“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Williamston in Martin County, North Carolina — The American South (South Atlantic)

Camp Williamston

And the Many Prisoner of War (POW) Camps in the United States During WWII

Camp Williamston Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Ray Gurganus, November 22, 2021
1. Camp Williamston Marker
Inscription.  POW Camps Across the United States
There were POW camps across the United States, setup by the federal government. By May of 1945, the United States held 378,000 German prisoners of war, across 155 base camps and 511 branch camps. They were kept in relative secrecy, up until the final months of the war, except for the military personnel and those who leased them out for their labor. The POWs were paid for their work; they had to make some form of compensation for their labor according to the rules of the Geneva Convention. The POWs were able to keep a small percentage of their earnings. By the spring of 1945, all of the prisoners had been returned to Europe.

POW Camps in North Carolina
North Carolina was actually the first state to receive German POWs; they came from a German submarine, the U-352, which was torpedoed off the coast of North Carolina in May of 1942. The survivors were held in Fort Bragg at a temporary camp that was later shut down in early 1953 and later reestablished as a base camp. From the early to the mid-1943, the next sets of prisoners were mostly Italians, many from Marshal Rommel's Afrika
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Korps. After the fall of Mussolini's regime in September of 1943, most Italian prisoners joined the Italian Service Unites, pledging allegiance to the new Allied Italian government and serving as auxiliary units in the American forces. By spring of 1944, the majority of prisoners held in North Carolina were Germans.

Camp Williamston
Camp Williamston was a prisoner of war camp during World War II, once occupying the property in front of you and shown as Figure 1. The camp began construction around November of 1943 and was completed in February of 1944 as a satellite camp of Camp Butner in what is now the town of Butner. The only exception to this was the theatre, which was completed sometime later in the year, but it was constructed after these pictures were taken. Parts of some of the structures are still in use by Tom Crockett Irrigation.

Camp Williamston was just one of the 18 P.O.W. camps in North Carolina during this period. The other camps were Camp Butner and Fort Bragg as base camps, Camp Mackall, Davis Sutton, Wilmington, New Bern, Scotland Neck, Seymour Johnson Field, Ahoskie, Winston-Salem, Hendersonville, Moore General Hospital, Whiteville, Greensboro, Edenton, and Roanoke Rapids as satellite camps.

Camp Williamston, and many others, were built as solutions to the labor shortages from Americans out to war. In fact, the first
Camp Williamston Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Dave W, June 1, 2023
2. Camp Williamston Marker
POWs, which were Italians, arrived in Martin County as farm labor from a camp near Windsor in September of 1943. Reportedly, the men were said to "serenade Williamston" on their way to work, with one of them reputed to be an opera singer. After the peanut crop was harvested, some of the POWs worked in the Standard Fertilizer Company mill. The next month, the Williamston camp began construction and all 500 of the Italian POWs were to be transferred there, as the Windsor camp was not suited for winter. In Many of 1944, they were replaced by German POWs shipped from camps in Tennessee. They were utilized for labor for the next 2 years on peanut, corn, tobacco, and sweet potato fields in Martin and surrounding counties, at the pulp mill near Jamesville, and in logging operations in Bertie County. In fact, it was reported by a local newspaper that the prisoners had supplied 78,418 hours of labor over the course of 1945 and harvested 97,800 stacks of peanuts. At the start of 1945, the "surplus" prisoners were transferred to Butner and that, while some prisoners may remain for industrial jobs, all regular farm contracts were being cancelled. The camp was closed later in the year.

The conditions of the camp for both the prisoners and the guards were fairly good. As described in Martin County Heritage by Betty Bryant, "Living quarters for the prisoners as well as guards, were
Figure 1: Aerial view of Camp Williamston image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Ray Gurganus, November 22, 2021
3. Figure 1: Aerial view of Camp Williamston
tent structures composed of raised wooden floors, 20' by 20', sides boarded to shoulder-level, and a tent top. Each living unit housed 6 men. All other structures in the camp were also tents, except the recreational building and the small chapel standing just outside the compound."
The space between the fence and the tents is shown in Figure 2.

