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You must not even think of settlement during the war
September 25, 2006 8:18 PM   Subscribe

A POW takes a Rolex on credit: an amazing story told by the original documents.
posted by exogenous (61 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, vintage camera pr0n.

So, how does one go about having a Rolex shipped to a POW camp while one is a prisoner? It seems like something that would have been confiscated at the gate.
posted by quin at 8:24 PM on September 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


what did they mean by settlement, and why must we not think of it during the war?
posted by amethysts at 8:26 PM on September 25, 2006


"... So, how does one go about having a Rolex shipped to a POW camp while one is a prisoner? ..."

That was a time when the Geneva Conventions, and being a British officer, meant something.

"what did they mean by settlement, and why must we not think of it during the war?"
posted by amethysts at 11:26 PM EST on September 25


Settlement meant payment, and they deferred it (gave credit) by underscoring that as their terms in the order acknowledgement letter, noting (without overt comment) that he was ordering from a POW camp, behind German lines, and was a British officer. He wouldn't have been able to transfer money, but their vote for freedom in honoring his order was quietly noble, and it's what makes this a story.
posted by paulsc at 8:31 PM on September 25, 2006


Meant to say, "Great post, exogenous!" too. Best of the Web indeed.
posted by paulsc at 8:32 PM on September 25, 2006


Awesome
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 8:35 PM on September 25, 2006


That watch has an amazing story. The family of that former POW (now deceased) should fetch a pretty penny for that Rolex on Ebay.
posted by surplus at 8:38 PM on September 25, 2006


quin, civilized countries used to set great store by how they treated each other's officers. It was very deliberately done as a mark of how civilized you were -- and also as a mutual pact of good treatment of one's own officers. It is very unlikely that a watch like this would have been stolen or confiscated in any of the countries involved.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:39 PM on September 25, 2006


Top that, Nordstrom!
posted by rob511 at 8:46 PM on September 25, 2006


"Then, after seven years, I was sent home to my family. And now, little man, I give the watch to you."
posted by mr.curmudgeon at 8:47 PM on September 25, 2006


It is very unlikely that a watch like this would have been stolen or confiscated in any of the countries involved.

The German army was VERY well disciplined in matters such as these (vis-a-vis the Western powers). The Amis, not so much.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:47 PM on September 25, 2006


George_Spiggott and quin: as an addendum to the comment on civility and officers' codes in WWII (and WWI), I'll also add the qualifier that such rules of respect and fair treatment did not apply to officers of peoples considered lower. Had the officer in question been Russian (or of Russian extraction) the story would have been very different. Well, besides being in Russian, that is...

As for the original post, thank you--this was a real treat to see. I'm now dying to find out how it will do on the auction block, though in the family's place I"m not sure I could bear to part with it.
posted by trigonometry at 8:50 PM on September 25, 2006


"We are happy that at last the British authorities have removed the opposition which up to the present had prevented our friends to liquidate their debt."

Corporate boilerplate: they don't make it like they used to.
posted by stammer at 8:50 PM on September 25, 2006


What a neat little post and story.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 8:54 PM on September 25, 2006


"So, how does one go about having a Rolex shipped to a POW camp while one is a prisoner? It seems like something that would have been confiscated at the gate."
posted by quin at 2:24 PM AEST on September 26

My heritage is German and so of course whenever I visited my friend's house (who is of British descent) while his grandfather (who fought in WW2) was there, inevitably the war stories would be brought out.

He told me that the older German officers were real gentlemen and it was mostly only the younger officers who had been indoctrinated who were the the real arseholes. The older officers hated the war (and in many cases, Hitler too) just as much as the Brits did and wanted it to end as soon as possible so they could go home and be with their families.

One of the most fascinating stories he told me was about the time he was a POW in a German prison camp. He and his buddies were celebrating one of his friend's birthday in their cabin and they were being quiet about it to make sure they weren't hard by any of the younger guards. Nonetheless, they were heard but it was an older guard who opened the door and busted them.

