Note: The following is one of a series of columns looking at places and events of interest in Bulloch County history.
In a curious twist of events, on Aug. 10, 1944 the Bulloch Herald reported that plans had been finalized for the county's new prisoner of war camp. The barbed wire compound was being built on Dover Road near the city limits. At first, talks had been underway to build two camps: one near Portal and one in Statesboro, but those plans were shelved for a single larger camp.
The camp was to house some 150 Italian and German prisoners, and would have a large military police contingent to handle security issues. Bulloch County commissioners had agreed to pay for the camps basic construction and provide lights, water, and telephone service, and agreed to observe War Department regulations when erecting the security fence and prisoner’s quarters.
According to the United States Army, Statesboro's camp would be one of 26 such facilities being constructed across the south's "Peanut Belt." Not surprisingly, the prisoners would be responsible for harvesting the country's peanut crop, and would be open until at least Oct. 15, 1944.
According to John T. Allen, the state's Emergency Farm Labor assistant for Bulloch County, there would be at least 110 prisoners of war available to work on local farms. While guards would be made available to oversee the prisoners work, each farmer was to be responsible for his own group's transportation needs.
According to Allen, once the manpower was made available, less than 20 percent of the requests for laborers could be filled, and all manpower had been reserved within several hours after registration opened. Each prisoner was to be paid the standard wage for such work" 40 cents per hour per man, including during the time they were waiting for the farmer to put them to work once they arrived at the farm.
Once they had picked the peanuts, they were to be hung on poles, which were eight feet long. They were paid 23 cents per stack placed by hand and 14 cents per stack if pitch-forked. It was expected that each laborer would complete seven stacks per day by hand or 12 stacks per day by pitchfork.
According to the October 19 edition of the Bulloch Herald, some 57,000 stacks of peanuts had been erected by 2,125 men in 38 days, with each stack weighing between 75 and 100 pounds per stack. According to Allen, it is most likely that without the help of the prisoners of war, much if not all of Georgia's peanut crop might have gone unpicked and left to rot.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. E-mail Roger at email@example.com.