the censoring from both sides of the pond left some recipients with little more that a date and greeting.2

To facilitate notification of a prisoner’s internment assignment, he was issued a “Card of Capture” within a week of his arrival to each new Camp location. This dispatch allowed the prisoner to give the Camp’s name and address to his family and to specify the state of his health.

The International Red Cross Committee served as intermediary between warring nations, delivering correspondence and packages. They were also responsible for the internment camps’ inspections to insure compliance to the Geneva Conventions.

Card of Capture, Front & Back

__________________________________________________________1 Waters, Michael R. with Mark Long & et.al. Lone Star Stalog: German Prisoners of War at Camp Hearne, 1st ed. College Station, TX: TAMU Press, 2004, p62.

2 ibid.

“Vintage Branded Workwear”

The “PW” Denim jacket used during WWII is on loan from the Museum of the American GI, College Station, TX

Once prisoners arrived at their final internment destination, they were issued clean clothing, but required to stencil or paint the identifier “PW” on sleeves and back of shirt and the legs and backside of pants.  Prisoners later were allowed to purchase clothing via their Post Exchange catalogs with money credits earned for work.  However, the “PW-logo” was still required.

Former prisoner-of-war, Karl Blumenthal said, “They even made us stencil our underwear.”

Another former prisoner shared his memories with his daughter after she told him of her family’s visit to Camp Hearne.  She writes, “He fondly told us about learning to play soccer in the small field at the front of the camp grounds near the entrance of the compound.  As an enlisted man he was issued a WWI uniform made of wool that he had cut into shorts.  There was a strip of leather at the bottom of the pants that each of the men cut off.  From these strips of leather one of the prisoners who had been a shoemaker, sewed together a soccer ball that they used for their sport.  He chuckled as he told us about the ball going “whoosh” when it got kicked a little too hard and popped on the barbed wire fence.”

Judging from many of our photographs, it appears that shorts and undershirts were the uniform-of-the-day.  Bet our Texas heat and humidity had something to do with that.

WAR DEPARTMENT BASIC FIELD MANUAL FM 19-5, Military Police, 14 JUNE 1944, Chapter 11, Section 134

d. Supplies and equipment.  (1) Clothing.  Except as circumstances warrant or climate requires, no uniform or suit is issued as a replacement to a prisoner who is not an officer until the one in which he was captured has become unfit for use.  The uniforms of prisoners are renovated and used when practicable.  Prisoners are permitted to wear insignia of rank and decorations.  No article of the United States Army

uniform will be issued to a prisoner of war unless so altered that it cannot be mistaken for a part of the Army uniform. Except for clothing of officer prisoners and the national uniforms of prisoner enlisted men, out garments worn by prisoners are appropriately marked with the letters “PW”. The clothing of protected peroneal is mark with the letters “PP”.

“Ditty Bag”

Upon arrival at the prisoner’s base camp, he was issued a “ditty bag.” This was in response to the Geneva Conventions of 1929 that required treatment of prisoners to be equal to that of our own soldiers.1

The contents included basic hygiene items:
• Tooth brush
• Tooth powder/paste
• Shaving cream
• Razor and blades
• Hair brush/comb
• Shampoo
• Bar soap

Former US Army Military Police Escort, Mr. Warlow, was stationed at Camp Hearne when the first prisoners arrived. He remembered the first group deboarding the train as wearing the same battlefield uniforms in which they were captured, dirty and bloodied. The stench was overwhelming.

Prisoner-of-war, Mr. Karl Blumenthal, remembered being very afraid of what the future held in the US camps as enemy POWs. They were surprised that they were issued new clothing, a ditty bag, a bunk bed with clean sheets, and most rememberable, HOT WATER in the showers.2

Life was not going to be too bad at Camp Hearne.

1Geneva Convention of 1929, Section II. Prisoners-of-war Camps, Chapter 1, Article 10: “Prisoners of war shall be lodged in buildings or in barracks affording all possible guarantees of hygiene and healthfulness.”
2Geneva Convention of 1929, Section II. Prisoners-of-war Camps, Chapter 3, Article 13: “…prisoners shall be furnished a sufficient quantity of water for the care of their own bodily cleanliness.”