World War II in Whaleyville
From "Splendid Isolation - Random Memories of An Eastern Shore Boyhood"
"Tommy" Wimbrow - Taken in the Summer of 1940 by an itinerant photographer in the living room of the Family Home in Whaleyville, Maryland
In early 1942 there was a great fear that Hitler would be bold enough to invade the American East Coast. Since Worcester County was Maryland’s only seacoast county this was a special concern for its residents. Immediate plans were made after Pearl Harbor to institute air raid drills, often unannounced, to prepare the populace for this potential consequence of war. Whaleyville was no exception. At that time my grandfather and father were operating a large steam powered sawmill in the town. Until a siren system could be installed, my father was asked to allow the large steam whistle at the mill to serve as the air raid warning system for Northern Worcester County. In the cold, still, winter air the whistle could be heard for several miles in every direction and was the best possible signaling device available on short notice. At the times designated for air raid drills, Dad was notified by phone when the drill was to occur. If it was at night, he would have the boiler fireman stay on duty to maintain a full head of steam. At the appointed time he blew the whistle in a signal pattern that alerted the residents of the need to exercise all precautions necessary for an air raid. This practice continued for several months until a siren could be mounted on the roof of the Methodist Church Hall at which time the use of the whistle was discontinued.
This Crosby three-chambered chime whistle was used for over 50 years by the Wimbrow Bros. (later The Wimbrow Company) Sawmill in Whaleyville, Maryland. This is the whistle that was used in early 1942 as an air raid warning device until a siren could be installed on the roof of the Methodist Church Hall. Now restored, it is the property of the author.
In Whaleyville an appointed air raid warden stood at the intersection of the main street and Route 50 with an American Flag which he waved vigorously to alert all traffic to stop. As I recall Maurice Phillips served as the air raid warden at that intersection.
An Airplane Spotters Shack was quickly constructed on Route 50 across from Bob Hudson’s store and manned by volunteers around the clock. This was a tiny house (about eight by ten feet) with double hung windows on all sides. It was simply furnished with a desk, a phone, some small benches and a tin wood stove. On the wall there was an airplane silhouette chart showing the configuration of all major aircraft. The function of this facility was rather simple: It was a way that civilians could help the military keep track of plane traffic at a time when radar had not yet been perfected. Since most men were at work during the day and most women were engaged at home, the daylight shifts were monitored by women and the evening hours by men. During your shift you sat in the shack with binoculars and quietly listened for aircraft. As soon as one was heard you made an effort to identify its type from the silhouette chart and determined its direction of flight. You then picked up the phone, identified your station, and gave the information to the secret source at the other end of the phone line. At that destination a master map of known aircraft activity was matched with the information given. The assumption was that an unknown aircraft was highly suspicious and needed immediate investigation.
Everyone in Whaleyville did all that was possible to support troops. Scrap metal drives, paper drives, and even the donation of gold jewelry was considered a patriotic duty. I can recall my grandmother going through her jewelry box and gladly giving up anything she no longer wore. Even cooking oils and grease were collected for use in munitions manufacture. As a result, lard, was in short supply and local farmers carefully shared what they produced. Animal feed, then delivered in large sacks, was packaged in printed sacks that could be washed and used to make everyday clothing. The women in the area would get together to compare the feed sacks they had collected with the hope they could exchange sacks with each other to obtain enough of a single pattern to make a garment. My mother made pajamas for me throughout the war from these feed sacks.
Gasoline and food items were also rationed. Many homes were allowed only three gallons of gasoline a week so travel for many was severely curtailed. I can recall being given our food rationing stamp books when I was sent to the store by my mother. The storekeeper would not only take my money but would also tear off the number of stamps needed for the purchase.
This is the Model 1884, .45-.70 rifle issued to R. Edwin Wimbrow for use as a member of the Worcester County Minutemen during World War II. The "Trap Door" Springfield Rifle dated to the Spanish American War and was obsolete even before the outbreak of World War I. While of no value for combat in World War II the U.S. Government had many in storage that were made available for the training of home militia. This rifle is currently in the possession of the author.
The Minute Men were issued surplus weapons and equipment, some items dating to the Spanish-American War. They purchased at their own expense blue denim uniforms which they wore with WWI leggings. They met regularly to practice close order drill and marching along with rifle practice at a range located near the present Stephen Decatur High School. Thankfully their skills were never needed and as the ware progressed they became less important.
By 1944 German Prisoners of war were available for work in field and factory. Since my father had a tomato cannery in Whaleyville he utilized prisoners in the manufacturing process. Initially, all prisoners were housed in a camp in Westover, Somerset County. However, because of the distance prisoners had to be transported daily, Worcester county farmers and businessmen eventually persuaded the government to build a siteorary camp in Berlin, Maryland near the present Stephen Decatur High School. Since my father could speak German, a result of his education at Western Maryland College and since he was utilizing prisoners, he was asked to oversee the construction of the camp. Prisoners were used to do the work and I can recall going with him to the site. The camp was primitive. A well was drilled and a pump house built. Barbed wire fencing was strung and Army tents including a mess tent were erected. No high risk prisoners were in the group. My father often noted most were happy and content to be in America, working under the protection of Geneva Convention Rules, getting three square meals a day and not being shot at. In fact, one of his headaches was keeping prisoners from violating the rules. There was to be no fraternizing with Americans, no use of prisoner labor as personal servants, and no use of alcohol. However, many prisoners eagerly sought out such tasks as tending flower gardens and doing personal household tasks. And try to keep a good German away from a cold beer! On more than one occasion Worcester County farmers and German POW’s were found to have shared a bit too much alcohol beverage together!
