Bay City WWII German Prisoner of War Labor Camp
 


War Prisoners On Way To County; Camp Begun Here
 

F. O. Montague was informed Monday night that the first contingent of German prisoners of war was brought into Matagorda [County] Tuesday with their escort of guards. It was expected that the group would number 150.

 

Matagorda [County] is transforming the fair grounds into a prison camp where the men will be housed.


Work has been begun in Bay City on the construction of a tent city where the prisoners who will work in the local rice fields will be cared for. One of the first things to be done is the erection of the wire barriers around the enclosure, located northwest of the Bay City Veneer Mill.

 

The project is being carried out by the volunteer labor of the farmers and their men under the direction of Mr. Montague, county agent.


The Daily Tribune, September 28, 1943

 


Prison Labor Camp To Be Ready Here By End Of Week
 

Matagorda county rice farmers and F. O. Montague, county agent, are looking forward to the arrival of this county's contingent of German war prisoners not later than Monday, October 11 and possibly at the end of this week, it was announced from Mr. Montague's office Tuesday.

           
This means that the desired priorities on copper wire came from the State War Board early Monday and work on wiring the encampment was begun at once. Supplying the tent city with flood lights was one of the big problems, particularly until priorities were secured on the necessary wire.

           
While waiting for the Matagorda county group of war prisoners, Mr. Montague has learned from Wharton, where these laborers arrived two weeks ago, that the farmers there are more than pleased with the quality of work in the rice harvest fields the men can do and are doing. They follow directions intelligently, the farmers report.

           
Wharton county received 150 prisoners with 75 guards. They are housed in the county fair buildings on the fair grounds.

           
A tent city for the Matagorda county prisoners is being erected northwest of the Bay City Veneer Mill. Construction is being done by rice farmers and the men from their plantations.


The Daily Tribune, October 5, 1943
 


Prisoners Are Here!

 

            German war prisoners for work in the rice fields arrived in Bay City Friday about 1:00 p.m. in nine Bowen Trailways busses, marked "Special Party." They were preceded in the forenoon by some of the guards and Army personnel who immediately began the erection of the tent city where the prisoners will be housed.
 

The Daily Tribune, October 8, 1943
 


Number of German Prisoners At Bay City Camp To Be Increased By Expected
Arrival of 100 This Week


Patience And Cooperation Of Farmers Asked

 

To meet the growing demand for German war prisoner labor among the rice farmers of Matagorda county, an order for 100 more prisoners of war has been approved by Colonel R. G. Saxon of Camp Swift and the office of the county agent, F. O. Montague, is expecting their arrival Wednesday or Thursday, according to announcement.

           
This number will make a total of more than 400 men in the Bay City prison camp, located in the northwest part of town. They have been assigned to rice farmers for assistance in the harvest since Saturday, October 9, and their work is of such quality that the demand each day exceeds the supply. However, it is believed that the 100 new men will meet the demand satisfactorily.

           

Count Agent Montague continues to ask patience and cooperation from the farmers, as the arranging of a daily schedule for so many men is an intricate proposition, particularly because of changes from day to day in the farmers' needs and orders for details.

           
Farmers are requested to contact Mr. Montague's office at least by 2:00 p.m. the day preceeding the day when they will need men and their orders will be filled as the number of men available allows.

           
In some cases, Mr. Montague has told farmers, "Take a chance and be at the stockade at 8:00 a.m. and some last-minute change may get you a crew." This has worked in a few instances and is deemed worth trying.


The Daily Tribune, October 19, 1943
 


New Prison Labor For Rice Harvest Arriving Tuesday
 

The latest word on the arrival of the new contingent of 100 German war prisoners for labor in the rice harvest was received Saturday when F. O. Montague, county agent, was informed that the detail would be transferred from Camp Swift, Tuesday forenoon, arriving here about noon.

           

The exact number expected is 114 prisoners with 21 guards, Mr. Montague said.

           
The request for this auxiliary contingent to supplement the approximate 300 new stationed here was made Thursday, October 14, when it became apparent, that the present number was not large enough to meet the demand of the farmers for this labor. After some delays at various offices in Houston, Austin and Dallas, it was thought they would arrive almost any day after the middle of last week. Further hold-ups occurred, however, and it was not until Saturday that Colonel R. G. Saxon of Camp Swift was given the green light.


The Daily Tribune, October 23, 1943
 

 

Citizens Must Remember Germans Here Are Prisoners

Treatment of Sons of Hitler Is No Social Matter

Germans' Status Discussed by Authorities Here

           
Bay City is learning a lesson that most towns of the nation will not have the opportunity to learn: namely, how to live with war prisoners in the midst.

International Rulings

           
One of the first things to remember, it is pointed out by authorities in charge of the camp, the prisoners and their daily routine, is that every arrangement is made in accordance with the rulings of the Geneva conference in regard to prisoners of war. This includes food served, which, the rulings say, should be the general run of diet of the people of the country in which the prisoners are incarcerated.

Volunteer Labor

           
Further, no prisoner may be forced to work and the men now in Matagorda county are volunteer laborers. In this capacity they are to be paid and here is a point that is not generally understood in this vicinity: these men are being paid 40 cents an hour of what amounts to $3.20 a day, but not a coin of the realm finds its way into the pocket of the prisoner. Instead, he received 80 cents a day in scrip if he had worked and ten cents a day in scrip if he has not been out in the fields that day. This amount in exchange is good only at the camp store where he may buy such things as tobacco and beer (daily maximum two bottles).