He asked them what was going on and my friend's grandfather told him they were celebrating his friend's birthday. The older guard looked around, smiled, and from his coat pocket he pulled a cigar case. He took out the last cigar and offered it to the birthday boy, and wished him a happy birthday. And then he left. Apparently a few of the other guards also came later and offered him some cigarettes and alcohol as a birthday gift.

So how does one get a Rolex shipped to them in a WW2 POW camp without it being confiscated at the gate? Easy. Back then, things like honour, the rule of law and things like the Geneva Convention still meant something to army officers. Being on the opposite side of a conflict didn't mean being an arsehole and it didn't mean torturing someone in secret. It meant remembering that the other guy was a human being too, and it meant having a break on Christmas Day and sharing a smoke with the guy who would later be forced by orders to try and kill you.

You wouldn't get a Rolex through to someone in Gitmo because nowadays the sort of behaviour these documents in the post aluder to are a long forgotten, almost quaint tradition. And that, truly, is a sad thing.

Thanks for the post exogenus. It's a good `un.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:59 PM on September 25, 2006 [5 favorites]


* weren't heard
posted by Effigy2000 at 9:00 PM on September 25, 2006


I don't know how much of this I'm getting from fictionalizations vs. real history, but I'm under the impression that Germany and England both had the tradition where officers were considered to be of a certain class. This had gone into decline under the Nazis but there were, as Effigy2000 observes, still many officers about -- possibly disproportionately on prison duty given their advancing years -- from the older tradition. The ruling class of both countries may have felt they had more in common with their opposite numbers than with the grunts of their own military. This would also help explain why this sort of courtesy was not extended to Russians, who had long since extirpated their ruling class.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:17 PM on September 25, 2006


Great post! How much is this Rolex price in today's dollars or pounds?

Too bad those background appear to be of Vietnam.
posted by hodyoaten at 9:30 PM on September 25, 2006


hodyoaten: from the forum linked, 250 GBP then is around 665 GBP now (although the watch is worth far, far more than that).
posted by mrbill at 9:31 PM on September 25, 2006


and it meant having a break on Christmas Day and sharing a smoke with the guy who would later be forced by orders to try and kill you

Not to take issue with your superb comment, but the Christmas Truce was WWI, and military leaders have by and large been pretty careful not to let it happen again.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:38 PM on September 25, 2006


I love the tenor of the correspondence detailed in this post! So much is written, between the lines, and yet is still voiced in the simple mechanisms of war time letters, and typewriters.

"... you must not even think of settlement during the war..."

It was wartime, April 1943. Switzerland was officially neutral, and there was no guarantee of the man ordering surviving the war. There was no system of international credit, except interbank acceptances and letters of credit, and the Swiss were notably not a credit issuing society. And yet, Wilsdorf writes immediately, as if the willingness for business as usual marked the civilized from the madmen. And drops his Swiss reserve to underline his terms, for emphasis.

"As we have now a large number of orders in hand for officers, there will be some unavoidable delay in the execution of your order, but we will do the best we can for you."

Meaning, "You are not alone, and we are proceeding with our normal manufacturing, as best we can, despite all wartime difficulties." Must have been extremely heartening for a man trying to keep a stiff upper lip, in the belly of the beast, more than a year before D-Day.
posted by paulsc at 9:42 PM on September 25, 2006 [2 favorites]


You wouldn't get a Rolex through to someone in Gitmo because nowadays the sort of behaviour these documents in the post aluder to are a long forgotten, almost quaint tradition. And that, truly, is a sad thing.

And people without heads don't even need Rolexes.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:51 PM on September 25, 2006


Fantastic tale Effigy2000, thanks for that.

I guess what I find weird here, and forgive me if this is considered a Godwin (though in this thread, that seems unlikely) is that we have Nazis (freakin' Nazis) dealing with a level of honor that we find unusual in our world today.

