The Roanoker - May/June 2020 - 10

strange days of roanoke

German POWs in Roanoke
ON THE NIGHT OF of October 25, 1944, the
switchboard at the Roanoke Times was flooded with
calls seeking information as residents feared a Nazi
invasion of Virginia was underway.
The callers were responding to a radio alert that
had been issued that afternoon for members of the
local Virginia Reserve to immediately report for
duty at the Roanoke armory due to an undisclosed
" emergency. "
The emergency was the search for an escaped
German prisoner of war who had slipped away
while working in an orchard near Troutville.
During World War II, the Roanoke Valley
had two German prisoner of war camps, one
at Catawba and the other at Salem. Some two
hundred German soldiers were temporarily
relocated to the area having come from Camp
Pickett. The first prisoners arrived in 1944
primarily at the request of the Roanoke County
extension agent, J.B. Williamson. Williamson had
10

MAY/JUNE 2020

been lobbied by valley orchardists of the need for
laborers given most local young men were in the
military.
In addition to harvesting apples, the German
prisoners also worked for the Roanoke water
department clearing the land that would become
the basin for the Carvins Cove reservoir. According
to water department documents at that time, the
prisoners worked eight-hour days for fifty cents
per hour. There was to be one guard for every ten
prisoners.
While army regulations clearly stated there was
to be no conversation between the prisoners and
civilians, this was not strictly observed. Gordon
Saul recalled interacting with the prisoners as
a water boy at the Watts Farm during a wheat
harvest.
" Me and two ten-year-old buddies...worked for
several days carrying water to the thirsty workers.
Being naturally curious boys we wanted to know
TheRoanoker.com

COURTESY OF THE SALEM MUSEUM

The Roanoke Valley had two prisoner of war camps during World War II.


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The Roanoker - May/June 2020

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