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Bulloch History
WW II POWs great help to local farmers
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During the summer and fall of 1943, German and Italian prisoners of were brought in to help harvest the bumper crops in Bulloch County. These prisoners must have volunteered for this duty, as any forced labor would have violated the terms of the their surrender. Several groups of these laborers, between the ages of 18 and 38 years of age, were being used in various locations throughout Bulloch County under the supervision of the military authorities.
The Georgia Agricultural Extension Service (AES) reported that throughout all of Georgia there was becoming a desperate need for thousand of city folk to help with the harvest of the fall crops, as the men who would normally harvest them were engaged in battle half a world away. Headquarters, Army Fourth Service Command (HQ), reported that farmers whose crops were getting out of control were receiving the help from these unusual helpers very gratefully. They found out these soldiers turned laborers were not at all the monsters the press had made the Axis soldiers fighting the American soldiers in Europe out to be.
HQ reported that these prisoners were mostly being used to harvest peanuts, and indicated that the Italians seemed to be more adept at picking the peanuts, possibly because the prisoners had performed agricultural labor back at home. Lieutenant Richard E. Smith, who had been an agricultural agent in civilian life, helped arrange the prisoners’ transport to areas in Bulloch County needing harvest help. Curiously, some of the prisoners had expressed a desire to carry some of the seeds back home with them when they were repatriated.
Efforts were made to ensure that the prisoners didn’t work during the hottest part of the day. Late afternoon games of volleyball and basketball were arranged for these times, and over the weekends the prisoners had other organized activities scheduled to help them pass the time. HQ stated that the prisoner labor is only being used where the entire crop is in danger and time is of the essence.
John T. Allen, the then local farm labor assistant, announced in early August that there would be 150 of these prisoner laborers available to work in the county. He indicated that these laborers would be available to pick and stack peanuts, pull corn, pick pecans, cut cane and perform other harvest type of work for local farmers. They must, he said, be paid the prevailing hourly wage, as if they were regular farm laborers.
When Allen showed up at the pre-arranged location to arrange for their employment, he was faced with an incredible sight: there were more than 50 growers jostling for a place in line to get some of these former soldier laborers. Every one of the laborers had been booked from early August all the way through the end of September by 10:30 in the morning. There were also another 30 prisoners coming, Allen said, but they had already been designated to work in another county,
J.W. Fanning, farm labor supervisor for the AES, stated that as many as 31,300 additional workers would be needed just to harvest the crops in Georgia’s counties alone. “Prisoners of war are available in a relatively few counties … in 38 North Georgia Counties this week, county agricultural agents … are expecting a heavy demand for workers in cotton fields.”
Bulloch Countians were lucky, indeed, for the unexpected assistance these prisoners of war were able to provide to both farmers and families, alike.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at Bulloch County's historical past. E-mail Roger at roger
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