How sad a condemnation is that for our state of affairs today?
posted by quin at 9:52 PM on September 25, 2006


The way your dad looked at it, this watch was your birthright. He'd be damned if any of the slopes were gonna get their greasy yellow hands on his boy's birthright. So he hid it in the one place he knew he could hide something: his ass. Five long years, he wore this watch up his ass. Then when he died of dysentery, he gave me the watch. I hid this uncomfortable piece of metal up my ass for two years. Then, after seven years, I was sent home to my family. And now, little man, I give the watch to you.
posted by LilBucner at 9:56 PM on September 25, 2006


(on preview: curmudgeon beat me to it, by over an hour. d'oh!)
posted by LilBucner at 10:00 PM on September 25, 2006


As a long time reader but brand new poster (in fact, I just registered this account for the specific purpose of making this comment) I'd like to say that it's posts like this that keep me coming back to the Blue; these small, intricate stories --- barely more than anecdote --- that, somehow, lay bare the bones of our time as clearly as an x-ray. Great find.
posted by Tiresias at 10:10 PM on September 25, 2006


As George_Spiggott notes, this kind of treatment was considered how civilized nations behaved, full-stop.

paulsc mentions the Geneva Conventions. The 1949 Convention III on POW's is but a continuation of the 1929 Convention on the same topic, which had 97 articles covering such issues as:

Art. 21. At the commencement of hostilities, belligerents shall be required reciprocally to inform each other of the titles and ranks in use in their respective armed forces, with the view of ensuring equality of treatment between the corresponding ranks of officers and persons of equivalent status.

Officers and persons of equivalent status who are prisoners of war shall be treated with due regard to their rank and age.

Art. 22.
... Officers and persons of equivalent status shall procure their food and clothing from the pay to be paid to them by the detaining Power. The management of a mess by officers themselves shall be facilitated in every way.


and regarding personal possessions:

Art. 24. At the commencement of hostilities, belligerents shall determine by common accord the maximum amount of cash which prisoners of war of various ranks and categories shall be permitted to retain in their possession. Any excess withdrawn or withheld from a prisoner, and any deposit of money effected by him, shall be carried to his account, and may not be converted into another currency without his consent.

The credit balances of their accounts shall be paid to the prisoners of war at the end of their captivity.
During the continuance of the latter, facilities shall be accorded to them for the transfer of these amounts, wholly or in part, to banks or private individuals in their country of origin.


Post WWII it gets even more elaborate, with the 1949 Conv III stipulating that the camp canteen must be priced at fair market value, be run by the prisoners with profits going to their well-being, etc, etc..

Bit of a far cry from today, no?
posted by dreamsign at 10:13 PM on September 25, 2006


I remember reading somewhere that the Nazis had more respect for the British then the other allied powers because the British royalty was German-descended.

I mean, obviously the Nazis' sense of "honor" was very selective - I doubt that many Rolexes made their way to Auschwitz.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:20 PM on September 25, 2006


we have Nazis (freakin' Nazis) dealing with a level of honor that we find unusual in our world today.

What quin said. What the hell has happened?
posted by rolypolyman at 10:23 PM on September 25, 2006


ok... and what afroblanco said
posted by rolypolyman at 10:23 PM on September 25, 2006


civilized countries used to set great store by how they treated each other's officers

Not to beat a dead horse, but really, this was only true for a select few Western European nations and only if you were a privileged (i.e. born rich) officer. As was pointed out above, this treatment would not be given to Russian officers and god forbid you were from somewhere outside Europe. While this is a more preferable way to treat one's enemies in times of war, let's not pretend that it was anything more than what it was: nice treatment for (a few) rich white people. The great film The Rules of the Game explores this dynamic.

Otherwise, awesome post. Thank you.
posted by Falconetti at 10:31 PM on September 25, 2006


Oops, I meant "The Grand Illusion" not "The Rules of the Game." How embarrassing.
posted by Falconetti at 10:32 PM on September 25, 2006


Wow, amazing story and pictures. Like Tiresias said, these are the kinds of posts I love to see on MeFi.

