Stalag VIIIA was surrounded by a double row of barbed wire fencing, around which were placed 10 watch-towers. Inside the Main Gate there stood 2 Command Post huts and the 12 barracks which served as the guards quarters, interspersed with various sheltered areas for men to stand unexposed to the elements. The ground that encompassed the camp was approximately 74 acres in size and split down the middle by a straight road running from the Main Gate to the only other access point, near to the Chapel. On the northern side of this road was the compound that was home to the British, French, Belgians and Serbs, while to the south lay the Russians and Italians. There were 40 barracks in all, as well as other buildings which served as the administrative office, storerooms, cookhouses, a jail, disinfestation block, and the two infirmaries. There was a further hut, surrounded by a fence, which held those prisoners who were awaiting trial for one crime or another, such as escape, and though it was not necessary for them to be distinguishable from the rest their one trouser leg was painted red.

 

The barracks measured 50 x 10 metres and consisted of a brick floor which had been laid on unleveled ground, nine foot high walls made from brick and plaster, a weather-proof roof, and a plasterboard ceiling. The only means of entrance was a door at the front, immediately beyond which were two flanking toilet rooms. The bunks were three-tiered and each hut was suitable for the accommodation of 350 men, though in extreme circumstances a further 150 could be crammed in. At the centre of the room there stood a large tiled stove. Near to the middle of each hut were two washrooms, one of which was larger than the other and contained three double-troughs with a tap, while the smaller room held two singles and in some cases also a copper trough for the purpose of boiling clothes. The prisoners removed the single windows in the huts during the summer to improve ventilation, but during the winter those in the washrooms had to be kept closed and sealed with leaf mould to prevent the water pipes from freezing. Deep trenches served as a sewer to conduct waste water beyond the camp.

 

The German method of disinfestation favoured gas, and all prisoners had to surrender their clothes, blankets, and personal kit for cleaning every three months, whilst those who had been marched to the camp from another were compelled to put theirs through this process immediately. The men themselves were allowed hot showers twice per week.

 

Daily Life

 

A typical day would commence at 05:30 when hot water could be brought from the kitchen to make tea or coffee, but it was not necessary to wake up until 06:45 when the Check Parade was called. Breakfast would follow, after which the prisoners were free to indulge in whatever pursuits they thought fit until lunch, which was dished out from 10:00 onwards. Following this the men went back to their business, and the day might culminate with a play or film, or a big football match that would be watched by a large crowd. The day officially ended at 22:00 when the lights were switched off.

 

Getting News

 

Getting news of the war and events in the wider world was a great problem, not least because there was a ban on any up-to-date news being circulated around the camp, for Guards as well as prisoners. The Germans distributed two newspapers amongst the British, "The Camp" and "POW News" while others were circulated to the French and Russians, though all were riddled with Anti-Allied propaganda and as such were regarded by the prisoners more as a source of light humour than a real indication of what was going on back home.

 

The only way to get a balanced view of the situation was to listen in on the British, American, and Russian news broadcasts. The men who had been sent to work in Kommandos were the richer in this respect because they had access to radios, and if they also had access to a bribable Guard then this news could be smuggled back to Stalag VIIIA. After much trouble the men at Görlitz successfully constructed two of their own radio sets, making use of a valve from one of the film projectors in the cinema, as well as other items which were either invented in-house or blackmailed from a guard. From this point onwards the prisoners were able to pick up news from the BBC, New York and Moscow, and reports were circulated from hut to hut and read out each night to the assembled throng. Radios were illegal items inside Stalags, and for reasons of security those who were "in the know" as to where the radio was situated were few and far between. If a careless prisoner informed a guard of an item of news that he could not have possibly known without there being a secret radio in the camp then the Gestapo would make an immediate sweep. The radio that was based in the theatre was discovered during such a raid, as were two operators who were listening to the BBC at the time and for their crimes they were sent to another camp. The other set, buried in a plastic bag beneath a seed box in one of the gardens, remained undiscovered in spite of the odd close shave. On one particular raid the prisoners were forced to stand outside in freezing conditions for hours while the search was carried out. Lances were used to probe the gardens, and one of these came within 8 inches of striking gold.

 

The procedure of listening to the radio was as follows: the guards were accustomed to prisoners collecting some vegetables from the garden to take to the hospital, and so getting the radio from the seed box along with a token supply of greens was not frowned upon. On the way to the hospital the man carrying the radio would stop for a rest at the Parcel Store where the bundle was placed against the store wall, end on, whereupon a flap in the wall would open inwards and the radio would be retrieved, unseen, and used. Once the operator was finished, the radio would then accompany the vegetables to the hospital, after which it would be returned to its place beneath the garden. Sometimes the vegetables were returned as well, but the guards never noticed.

 

Food

 

As with most camps any attempt to prepare food was commonly restricted to boiling a number of ingredients into a soup. Space was in the kitchen was restricted, but they were equipped with 200 and 300 litre boilers which were heated by steam so that the food would not burn. From here the food was emptied into tubs capable of holding 42 servings of soup or 80 jacket potatoes, which were usually served once or twice a week. In all the cooks could produce 4,650 litres each day which would serve an almost equivalent number of men.

 

Hot water was issued at 05:30, ¾ litre per man per day, and this could be used for making tea or coffee, or for washing clothes. Following Check Parade the prisoners would make a cup of tea to accompany their breakfast, a slice of bread. At any time between 10:00 and 16:00 a soup would be served, and for Tea the prisoners finished off any bread they had spared from the morning, mixed in with something from their Red Cross parcels.

 

Ladling out a serving of soup Ian Stewart's and Mac McClintick's "Blower"

 

Boiling water at irregular times was a problem at all camps until the invention of the Blower, which unlike other methods developed into a highly economical and effective manner of cooking. The standard device in operation at Stalag VIIIA was manufactured by Ian Stewart and Mac McClintick, and its primary components were empty tins; 2 cocoa tins, 5 Klim tins, 8 butter tins, 1 biscuit tin, and 2 New Zealand chocolate tins. It took the pair four hours to make a single Blower, which they sold at the price of 80 cigarettes. The Company slogan was "No job too big, no job too small!!", and the two men went on to produce a range of functional and extraordinary items for everyday camp use, including a lathe for the cutting of wooden wheels.