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Library Reference Number: 050

'Entrepreneurs'

Bill Taylor, Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA

While carrying out flying operations over Italy, Bill Taylor was shot down just outside Milan while carrying out his 34th mission. The Germans insisted on taking prisoners-of-war back to Germany, Bill was no exception.

On becoming a POW you quickly realise that whatever your possessions at home, they mean very little in a POW camp. All arrive with very little, and quickly realise that cigarettes are the only real currency of the camps. When a guard was found who could be bribed to smuggle in verboten articles, he was paid in cigarettes. StalagLuft 7, Bankau, was a new camp, was still under construction and living conditions were primitive. However, I was surprised to witness how soon the entrepreneurs flourished. It began with two Kreigies (prisoners) who spread a blanket outside their hut, and called themselves 'The Camp Exchange.' They exchanged articles and charged a commission in cigarettes. Soon others followed. Two friends started a Crown & Anchor Board, others organised Housey-Housey, while yet others operated various other games for personal profit. The entrepreneurs all seemed to be doing rather well.

Discussing what we could do to generate some income, one of our group mentioned that his mother had taught him how to crochet. It was decided that he would teach us to crochet a blanket, which we would then raffle, as a means of accumulating some camp currency and cigarettes!

We made crochet needles from toothbrush handles, we begged, borrowed and acquired cast-off woollies which we unravelled. We decided to crochet the wool into one foot squares, with the finished blanket planned for three feet broad and six feet long, requiring eighteen squares in all. There was much time spent on trial and error, and gathering sufficient wool before the blanket was completed. One of our small group embroidered the RAF wings as a centre-piece. The blanket was duly raffled in front of the whole camp, and we gained quite a lot of capital in the form of cigarettes.

Unfortunately, we did not have long to enjoy our hard-earned gains. The Russians opened their Winter Offensive in January 1944, and we soon found ourselves evacuating the camp and on the march back into Germany. This was a feature of the closing months of the war, when due to Russian, & Allied advances, POWs were subjected by the Germans to long forced marches. We were given a rest of five minutes every two hours. On the second day, after we were getting ready to move on after such a short rest, I noticed the blanket lying in the snow along with other discarded articles. It had become too heavy to carry in our tired state. I pondered for a short time whether I should pick it up, but decided against it for the same reason.

"Hopefully some Russian soldier got some comfort from it!"

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