For those asking about the value, they seem to go for a fair bit of money.
posted by omarr at 10:54 PM on September 25, 2006


Reminds me of the British POWs in Slaughter House 5 who set up a play and party for the newly arrived American POWs and then are disappointed to learn they are merely enlisted men. Great post.
posted by afu at 10:59 PM on September 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


You wouldn't get a Rolex through to someone in Gitmo because nowadays the sort of behaviour these documents in the post aluder to are a long forgotten, almost quaint tradition. And that, truly, is a sad thing.

Is there any reason to belive that there are any foreign officers at Gitmo? I thought the whole point of the place was to hold terror suspects indefinitely - people who flaunt honored military tradition, dress as civilians, and blow other civilans up in order to get on TV.

Saddam seems to have played along with the whole spider-hold charade, and it seems like he was treated decently (according to the Esquire article) as a result.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:00 PM on September 25, 2006


Oops, I meant "The Grand Illusion" not "The Rules of the Game."

Well, La Règle du jeu is about class too!
posted by Wolof at 11:20 PM on September 25, 2006


The prisoner's UK address is given as Eaton Road, if that was anywhere near where the modern location is, then by 1943 it has probably been bombed flat - central Coventry was destroyed in 1940. Did he have a place to go back to?

As an aside, Eaton Road is where i_cola and I took amberglow for a curry on his UK tour a couple of years ago.
posted by biffa at 12:31 AM on September 26, 2006


biffa, note that the letters to that address were sent in 1946. Perhaps by that point it had been rebuilt?
posted by omarr at 12:54 AM on September 26, 2006


Perhaps, but I'm not sure there's any housing post-war there. It's mostly office blocks and a few shops, though that could have changed since the war, I don't know whether they would have put temporary housing up then pulled it down, quite possibly as people had to have somewhere to live. Anyway, this motivated me to find this page, which has photos of the very nearby Coventry railway station as it was in 1903 then after being bombed in 1940. Will have another look to see if there's anything after that for Eaton Road.
posted by biffa at 2:05 AM on September 26, 2006


So...Hogan's Heroes was a documentary?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 2:05 AM on September 26, 2006


Ok, happy now, I think Eaton Road was a fair bit longer even post war but was mostly knocked down at some point between 1951 and 1968 and is currently a ring road around the city centre. Some maps of the development of the city centre here, Eaton Road at bottom left. Quite possibly I've driven over the site of this chap's house hundreds of times.
posted by biffa at 2:10 AM on September 26, 2006


Fantastic story. Wonderful pictures of that watch, too. No comment on the "lamentable state of how we treat our enemies these days", as it's already been beaten into the ground that the Nazis only really treated British officers this way.
posted by antifuse at 2:40 AM on September 26, 2006


The heretofore customary honorable treatment of the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe toward captured Allied officers is what made the aftermath of "The Great Escape" so shocking. Nobody, especially the regular German armed forces, would've thought that the Gestapo would've executed fifty POWs for escaping.
posted by pax digita at 5:13 AM on September 26, 2006


Thanks for a great post exogenous.
posted by slixtream at 5:31 AM on September 26, 2006


Very cool story and pics exogenous.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:17 AM on September 26, 2006


we have Nazis (freakin' Nazis) dealing with a level of honor that we find unusual in our world today.

Just a reminder - not all Wehrmacht were Nazis. Not all Nazis were Wehrmacht.

Pity it left the family, though.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:26 AM on September 26, 2006


Just a reminder - not all Wehrmacht were Nazis. Not all Nazis were Wehrmacht.

Indeed, Rommel (one of the greats in the WWII army) disliked the Nazis. His son wanted to join the Waffen-SS (sort of the military wing of the Nazi party) because they were more prestigious and were much better equipped than regular army (Heer, in German). Rommel disallowed it, thinking that the behaviors of the SS was nothing to be associated with.