My father once told of an incident at the Berlin Camp that perfectly illustrated how cultural differences can lead to misunderstanding. The American Army Mess Sergeant decided that he would treat the prisoners to a meal of just picked Eastern Shore sugar corn. After going to considerable length to get the corn and prepare it, he was asked to speak with a highly agitated delegation representing the prisoners. Completely mystified, he agreed to meet with them at which time they inquired as to what they had done to deserve this punishment. Not knowing what they were referring to he requested further clarification. In reply the leader of the delegation asked what they had done to deserve being fed animal food after having been treated so well in the past. It was at this point that the Mess Sergeant learned that in Germany corn was considered to be fit only as animal food and was never eaten by humans!
My brother Bill also related a German POW experience he had in September, 1944 just prior to his entrance into the Army. In September of that year the East Coast experienced a severe hurricane. No early warning system was then available so hurricanes struck without warning. It was near the end of canning season and our factory was using POW’s from the Westover camp. They were transported daily in an old stake bed truck, utilizing benches placed in the bed with a tarpaulin stretched over the railings for protection from the weather.
On the date in question the factory was in full operation but as the day progressed the weather rapidly deteriorated with the approach of the hurricane. By early afternoon my father made the decision to cease production in order that the workers could return to their homes before the weather worsened. He also gave Bill the assignment of returning the POW’s to Westover in the old truck. The truck left Whaleyville in the early afternoon in a driving rain with eighteen year old Bill at the wheel. There was no American guard with him since the prisoners were considered low risk. By the time he reached Parsonsburg the rain and wind were so fierce the truck stalled and refused to run. Since he was adjacent to a farmhouse Bill left the prisoners in the truck and walked to the farmhouse in hopes of using the phone to alert Dad. However, he discovered the farmer did not have a phone but in a spirit of cooperation allowed him to house the prisoners in his barn. Once the prisoners were secure in the barn he was directed by the farmer to a house further down the road where a phone was available.
By the time he reached the second house he was thoroughly drenched and cold but was happy that he was able to reach our father who made arrangements for another truck to pick up the prisoners. Bill then headed back to the farm to await the arrival of the truck. As he approached the farm he was horrified to notice that the wind had destroyed the barn housing the prisoners. With visions of being held responsible for the death of a number of POW’s he ran to the farm only to discover to his great relief that the farmer had realized the barn was about to go and had moved the prisoners to another building. When he arrived, thoroughly soaked and frightened, he discovered the Germans warm, dry and lustily singing German Folk Songs. Bill always said it was quite an experience for an eighteen year old.
By the fall of 1944 both of my older brothers had volunteered for military service, Bob in the Navy in 1943, and Bill in the Army in 1944. Both had been eager to join the war effort but had agreed to wait until the end of canning season in order to help our father in the factory. Labor was in critical shortage and Dad desperately needed their services in the cannery. He promised each of them they could join the military with his blessing once canning season was completed.
Along with thousands of other parents my mother proudly hung a red, white, and blue silk banner in the front window of our home on which was displayed two blue stars indicating she had two sons fulfilling their duty to country. At the same time Whaleyville Methodist Church displayed a larger version of this banner at the front of the sanctuary on which there was a star for every member of the congregation serving their country. Even though quite young, I remember a certain sadness when viewing the one gold star on the banner since I knew it represented Jack Rawson, a local boy who was killed on the Arizona on Pearl Harbor Day. Jack was the first person from Worcester County to lay down his life for his country in WWII,.
When the end of hostilities came I was entering first grade. I have a vivid memory of how we first learned of the Japanese surrender. We were at the table sharing the evening meal when a car could be heard coming through Whaleyville with horn blaring. Since it was the custom for those being married at the church to end the celebration with this practice we at first thought we would be seeing newlyweds speed by the house. However, when the vehicle became visible it was the car of the Pastor of Whaleyvile Methodist Church, Rev. Albert Turkington, with his wife Emily at the wheel. Rev. Turkington was in the passenger seat with the pulpit flag waving vigorously out the window. As they flew by our home he shouted, “The war is ended!” He and Emily went throughout the town celebrating the news. I also recall Miss Martha Davis coming to our home the next morning to tell my grandmother that there would be a special service of celebration and thanksgiving at the church that evening.
The war has been designated as having been fought by “The Greatest Generation”. Most of those who fought either in battle or on the home front are no longer with us. The little boy whose memories are recorded here is now 68 years old. As I look back on this time in Whaleyville I now realize how isolated I was from the horrors of war and how secure I was in those most perilous of times. I thank God for all those patriotic Americans who did their duty, including my two older brothers, so that I and millions like me could grow and prosper in this land we call the United States of America!
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