Friday, April 16, 2010

Google Earth and 1944 German POWs in Iowa

There's a treasure trove in that building. At least, there used to be when I worked there.

For thirty-three years I worked as a secretary at the local Soil and Water Conservation District. My job was paperwork. I was the expert on paperwork in our office. I knew the manuals, the guidelines, the correspondence. I created files. I purged files. The files were my territory.

Housed in the office were several sets of aerial photos of the county. We had complete county coverage for the years 1936, 1940, 1949, 1954, 1960, 1966, 1973, 1980, 1985. It's been awhile, so I may be off a year or so on one or another.

Some years the photos were smaller in terms of miles to the inch. These smaller sets were stored in drawers or boxes. Others were larger, eight inches to the mile, and were housed on shelves in a small storage room. In our work with farmers we used photos nearly every hour of every day.

The 1936 photos had soil survey information inked thereon. They provided valuable soil information to farmer and technician alike and one could look at a field and know that corn would do well on this area but the soil over in that corner would be full of clay, too wet in the spring, too dry and cracked in dry season. Knowing your ground is valuable to a farmer. We gave him that knowledge.

The 1940 set gave stereoptic coverage. The photos were taken with two cameras on the plane, placed just the right distance apart that two side-by-side photos were just slightly different. One could place the two photos on the desk, overlapping them just right and with a special stereoptic glass, view them in 3-D. It was fascinating to look down on housetops and trees and hills and ditches. Leafless trees of a winter in 1940 still cast their shadows. One could even guess what time of day the photo was taken by orienting north/side and by analyzing the shadow. One could say those maps were the "google earth" of that time!

One day a lady came into our office and asked to see the 1949 aerial photos. Her father, who had been the town doctor during the 1940s-1960s, had been the "camp doctor" at a German prisoner of war camp west of the small town of Onawa, out by the Missouri River. As a young girl she used to ride with her father when he drove out to provide medical care to the men.

I helped her find the location on the maps and she pointed out to me the buildings where German POWs lived prior to the end of World War II.

I wish I had asked more questions. According to this article, the men were working on stabilizing the banks of the Missouri River. The camp, as a branch camp of the one at Algona, Iowa, probably housed fewer than 100 men at any one time, and most times, fewer even than that.

The buildings of the camp are now long gone. But their presence is still on the maps.

I hope the Soil and Water Conservation District never lets go of those aerial maps.

And I wonder what kind of aircraft flew that 1936 flight!

Disclaimer: This photo is not the actual aerial of the camp mentioned herein.



Dorothy said...

We lived in Upstate New York for many years. There was a German prisoner of war camp near Oswego, N.Y. that we became aware of, with a small museum that told the story of these men. It was fascinating!

Debby said...

That's an interesting story, WhiteStone. I know that there was a similar camp up at Pine Camp (Now Ft. Drum New York). I drove past the old sites, and wondered about the stories that they could tell all those years later (I was stationed there in the early 80s). What a good book that would be, if someone could collect the stories of those POWs.

Just saying.

S. Etole said...

I had no idea ...

caryjo said...

I came across some of the info re: POWs here in NE in the Central and Western parts where the farmers/ranchers were and, overall, how helpful and nice they were to the POWs who were loaned out to them. I also was told/read that a number of them came back later when they were free to do so b/c of the kindness they received here.

Thanks for spreading this info around. Most folks never know any of it -- even the ones not far from the area, partly because most of the people involved have aged significantly or died.

Bill said...

German POW's had been kept in Missoula, Montana, one of my childhood homes. We would sometimes go to the old Fort and play in the abandoned buildings where they had had been house. I'm pretty certain that sometimes we played with asbestos.

Fun find.