Saturday afternoon, March 27, the town of Stark held its fourth reunion between a former German prisoner of war, Albert Petermann from Brunsbuettel Germany, and two of his guards from Camp Stark, Francis Lang and Allen Gurney. The meeting began at the Stark Heritage Center where memorabilia of Camp Stark was displayed and where memories of the friendships that were made were reminisced in conversation. After the brief gathering, some pictures were taken in front of a replica of a US ...Saturday afternoon, March 27, the town of Stark held its fourth reunion between a former German prisoner of war, Albert Petermann from Brunsbuettel Germany, and two of his guards from Camp Stark, Francis Lang and Allen Gurney. The meeting began at the Stark Heritage Center where memorabilia of Camp Stark was displayed and where memories of the friendships that were made were reminisced in conversation. After the brief gathering, some pictures were taken in front of a replica of a US Military Jeep that was assigned to Sergeant Frank Chappell during the years of the camp. Then the group headed a mile south on Rt. 110 to the marked site of Camp Stark where only a small stone structure of the camp currently exists. Further conversations were held at the Northland Dairy Bar for a dinner.
Camp Stark was the only World War II German prisoner of war camp to ever exist in New Hampshire. It had been transformed from a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in 1944. The camp held about 250 German and Austrian soldiers who had been captured mostly in Normandy and North Africa during World War II. The prisoners worked in the surrounding area of the camp and cut wood for Berlin’s former pulp mill, Brown Paper Company. In 1946, the prisoners were released to go home.
During this time at the camp, friendships between the guards and the captives had evolved over time. They all had been fated to the camp and despite the harshness of the war, enemies became friends. The war that had separated them had also brought them together as stated in Allen Koop’s book “Stark Decency: German Prisoner of War in a New England Village.”
The first reunion took place in 1986, forty years after the Camp Stark experience. Allen Koop, New Hampshire historian and Dartmouth teacher, organized the reunion along with Madeleine Croteau of the Stark Improvement Society. Five POW’s and approximately 30 of the guards were present for the first German-American Friendship Day held at Stark's covered bridge. About 1000 people attended the event. A second reunion was held in 1996, a third in 2006 and the fourth was held this past Saturday.
During the two years of Camp Stark from 1944 to 1946, the guards learned to work with the prisoners in the wood cutting process. Leisure activities such as games of soccer were enjoyed between the guards and the prisoners. Cigarettes and food were shared. Each side learned that they all had similar feelings regarding the pressures of war including concern for loved ones. Over time, certain prejudices that each side may have had towards each other were put aside and the guards and the residents of Stark made lasting friendships with the prisoners; some of which have lasted to this day.
Frank Chappell, from Berlin, was expected at the reunion but, unfortunately, he was ill and could not attend. He was a Sergeant and a guard during the years of Camp Stark.
Allen Gurney, who resides in Alton Bay, was present for Saturdays’ event and he was all smiles. He was transported to Camp Stark in 1944 after being injured while fighting the Germans in Italy.
Francis Lang, who now resides in Florida, was also present. He lived in West Milan during the years of the camp. He was a former worker for Brown Paper Company and his job was to make sure the prisoners reached their quota of one cord per day. Lang “is the sole surviving civilian/foreman” from the camp, Koop said.
The final part of the gathering preceding the dinner at Northland Dairy Bar was held at the site of the Camp which is on Rt. 110 North about a mile from the village of Stark. Allen Koop said, “I like to end this with a poem written by Francis Lang.” Koop read as followed:
"Way up in north New Hampshire,
In a town called Stark,
It was there during World War Two,
That history left its mark.
It was there in a prison camp,
That few people ever saw,
Where they kept the German prisoners,
Who were captured in the war.
The prisoners were kept under guard,
And though they were not free,
They were allowed to keep,
Their pride and dignity.
The day came when they went home,
But this fact will remain,
That 40 years would go by,
Before we'd meet again.
These young boys now grey-haired men,
Had learned to make amends,
Those enemies from a distant past,
Had now become good friends.
There's nothing where the camp once was,
Just a plaque that reads with pride,
An equal tribute to those men,
Who came from either side."
By Francis Lang