Those interested can read about it in The Rommel Papers, a compilation of Rommel's writings from the invasion of France, to Africa, to Normandy and his execution by the Nazis. I'd quote, but it's at home.
posted by wilsona at 7:35 AM on September 26, 2006


And people without heads don't even need Rolexes.

Yeah, I can still remember when they brutally decapitated Jessica Lynch.
posted by Amanojaku at 3:57 PM on September 26, 2006


That watch has an amazing story. The family of that former POW (now deceased) should fetch a pretty penny for that Rolex on Ebay.

If that watch were in my family, no one would ever sell it. A keepsake with that story behind it is worth more than "green money."
posted by ericb at 4:09 PM on September 26, 2006


Bonham's tells us a little more about the whole POW watch thing. Good on Mr. Wilfsdorf, who wrote a bunch of these letters. (Curious that the brought-from-home watches were confiscated but the new Rolexes were thought copacetic.) Anyway, here's hoping he at least broke even on the deals.

Never knew any of this before, exogeneous, thank you. I hereby officially renounce my counter-snob disdain of Rolexes. Well, old Rolexes, at any rate.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:28 PM on September 26, 2006


Wilsdorf & exogenous. Sorry about that.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:35 PM on September 26, 2006


*Don't mention the war*
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:52 PM on September 26, 2006


Yes, this was a time when ((some) men were gentleman. My dad recounted that at on Christmas Day during the Second World War, German soldiers and Bristish soldiers exchanged rations, chocolate and cigarettes in the trenches across 'the line' then resumed fighting the next day. It was a time of honor, courage and stoicism when men fought eye to eye... unlike the cowardly little fucks we are dealing with today.
posted by Muirwylde at 8:24 PM on September 26, 2006


My dad recounted that at on Christmas Day during the Second World War

Also -- Joyeux Noël
"On Christmas Eve, 1914, three groups of soldiers fighting in the trenches of France lay down their rifles and celebrate together in the barren stretch of No Man's Land that separates them. Beginning with an exchange of songs, the French, German, and Scottish soldiers search for a way to overcome--if only briefly--the conflict that divides them."
posted by ericb at 8:36 PM on September 26, 2006


Joyeux Noël/Merrry Christmas -- Best Foreign Language Film 2006.
"This movie is inspired by a true story, which occurred in the trenches of the World War I battlefield on Christmas Eve in 1914. When war breaks out in the lull of summer 1914, it surprises and pulls millions of men in its wake. Christmas arrives, with its snow and multitude of family and army presents. But the surprise won't come from inside the generous parcels which lie in the French, Scottish, and German trenches. That night, a momentous event will turn the destinies of four characters: an Anglican priest, a French lieutenant, an exceptional German tenor and the one he loves, a soprano and singing partner. During this Christmas Eve, the unthinkable happens: soldiers come out of their trenches, leaving their rifles behind to shake hands with the enemy."
posted by ericb at 8:42 PM on September 26, 2006


Am I the only one who thinks it's weird that a POW was ordering a Rolex?
posted by witchstone at 10:39 AM on September 27, 2006


Yeah, I can still remember when they brutally decapitated Jessica Lynch.

Evidently this is just one of the many problems with your memory.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:19 AM on September 27, 2006


NICE COMBACK DUDE! FACE!
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:22 AM on September 27, 2006



Evidently this is just one of the many problems with your memory.

Uh-huh. I'll let you work out how that doesn't salvage the point you thought you were making.
posted by Amanojaku at 2:13 PM on September 28, 2006


Just as I'll let you discover for yourself that the only places where your nonsensical ramblings qualify as a rebuttal are the internet and political office.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:15 AM on September 29, 2006


Just as I'll let you discover for yourself that the only places where your nonsensical ramblings qualify as a rebuttal are the internet and political office.

Since we're actually on the internet, that works out pretty neatly for me, doesn't it?
posted by Amanojaku at 1:17 PM on September 29, 2006


Yes, you are well on your way to making your mark in the world.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:29 PM on October 1, 2006


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