Education

 

The prospect for starting educational classes was at first somewhat limited for the British in terms of space and materiel, however once the process of removing men to the Kommandos commenced this began to ease, and the Activities Committee formed the Education Sub-Committee, who oversaw all related matters. Thanks to a gift of books from Stalag VIIIB at Lamsdorf, the British were able to create the foundations of a library, which grew over time thanks to invaluable contributions from the Red Cross, YMCA, Colonial Houses, and various organizations such as the Sales Managers' Institute, the Institute of Certified Grocers, Pitmans, and the Royal Institute of British Architects, as well as donations from the prisoners themselves. The Library was based in a partitioned area at the end of Hut 33, neighbouring the barbers, sports store, carpenters shop, props room, and rehearsal room. At its height the Library held in excess of 7,100 books, two-thirds of which were distributed amongst the various Kommandos attached to Stalag VIIIA, to be read in the few hours that these men had for leisure. The books covered a wide range of subjects, from fictional works, a great many of which were set in the early days of the USA, to books on such subjects as town planning and a complete course in navigation.

 

The Library Some of the British lecturers

 

With this necessary body in place, the Education Sub-Committee was able to contemplate setting up a Stalag University. Up until now one or two study groups had arisen of their own accord, but as all of the huts were in use it was difficult to envisage how something much larger could take off. As with most other activities, the British approached the French and Belgians to try and find gaps in their own timetables for which they could make use of their excellent lecture hall in Hut 28B. The University year began on the 8th February 1944, led by a group of eager and qualified lecturers who gave instruction to 400 men, expanding to 500 by the end of the month, and examinations were held in June and every three months thereafter. The courses available for study were as follows:

 

Languages - English Language and Literature, French, German, Italian, Afrikaans, and a study group covering Arabic.

 

Mathematics - Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus.

 

Accountancy and Commerce - Bookkeeping I and II, Advanced Accounts, Cost Accounts, Secretarial Practice, Economics, S.A.R. and H. Accounts.

 

Law - Company Law, S.A. Mercantile Law, Insolvency Law, English Law Group, S.A. Police Law.

 

Cultural, Professional, and Vocational Subjects - Logic, Geology, History, Geography, Automotive Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Salesmanship, Shorthand (elementary and advanced).

 

Arts - Drawing, Painting, Commercial Art and Drawing.

 

In addition to these classes there were numerous and popular practical courses that taught Book-Binding, Dental Mechanics, carpentry, joinery, and First Aid which was taught by the British Medical Officers at the camp, on which students would be given a written and practical examination, set in Geneva, and it would earn them a St. John Certificate. The Dramatic Society held play-readings as often as they could in the much-demanded Rehearsal room. A sub-branch of the Society was the Shakespeare Reading Group who held meetings almost every week for those interested in dramatics, where readings took place as well as discussions on the history of drama and Shakespearian literature.

 

More for entertainment than anything else, the educational aspect extended to Inter-hut quiz nights, which was one of many activities intended to inspire a bit of interest on an otherwise dull night.

 

K. G. Foundries Ltd.

 

Just outside of Hut 34B, around secluded corner, there operated an illicit foundry. K. G. Foundries Ltd, ably managed by Joe Stratford, Hori Clark, and Peter Wootten, was established to provide replacement cap badges to prisoners who were missing their own. Existing badges were pressed into sand or soap moulds, while the metal was heated in an English cheese tin, and once cool, the badges were finished off with a bit of fine working using either a penknife or a file. Finding appropriate tools and materials was a problem that was only overcome through dogged determination. The initial casting material was lead, which in a former life had been a pipe beneath the sink in the German Electrician's shop, however in time more suitable metals became available and in greater number, and so the Foundry began regular Batch Production. The collection of tools grew impressively over time, though Gestapo searchers confiscated the lot when a mine detector found them buried in a garden patch. The Foundry recovered from this set-back and during its existence made approximately 2,000 badges using 80 different designs. Cap badges cost 30 cigarettes a piece, whereas collar badges were priced at 20.

 

The Swap Shop

 

Before the Swap Shops came into being, prisoners tended to form groups who shared their possessions for mutual benefit. Charles Coward arrived towards the end of 1944 from Stalag 344, and upon seeing the problem of many men going without, he asked for and was given permission to set up a Swap Shop. Thanks to help from those in the camp he was able to begin trading after only a few days, and his shelves were filled with examples of most anything that was in circulation, from clothes, belts, and razors, to pens and all kinds of food. As with most things the price of items was valued in cigarettes, but goods to the value of were swapped if possible. For example, if a man wished to buy butter and was willing to make a tin of milk last two weeks instead of one, he would effectively sell his milk to the shop for 35 cigarettes and buy a tin of butter for the same price, but as the shop had to turn a profit the owner was tipped 1 cigarette for the transaction. Profits went into the Camp Welfare Fund to be saved for a rainy day, a day which came when the Americans arrived in a very deprived state in the last few weeks of 1944, and so the shop donated all of its profits to them. The whole operation required simple yet thorough bookkeeping, and the books were regularly audited by the Camp Treasurer. The Shop opened at 09:00 and shut at 16:00, and since coming into being it had helped rid the camp of exploitation by the outside racketeers, and gave the prisoners much cause for delight.