Earlier this year on the Stalag Luft 3 Facebook page, I entered a competition run by Steve Martin. The page is hosted by Ben van Drogenbroek and you may remember that Steve and Ben co-wrote the marvellous book, ‘The Camera Became My Passport Home’ which I wrote about in my previous post. The task was to identify the ‘globe’ on the bed in the background of the image.
I thought it was one of those glass lamp-shades that were often seen in offices etc back in the old days and although I should have termed it a glass globe light diffuser I was the only one who guessed right. Steve promised me a prize and, as I was in Gibraltar at the time, he kept it and sent it to my sister-in-law just before I was due back in the UK so I could collect it from her house.
Imagine my surprise and delight when I found what the packaged contained… various small artefacts that Steve himself collected from the Stalag Luft III site! Not only that but a long and interesting letter AND copies of photographs of Steve’s trip over to Poland and Germany.
Here is a photo of the artefacts with comments taken from Steve’s lovely letter:
(Numbers 1,2,3,4,6) These pottery shards were all found in Stalag Luft III. ‘There existed MANY forms of china dinnerware available to POWs over time. Incredibly, early examples could be rather elegant, yet examples of these were issued to POWs only in 1939 to very early 1941 at best. These ‘elegant’ items included full size, flat and large dinner plates (same size as of today), large tea/coffee pots, a gravy boat combo with an attached ‘over-spill’ platter mounted beneath and square bowls approx depth of 3” and 8”x 8” square.
The largest shard, dated 1940 is the partial base of a coffee/tea mug issued to VERY early POWs. The ‘swastika symbol’ is beneath a marked Luftwaffe flying eagle. Note the ‘Villeroy and Bosch’ logo and name which was a result of Germany taking over France and forcing the company to produce china ware for the Luftwaffe. It appeared, though, that the French rather sabotaged the manufacturing process as the quality was poor…. so poor that initials or numbers could be scratched on the surface.
The oldest piece (3) is dated 1939 and marked ‘Bohemia’ and the smallest (4) has a partial eagle and swastika. Both came from the Kommandandt’s area.
Numbers 5, 7 and 8 are variously part of a comb, doubtless belonging to a former POW. There is the top of a tube of something and Steve’s best guess is that it’s from a tube of paint such as a POW artist would use. The small piece of black plastic is a fragment of a 78rpm record. Apparently, when these broke they were given to the ‘X’ organisation (those involved in the escape attempt) and they were heated up to the point of pliability and made into the casings of water-proof compasses.
The final item in the collection is a phial containing a quantity of sand from the tunnel ‘Harry’ that Steve collected from the site of the old theatre in the compound. It’s from the last 60 feet of Harry. Ex-POW Wally Floody told Steve that the spoil from the last 60 foot or so was dumped under the audience area of the theatre and Steve found the spot when he visited the site!
I was amazed, as you can imagine, when I opened the package and found the items and read Steve’s letter and I’m so pleased that not only did he send the items but also gave so much information! In my next blog entry I’ll scan some of the many, many photos he sent and post them with the information given.
Thank you, Steve, what a wonderful prize and thank you for your dedication in collecting and itemising all these things.