While at the camp, the prisoners created a nativity scene as part of their Christmas celebration in 1945. It was described by The Enterprise in their December 25, 1945 issue, as, the "striking" depiction of the visit of the Wise Men was "artistically rendered in minute detail and brings to attention the work of able artists among the prisoner personnel. The lighting is also very effective, and the scene is receiving wide acclaim from many travelers, including local people and tourists from different states. It is indeed apparent that the artists and others who constructed the scene had a marked interest in the project." After closing the camp, the life-size set was given to the town of Williamston and was displayed annually. Unfortunately, the scene was burned along with the old Town Hall in 1958.

By spring of 1945, the final POWs were off North Carolina and American shores. Some of the prisoners wrote back to the friends they made here. One example was of Arturo Morasut in the Soviet sector of Berlin. He
Figure 2: Close up shot of the area behind the POWs' tents image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Ray Gurganus, November 22, 2021
4. Figure 2: Close up shot of the area behind the POWs' tents
wrote, "life was better in [camp] Williamston than here. I will never forget the beautiful time I stay [sic] with you and your friends." Among all 10,000 POWs held across NC, there were only 29 that made escape attempts. The friendly locals and generally safe and relatively comfortable camps are to be credited for this.

Though, there was one escape attempted by a Williamston POW. One day during the lunch break of some of the prisoners working at the Moss Planning Mill in Beaufort County, they were allowed to swim in the Pamlico River, as long as they didn't stray too far off. Rudolph Wahlich decided to see if he could manage to swim to the distant highway bridge, about two thirds of a mile away. About an hour after he left the mill, the supervisors noticed he was gone; local police, army officers, the sheriff's force, and state highway patrol all ensued in a panic to find him. He was soon captured near a buoy yard at Bridge and Main Streets. Once he arrived at the police station, he claimed he was just taking a swim.

An example of how Williamston impacted the former POWs was by the late Fritz Schnebelen. He was born in western Germany and was held in Camp Williamston 1944-1946. In 1967, Fritz wrote a Christmas letter to the mayor at the time and the people of Williamston thanking them for treating him so well while he was a prisoner. He wrote, "I
Figure 3: The nativity scene made by the POWs image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Ray Gurganus, November 22, 2021
5. Figure 3: The nativity scene made by the POWs
fondly remember my imprisonment in your city because of the kind treatment given to us by your people... We were much better off than the other prisoners of war in other communities and particular in other countries.
" He concludes the letter with, "Mr. Mayor, I wish you and your citizens a joyous Christmas and a happy 1968... May all your wishes become reality." The whole letter was written in German, so the mayor got the late German-born Irene Probstl Legget to translate it. This started a lifelong friendship between Fritz and Irene, with many of the letters over the years he sent to her expressing his thoughts and memories about his time here.

The year this is being commemorated, 2019, happens to be the 75th anniversary of the opening of Camp Williamston. Over the past 75 years, the camp as been kept in much obscurity. With the commemoration of this sign I hope to bring this camp to the attention of the many locals. This camp was too important to the county's past development to be forgotten now.

Figure 1, 2, and 3 are believed to have been taken by Eugene Rice, part of East Carolina University's Francis M. Manning Collection (Permission to use the photos was given by the ECU Digital Library)
Erected 2019 by Eagle Scout Project By Conner Bone, Farmlife Troop 302.
Topics. This historical marker is listed
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in this topic list: War, World II.
Location. 35° 51.519′ N, 77° 2.503′ W. Marker is in Williamston, North Carolina, in Martin County. Marker is on River Road, 0.2 miles north of East Main Street (Business U.S. 17), on the left when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Williamston NC 27892, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Roanoke River (approx. 0.2 miles away); Freedom Rallies (approx. 0.4 miles away); Martin County Veterans Memorial (approx. 0.6 miles away); Martin County Courthouse (approx. 0.6 miles away); Asa Biggs (approx. 0.8 miles away); Asa Biggs House (approx. 0.8 miles away); Memorial Baptist Church (approx. 0.8 miles away); Skewarkee Primitive Baptist Church (approx. 1.8 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Williamston.
Also see . . .  World War II - Part 4: Prisoners of War Held in North Carolina. NCpedia (Submitted on November 30, 2021.) 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 12, 2023. It was originally submitted on November 26, 2021, by Ray Gurganus of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 790 times since then and 454 times this year. Photos:   1. submitted on November 26, 2021, by Ray Gurganus of Washington, District of Columbia.   2. submitted on June 4, 2023, by Dave W of Co, Colorado.   3, 4, 5. submitted on November 26, 2021, by Ray Gurganus of Washington, District of Columbia. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.

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Sep. 28, 2023