           
The balance of the $3.20, amounting to $2.40 a day for the working prisoners, goes to the Army for running expenses of the camp and the food and clothing for the men.

           
In other words, the prisoners are not actually being paid.

Call It Etiquette

           

A further important lesson being learned here affects some of the women of the city, who are of the opinion that it lies in the path of their duty to take refreshments of coffee and cake to the prisoners of war, it is reported this week.

           

This is absolutely out of line with all rulings, international or otherwise, authorities state for the reason that these men are prisoners, soldiers of the nation that it taking the lives of our own boys. Army regulations state specifically that no one shall communicate with them in any way even on the farms where they work except through their guards. Regulations point out that they are enemies. Women's parties admitted to the stockade not only would be out of place but would be in danger. Were such visits permitted, those in charge point out, camp authorities and the local management of the project here would be in the wrong and the whole plan for keeping the labor of these men for harvest might be endangered. "There can be no place for sentiment in handling war prisoners," it was stated Thursday.

           

Incidentally it is suggested that there are some 80 to 100 American soldiers guarding the prisoners. They are far from home, many of them. They are outside the prison camp and permission may be obtained to serve them refreshments if desired.

The Daily Tribune, October 28, 1943
 


German Prisoners In Rice Fields Number 300 On Thursday
 

The number of German war prisoners in the rice harvest fields reached a maximum to date Thursday when 300 were detailed to the farmers. F. O. Montague, county agent in charge of the labor problem, said that he could have used 60 more. Tuesday's demand, he said, was for 297 but only 228 were available.


The entire number billeted here never is available for any one day's work, Mr. Montague explained, for the reason that some are kept in camp for work there and some are incapacitated. War wounds trouble some and a couple have been sent back to Camp Swift for this reason.


The Daily Tribune, October 28, 1943
 


Capt. Fontaine Is Placed In Charge Of Prison Camps
 

A visitor here Monday was Capt. Henry L. Fontaine who has just been named officer in charge of the German prison camps in this district, succeeding Capt. J. C. Richardson.


Capt. Fontaine, for many years with the U. S. Army, was making a tour of inspection of the camps in Bay City, Wharton, Rosenberg, Angleton and Alvin. He expressed himself as well pleased with the administration of the local camp.


He is making his headquarters in Wharton.


The Daily Tribune, December 21, 1943
 


Late Rice Harvest Delayed By Bad Weather In Dec.

 

County agricultural offices estimate that between 12,000 and 15,000 bags of rice still are in the fields of the county, due to the bad weather conditions during most of December. They report that December offered the farmers only seven or eight good working days.

           
Rice now unharvested was planted late, the experience of many rice farmers in 1942 forming a precedent, it is pointed out. In 1942, rice planted in June missed the ill effects of the fall hurricane; therefore some tried the same plan in 1943 but the stormy December caught up with their harvest period and the result has ruined many sacks of the grain.

           
It is understood, also, that great damage has been done this season by the rice birds which are present in greater numbers than for several years. "The potential threat of the rice birds has been underestimated by the farmers for the past five or six years," the county agent comments.

           
Farmers have continued to use German prison labor throughout the season. Crews of the prisoners assisted a number of farmers, including the Bunk brothers, in ending their harvest on the last day of 1943. Other crews have been at work this week.

           
The Matagorda Sales company expects to hold a sale Tuesday, January 11.


The Daily Tribune, January 4, 1944
 


Use 'Em Or Lose 'Em Is Order on War Prisoners

 

Captain W. N. Peck, officer in charge of the local prison camp has received the information that the German prisoners billeted here must be given employment or they will be returned to Camp Swift, according to F. O. Montague, county agent.

           
These men are here for employment in heavy work, all kinds of farming and agricultural pursuits where they can be used in crews of not less than five to each guard. They will be sent to any point in the county, Mr. Montague explains and it is the hope of those in charge that employers will contact Mr. Montague's office for further information.

           
Crews are being employed by the city this week on the drainage project at the county courthouse.

           
Seventy-nine were detailed Monday to points around Bay City. But the total personnel is 230, leaving a wide margin for other employers.

The Daily Tribune, February 7, 1944
 


According to C. J. Lee:
 

I was working for E. L. McDonald at the time on his ranch and it was my duty to go by the prison camp at 7:00 A.M. and pick up the prisoners. We hauled them on flat bed trailers with seats along the sides for the men. The guards marched the prisoners out and we would go to the river bottom to clean out brush, build fences or whatever was needed. The prisoners worked eight hours and were taken back to camp in the afternoon.

           
The first group of prisoners I used were young blond teenagers, some in their early twenties and they were called "Hitler's Youths," as they were taken from their families at an early age and placed in military camps.

           
Each group of workers had a spokesman and one morning shortly after they went to work, I was approached by the spokesman with this demand that they be allowed ten minutes out of each hour to drink water and sing Hitler songs. I immediately called the guard that I was taking the prisoners back to camp. When we arrived back at camp about the middle of the morning, the camp was alerted and the corporal of the guard was called. The commanding officer had instructed me that if the prisoners made a "break," to bring them in, and he thought this was what had happened. When the captain found out about the demands that the prisoners wanted, he told them I had done the right thing. He said if the prisoners wanted to drink water and sing Hitler songs, they could do it right in camp and be deprived of their privileges--"No work, No play!"

           
The next day the captain gave me a crew of older men who had known Germany before Hitler took over. They were good workers and we had no trouble with them.

C. J. Lee to Samuel Spiller, interview, February 19, 1972
 

 

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Apr, 11, 2008
This page was updated
Apr, 11, 2008
   

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