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Posted July 5, 2013 | Leave a comment
Patrick Farris: Remount Depot used as POW camp
Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of columns about the Front Royal Remount Depot.
Another quite different wartime duty performed by the Front Royal Remount Depot during World War II was the use of the base a prisoner of war camp.
Fort Lee in Virginia was a central location for POWs captured from the Axis Powers, and satellite camps were often utilized to farm out men for use in factories and in fields.
According to the Geneva Conventions, officers could not be compelled to work, but soldiers who were physically capable could, and since so many Americans were in the armed forces there existed labor shortages in every sector of the economy.
The first batch of POWs sent to Front Royal were "Russianized" Germans, as they were called by the Allies. These men were not German at all, but were captured Russian soldiers brought from German camps in Eastern Europe after having "volunteered" to labor in the construction of Germany's Atlantic Wall along the French coast (the life of a laborer under German control might have been exhausting, but was better than the practical death sentence these men would have suffered if they remained in the Nazi prison camps in Eastern Europe).
After D-Day in 1944, these men were captured by the Allies and ended up in the United States. As these soldiers did not see themselves as having fought against the Allies - and had suffered under terrible conditions at the hands of the Nazis - they were not particularly motivated prisoners in U.S. custody and as a result were sent back to Fort Lee. The second group of soldiers sent to Remount were Germans captured in 1943 during the North African campaign. These men distinguished themselves on the whole as being hard workers, respectful, and not interested in causing trouble for their captors.
Particularly fascinating and moving are the many stories one can still hear recounted about the German POWs and their treatment while in Warren County. Many farmers took out labor to their orchards and farms regularly, and although strictly against the rules provided these men with extra food, above and beyond what constituted their rations. T
he humanity of Warren County citizens at this time of war - especially since almost everyone either had a relative in the armed forces or knew someone who did - is notable for its nobility, and this kindness was not lost upon its recipients. Decades after the war, Front Royal has been visited by at least two of these former German POWs who returned to their place of wartime captivity due to their fondness of it and their memory of being so well treated while here.
By the end of World War II, the mechanization of the U.S. armed forces - as the mechanization of almost all aspects of life in the United States - was virtually complete. By way of example of the changing times, the Army Air Corps had become the U.S. Air Force, a separate military branch, and was fielding its first jet-powered aircraft.
The Army, too, had revolutionized its machinery, and horse and mule power was no longer needed. There was one animal training program, however, that had begun during the World War II and would continue as a legacy of the Remount Depot in Warren County: dog training.
The use of dogs by police departments and the military predated World War II, but during the war there was an explosion of need for guard dogs and bomb-sniffing dogs. The U.S. Army Remount Depot in Front Royal rose to meet this challenge, and in the same way that it met all other wartime challenges it succeeded. Expanding its facilities to accommodate this particular need, by the end of the war the dog training program was a large component of what the Remount base kept busy with, and so upon the base's closure in 1947 the dog training program remained in Warren County.
The larger portion of the Remount Depot property lay along the east side of Remount Road (Highway 522), and this facility was sold, as was much of the land to the west side of the road. A portion of the west side property was retained for the continuation of the dog training program however, and today the U.S. Customs Department still operates a dog training facility along the banks of Happy Creek in what was once part and parcel of the Front Royal Remount Depot.
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