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POW Monitoring in World War II

By Morton Bardfield, W1UQ, Brookline, MA,mbardfield@boatphone.com


For my 13th birthday in 1943 my parents bought me a Philco console radio with a shortwave band. I began shortwave listening almost every night, especially the broadcast from Nazi Germany. I sold newspapers after school and had the money to buy plenty of penny postcards needed to relay the radio messages to the POW's next of kin. By the age of 16 I actively pursued my electronic interests and I got my ham ticket. I didn't do much homework, resulting in almost not graduating from high school on time! The principal, however, was disposed to bend the requirements because I had done good work in installing intercom systems in his offices and the projection rooms. I picked up my diploma the day after graduation.

Each evening in Boston at about 7 pm I received Berlin Radio DXP, "Calling Back Home," and it seemed that almost all messages were from prisoners in Stalag Luft 17. They were mostly Air Corps B-17 crew members that were officially reported to their relatives as missing-in-action. The U.S. pilots and air crew were treated humanely (unlike other prison camps) on the orders of the Chief of the Luftwaffe.

The Berlin radio announcer would read a short message after giving the name and home address of the POW, such as "Hello Mom, I was shot down over Germany. I am fine and I am being treated well--hope America ends the war so I can come home soon," etc! The cards were the first notice to the next-of-kin that these airmen were alive and well and not missing-in-action. In most cases the State Department would also send a message, but delayed, due to the need for verifying the personnel records, etc.

I still have my original 1943-1945 log book containing POW names, messages, relatives address, and the thank you letters I received. During the war I also logged Radio Free France from French Equatorial Africa with messages from Gen. Charles DeGaulle. After the fall of France, the first headquarters of DeGaulle were in Brazzaville, before relocating to England.

The fascination of a short-wave radio started me on a 50 year communications career beginning with a ham license. I went on to radio and TV broadcast work and culminating in ownership. I also became a builder-developer, government and government communication consultant, Signal Corps LTC, Founder-CEO of a public wireless corporation, and other business ventures.