Augusta County and the Shenandoah Valley were more rural in the 1940s than they are today. Farms and orchards, especially apple orchards, were numerous. Waynesboro was particularly rich with its orchards, cider and vinegar mills, canning industry and a huge storage facility. When the war broke out in Europe and our commitment to it, the loss of manpower was keenly felt.
The Allies, gaining many victories over seas and the capture of prisoners of war, needed placement of these men. Food, clothing and housing of the Allied forces in Europe and the Pacific stretched the resources in those areas and the Geneva Convention of 1929 required humane treatment of the prisoners. By May of 1945, there were 371,683 German, 50,173 Italian and 3,915 Japanese Prisoners of War in U.S. hands. Troop ships bringing back war weary military also transported the captives in the bottom hold. Trains and trucks then took the captured men to various areas. One of those places was the former Camp Sherando Lake that was occupied during the depression by the Civilian Conservations Corps who helped build the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway. Abandoned in 1942 with the call-up of men for the armed services, the camp became a compound for the prisoners of war. Opened in August 1944 and renamed Camp Lyndhurst, it housed 277 enlisted men and 4 non-commissioned officers. Captured officers of the Axis were housed at Ingleside Resort in Staunton.
The welfare of the German prisoners was germane to reciprocal treatment of the U.S. prisoners of war in Europe. To keep the prisoners busy and to help with the loss of manpower, the men were required to help with logging, forestry, farming and harvesting. The contract employer waited outside the prison compound and left with the required number of men needed for that day. Fraternization was forbidden between the prisoner and the employer, but the employer found some of the men better workers than others and specifically requested those men. A prisoner was not always accompanied by a guard and trust was built on both sides.
The hours were long and six days a week. Pay was allotted at 35 cents a day in coupons to be cashed at the camp’s canteen. Left over change was put into a savings account in the individual prisoner’s name held by the First National Bank of Waynesboro. At the end of the war and sent back to Germany, one thrifty man received a cashier’s check for $65.00.
The 440,000 apple trees in Augusta County in 1944 yielded a bumper crop. Without the help of the prisoners, the 2 million bushels of produce would have spoiled. During the 17 months that Camp Lyndhurst was in operation, the men produced 43,000 man- days of labor, mainly in the fields and the orchards.
With the war over, the men were returned to a Germany that many no longer recognized. A number of the prisoners had found the valley to be beautiful and bountiful. If one wanted to return to the United States, he must have a sponsor that would guarantee work and housing. Two men from Camp Lyndhurst found a former contract employer willing to sponsor him and returned to the Stuarts Draft area.
Courtesy of the Waynesboro Historic Commission And the Waynesboro Heritage Foundation