The article gave interesting details on how the process was to work:
Under the agreement, farmers will pay the prisoners three-fourths of the prevailing daily wage for the area where they are working, but a minimum wage of $1.50 has been set by the government to cover actual expenses of handling the prisoners as required by international law.
Farmers will have to come after and return the prisoners to the bivouac area each day. While in the field, the prisoners will be accompanied by regular U. S. Army guards.
The article concluded by noting that the prisoners “sent to Fannin County to aid in the farm work” came from the POW camp in Stringtown, Oklahoma.
When it came to life for the prisoners, it wasn’t all work and no play. While this may not have set well with some local citizens – they were, after all, the enemy – it nonetheless was international law.
Longtime Bonhamite Barbara Gore recalls one form of entertainment. “I would sit on the front porch of my parents’ house, located on north Center Street, on Sunday mornings and watch the prisoners as they were marched to town to see a German language movie at the American Theater,” she states. “They would have their hands on top of their heads, and they would sing German marching songs while being escorted by armed guards riding alongside in Jeeps,” she adds. Gore stated that the luxury of a movie came when there was good behavior the previous week.
Exactly how long the prisoners were housed in Bonham is difficult to say. After the camp was opened in late 1943, there were no more newspaper articles about it. Moreover, there is no story about the closing of the camp. The August 13 Daily Favorite does offer one clue when it states that the “prisoner labor [was] sent into Fannin County to aid in the harvesting of fall crops . . . .” Perhaps the prisoners were returned to the main camp in Stringtown once the fall crops were harvested.
Also, while the newspapers of August 1944 make the usual plea for agricultural laborers, they make no mention of prisoners of war being available to help.
Ultimately, it appears that the Bonham prisoner of war facility was less of a large, long-term POW facility and more of a short-term labor camp used mainly by local farmers. Though short in life and small in size, its impact remains in the memories of those who lived through that period.
Tim Davis teaches at Bonham High School.
See another article about the German prisoners doing day labor on Honey Grove farms.
The minutes of the August 11, 1943 Bonham City Council meeting approving a temporary German POW Camp in Bonham.
When the United States entered World War II in late 1941, one of the responsibilities assumed by the government was the proper housing of prisoners of war. POW camps, as they were known, began popping up all over the country. A few of the prisoners ultimately landed in Bonham.
While most Bonhamites probably didn’t want prisoners of war housed in their backyard, agricultural necessities of the moment made it practically impossible to avoid. Crops needed to be harvested, and many of the young men who normally did this job were away at war or had taken good paying industrial jobs. There was a fear that crops might rot in the field.
Such fear was reflected in the August 15, 1943 Bonham Daily Favorite with a big headline reading: “Permanent And Seasonal Labor Is Wanted By Fannin County Farmers.” The article stated that demands were “constantly coming into the Bonham Labor Mobilization Center at the local high school for more workers to help harvest the crop, especially to pick cotton . . . .” It further stated that “all persons not engaged in some type of essential work are urged to register and go to work immediately in order to help the farmers out of their emergencies . . . .”
In mid-1943 word got out that prisoners of war could assist in agricultural work. Military officials met in Dallas in August to discuss the possibility of using prisoners to help in the fields of north Texas.
In the meantime, the Bonham City Council held a special meeting on August 11 to discuss only one topic: The possibility of housing prisoners of war in Bonham. The council voted unanimously to allow the use of the exhibits building of the Fannin County fair grounds north of town (in the general area of the present day stockyards and areas just south and east of there) to house the prisoners.
An article in the August 13, 1943 Bonham Daily Favorite noted the changes that would make the building ready for prisoners:
The prisoners, 55 as a starter, will be bivouaced in the huge exhibits building at the fairgrounds where sleeping quarters for the prisoners and U.S. Army guards will be installed. Kitchen and mess hall and toilet facilities also will be installed . . . to accommodate the prisoners and guards.
City council members anticipated that the prisoners might be used as agricultural laborers, and they were right. The August 13 Daily Favorite further announced that the prisoners could be used in the fields to help harvest crops.
By Tim Davis. Reprinted from the North East Texas e-News, July 22, 2015