Virginia Capel was a five year old farm girl in Kent County when she was introduced to the German POWs working on her family farm. Allen Capel talks about the black market and making beer.
Virginia and Allen Capel
SQ Interviewees: Alan Capel and Virginia Mulligan Capel
Interview Date: 6/9/15
Interviewer: Elijah McGuire-Berk and Abigail Gordon
POWS Working on the Farm – Virgina Capel
We had German prisoners here who came here every morning and then went back to, not barracks, but to Centerville. They had them on buses and took them around to anyone who wanted their help because their men were gone. So my brother was a bombardier and they were coming down from Maine and the pilot says, “Mulligan don’t you have family in this area?” And he said, “Yeah.” So they came over the farm and the pilot looked down and saw many men in the yard, and he said, Mulligan, what do you have out in your yard?” They were putting up hay in the barn. [Mulligan} said,” They were German prisoners, and he got very angry. He had to really convince them that, “Hey, I’m gone; who is supposed to, you know, someone has to do the work. But it was amazing to see him standing at the door of that airplane going over, and it’s just like, “No, this is not possible. But yeah, it was fun.
Feeding the Pows – Virginia Capel
The men at the hill, they didn’t have anything to eat, and he said, “Where is your food?” So he called the people, and said, “These men don’t have anything to eat.” [The man] says, “They left here with a buttered sandwich and that’s what they get.” So mother told them that we have a house out back, a little shack, and she said, “Go into it and I will hand out lunch to you.” And if there were a different four that came regularly and they were here for about 6 months, and if it was different than the four that usually came, they wouldn’t come up. Finally, mom made arrangements if it happened that way that they would come up singularly, and the other guy wouldn’t know what they are doing. So they fed them. I mean they worked hard; they had to be fed. So they handed food out the back door, and it’s kind of funny that we will hand out food out the back door to you because you know that’s what mom did for the prisoners.
Reliable POWs – Virginia Capel
We had four German prisoners, and if one did not come in the morning and so forth, they would put another one in. Two of them spoke English. My brother, of course, did not meet these men, but they were very nice, very reliable. My brother and Tommy went over to see them maybe 15 years ago or so and stayed with them. They weren’t able to talk, but they communicated quite well. They stayed at their house for about a week and had a very nice time. They would write us, but of course we would need an interpreter to write back. My sister was at Washington College at the same time because she was a year younger, so she knew them better and she would write to them and interpret. Gradually the correspondence stopped. But they were reliable and got the work done. Very, very nice men and were really tickled to see the Chesapeake Bay. They thought they would never ever see the Chesapeake Bay. It was quite an experience. I was much younger. I was 11 years younger so they couldn’t figure me out. I was like 5 years old. They couldn’t figure out who I was in this group of people. They thought I was Katherine’s daughter; Katherine was my sister. But they were very nice, very nice men. I heard many times that the Americans took care of the German prisoners when they were over here by feeding them that they weren’t supposed to. Whereas the American prisoners in Germany, the German people took care of them. So it wasn’t the people that were involved in this war; it was the government because everyone took care of each other when they had the chance to.
Hostility Toward POWs – Virginia Capel
We had a German American, but German, who lived next door to us and was quite angry that dad has these men here and in this group of people in this neighborhood. They were many of the same family, and they didn’t trust them or (were) afraid of them. My dad was from New York. He was Irish originally and came down during the depression from New York. Farming was different and new to him because he was a taxi driver. When he got down here, it was a totally different way of doing things, and [he] trusted these men. He was supposed to have an interpreter with them at all times since they were German, and he hired him and the man was here. Couple days afterward, he said, “I don’t need to be watching these men; they are not going to do anything.” When they came off the bus one time at the top of the hill, one made a different move, and the guard pulled his gun. My father got out of the truck and says, “Don’t you pull a gun out on these men. They’re not going to do anything. Leave them alone.” They just trusted each other, and they worked. At that time, they got wood for the winter, had to chop the wood, had to get everything in ready for the winter, plus all the crops. And it was shucked corn and were in little shucks.
Black Market – Allen Capel
Was there a black market in Chestertown?
I’m sure there was. Probably the biggest black market would be for booze. Yeah, well everybody had a still. And there was no shortage of liquor and beer. I do remember two beer labels — Arrow Beer and Gunther. Then there was what we call One Eye National Bohemian, and we had that. They all come in bottles in those days. But everybody made their own. We were sitting in the house one evening, and they put the beer down in the cellar to ripen, I guess. They used bottle corks. They didn’t use caps; they didn’t have cappers. They capped it with a cork. We were sitting there eating dinner, and all of a sudden we hear this, “Plink, plunk, plunk, plink, plink.” The damn beer—it was a hot day and the beer started fermenting, and they was shooting them corks out. Everybody ran down to the basement and they was drinking beer as fast as they could.”