Agriculture

The article “We Bandoers” 1 provides interesting statistical information about the prisoners. From the graph showing the age distribution of the prisoners we see that on the 1st of January 1919 there were very few over the age of 44, or under the age of 23. The average age is 30. The article also mentions that there were thirty farmers and thirteen gardeners among the prisoners. Thus, it is not surprising that given the opportunity, agricultural activity and a degree of food self-sufficiency would develop in the camp. Nor was it the case that agricultural activity was limited to people who had previously been farmers. Given that food was something that affected everyone, the references to agricultural topics, and in particular the rearing of animals for meat is a frequent topic in the newspaper.

Despite this, the first mention of rearing animals does not occur until March 19182 – and then only in a passing comment about “ducks, chickens and geese”. An article describing the aspirations of the camp’s would-be farmers occurs later in the same month3. In the following month a further article elaborates on this theme, but also mentions some local problems associated with cultivating crops4. When it was necessary to construct chicken coops, beer crates provided a convenient source of material5. In November of the same year, a chicken census was carried out and there were “1008 chickens, more than half of them home-bred, 282 ducks, 30 geese, 30 turkeys, 75 pigeons, plus 51 rabbits”.6 In the same article, we learn that pigs were reared both within and outside the camp. At Christmas, three of the pigs were slaughtered7.

A poem published in December describes how inclement weather had sadly led to the death of some the farm animals8. However, the “Camp Chatter” for April 19199 celebrates how the prisoners had made the best of their circumstances – including their agricultural efforts - in the two years since the camp was established.

On the 19th of May the harmonious relationship between the prisoners and the Japanese was disturbed, when Captain Takaki decided to stop people from accessing the leased land because there was a “big mess” out there10. This was a cause for real concern for the people who were rearing animals, as they would be unable to attend to them. Fortunately, the problem was amicably resolved, but in the month of June the poultry farmers encountered a new problem – their birds were afflicted by illness11.

In the following two months there is no further mention of agricultural topics, but by the time September came, circumstances had changed drastically due to the impending closure of the camp. This had led to a rapid slaughter of the poultry and “even the rabbits and pigs are not sure of their lives.” 12In an article on the “Geba” we learn that while the prisoners were keen to see their loved ones again, they were apprehensive about their return home, because they might suffer from hunger in post-war Germany13. So their efforts at self-sufficiency had not been in vain.