Prisoners of War in Minnesota during World War Two often
worked the lumber mills and the farms in the northern and central parts of the
state. Although not often seen in Sherburne
County, POWs worked the potato harvest in Princeton in 1943, and possibly again
in 1944. At times, residents of Elk
River and eastern Sherburne County witnessed these POWs being transported or working
the potato fields.
Section of a letter written by H. C. Byson
to his daughter Dawn with exciting details
about POWs sighted in Elk River.
The casual sighting of POWs in Elk River, like other small
towns in Minnesota, generated a certain amount of excitement witnessed in
family letters such as the letter from H. C. Byson to his daughter Dawn Byson
(later Moyer), in the summer of 1944. Byson
wrote to his daughter:
Bruce came home this morning from downtown with
those expressive eyes of his telling us an exciting story. He and several other people watched German
prisoners eat and then be loaded into trucks and hauled toward the city. Bruce said that there was a guard at each
table and as the prisoners came marching out one told the group in broken English
that they were captured in Africa and had worked on farms there for a few months
before being brought to this country.
Some of them were still wearing their German uniforms two of which Bruce
thought were officers because of the caps and ornaments that were on their
clothes, straps, and pockets.
This letter from the Byson family serves as another bit
of evidence documenting the activities of German and Italian prisoners of war
in Central Minnesota. With an estimated
426,000 POWs in the United States during World War Two, only a small number of
these men found their way to Minnesota to work in the lumber camps and the
farms of Central Minnesota. In small
towns, such as Elk River, their temporary and brief presence created an
exciting stir within the community.