Looking Back: End of WWII etched in memory of local resident

Published 10:07 am Friday, August 14, 2020


Contributing writer

Joe Ann Hutchinson Barnes of Danville was a young child when German prisoners worked in tobacco at her grandparent’s farm during World War II in the summer of the early 1940s. And she remembers an incident that happened to her mother when the announcement was made that the war was over, 75 years ago.

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She was about 6 years old when she and her younger brother, Cecil, watched the prisoners work from the front yard at the farm in Lincoln County.

Joe Ann’s parents, Paul and Opal Hutchinson, lived with her maternal grandparents John “Bud” Tankersley and Dora Mae Kidd Tankersley in the Hubble community.

“We could see to the tobacco field near our house to watch the men, but we weren’t allowed to get close to the workers.

“Between 15 and 20 men came to work bright and early every morning in the back of a cattle truck,” she said. They left after work and returned to a prison camp.

“I remember the men would go to the spring house for water after they got hot and sweaty from working in the fields. The spring house was near the barn and the guards were always watching the men as they moved from place to place.

“The prisoners worked in the fields all day. My grandmother and mother cooked a hot meal to feed them at lunch time every day.”

The prisoners didn’t come into the old farmhouse, Joe Ann said. Instead, she remembers them eating in the shade under the big trees out in the front yard.

“After they ate, the men said they were so full they wanted to take a nap in the afternoon. However, they worked all day and returned to the prison camp located in the old state hospital building and grounds on Burgin Road.

“My mother raised a big garden and cooked fresh vegetables and homemade bread. They really liked the food.

“We played in the garden while Mother was working, but we couldn’t play outside near where the men were working although they were always nice to us.”

After the tobacco was cut in late summer, the Germans helped strip the stalks and prepare it for the market in November.

Joe Ann was not fond of those days when she and Cecil stayed in the barn while their mother helped in the stripping room.

“I hated the smell of tobacco, and still do,” she said.


Joins the Army

Joe Ann’s father, Paul Russell Hutchinson, enlisted in the Army May 11, 1945. He served for three years and two months. He was a cook and served time in Italy during the war. He was a son of James Franklin and Willie Thomas Clark Hutchinson.

After her dad went into the military, her mother moved to Danville with Joe Ann and Cecil. They never went back to the farm.

Joe Ann said she remembers her mother describing what she saw the night when the announcement came over the radio that the war had ended. They were living in an upstairs apartment in a house at the corner of Second Street and Duncan Hill at the time, which is still there, she added.

“I remember Mother said she was sitting in front of a window when the announcement was made, and then heard lots of whistles, horns and sirens blaring down the street. She said she looked up in the sky and saw a figure wearing a long cloak who appeared to be walking across the sky carrying a light or a lantern. Then it just faded away.”

“She didn’t have a clue who or what it was,” Joe Ann said. “But she thought it was Biblical, and not a ghost.”

“She talked about it for the longest time.”

After her father was discharged from the military, he worked for Kroger in Danville. He later transferred to Barboursville where he worked as a butcher for Kroger.

Joe Ann was born in Bryantsville at the home of her Tankersley grandparents, before they moved to Hubble.

Joe Ann remembers her father playing the guitar when they had family gatherings.

She and her husband, Crit Barnes, have two children, Robin and Heather, and live in Danville.


Prisoners came in 1941


The prisoners who helped at the Tankersley farm were housed at the old state hospital building and grounds on Burgin Road.

German prisoners were brought to the United States in 1941 after the U.S. entered World II, according to information on Wikipedia.org

The U.S. agreed to a request from the United Kingdom asking for help with housing prisoners due to housing shortages in England.

More than 425,000 POWs lived in 700 camps in the United States from 1941 to 1946. Most were housed in the southern states because the climate was warmer.

More than 1,600 prisoners arrived in 1944 to help with the critical labor shortage to help with the tobacco harvest in Kentucky. They were housed in several locations.

They usually began work with tobacco harvest and ended in October.

Local Farm Bureau organizations were in charge of arranging the workplaces for the prisoners after getting requests from local farmers to permit them to work in the fields, according to articles in The Advocate- Messenger.

Labor was not available to harvest the crops because many of the local men were in the military. County Extension Services helped with applications from farmers.

The prisoners were paid 45 cents per hour and provided clothing and supplies by the Army. They earned about 80 cents per day and the remainder went to the government to help pay for their upkeep.

“The prisoners did excellent work with little supervision,” said one farmer. “An average crew did considerably more work than a similar crew of local help,” he said.

Farmers using prison labor assumed no responsibility for the safety or safe-keeping of the prisoners.

In May 1945, the war department stopped German war prisoners from being brought to the U.S. The department asked General Dwight D. Eisenhower to arrange for those here to be sent back to Europe.