German prisoners of war were housed at three camps in Wilmington during World War II between February 1944 and April 1946.
In his book “A Sentimental Journey” about wartime Wilmington, local historian Wilbur D. Jones Jr. writes that the first group of 250 German prisoners arrived on Feb. 7, 1944. They were housed at a camp built at the intersection of Carolina Beach Road and Shipyard Boulevard, Wilmington [Map this].
The Germans were captured during the North Africa campaign in 1943.
By September 1944, the Carolina Beach Road camp was overcrowded and a second camp was opened in a four-block area around 8th and Ann streets, Wilmington [Map this], the site of what had been a Marine hospital in World War I.
By October 1944, about 500 German prisoners were at the camp and the site on Carolina Beach Road was closed down.
Prisoners were put to work in such places as sawmills, fertilizer plants and local farms.
A smaller contingent of prisoners was assigned to a third site, working in the officers mess and doing ground keeping at Bluethenthal Army Air Base, which is now Wilmington International Airport.
“The prisoners were a major attraction, to say the least, worth being included in those few ‘Sunday drives’ for which area residents had saved gas,” Jones wrote.
Jones quotes Margaret Sampson, who was a student at the time at Williston Primary School, across the street from the camp at the old Marine hospital.
Occasionally, she said, when the children were outside, teachers would allow them to speak to the prisoners behind the camp’s fence.
“We’d dash across the street and give them candy and gum and talk to them,” she told Jones. “A lot of times we couldn’t understand them, but the gestures were friendly.”
By the time Germany surrendered, there were 552 prisoners in Wilmington who continued to work in the area.
On April 12, 1946, the military began sending the Germans home. By the end of May 1946 they were all gone and the military turned the site at 8th and Ann streets over to the city.
Several local people who had German prisoners working on their farms stayed in touch with the former prisoners after the war.
Max Peth worked on John D. “Jack” McCarley III’s dairy farm off Carolina Beach Road, called Echo Farms, the site of a current housing subdivision by that name.
In a letter dated Jan. 23, 1948, Peth wrote to McCarley about tough times in post-war Germany and memories of Wilmington, in an excerpt included in “A Sentimental Journey.”
“Sometimes I remember quite sadly your excellent doughnuts and the very good milk at Echo Farm,” Peth wrote.“You certainly cannot imagine how conditions of life are in Germany.”
In a June 7, 1948 letter, McCarley wrote back to Peth:
“I often think of you boys that worked for me during the war and it makes me very happy when I hear from one of you and learn that you have arrived home safely. I only wish that the conditions were much better for you.”
Date posted: January 15, 2010
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