Stalag Luft III, Sagan
excerpted from website by Rob Davis, UK
Had it not been for food parcels sent in via the International Red Cross (who also made inspection visits), food would have been a serious problem in all PoW camps. Issued with little more than starvation rations, food parcels sent by relatives, despite being regularly stolen by the many hands through which they passed, were essential. It should be borne in mind that the guards themselves were not much better off than the prisoners, in terms of food. On average, one parcel per week per man was provided.
The rule in most of the camps was that both "individual" (for a named person, sent and paid for by relatives and containing a mixture of goods) and "bulk" parcels (for general distribution, sent and paid for by the International Red Cross, and containing a supply of a single item) were pooled. Thus, replacement clothing, shaving and washing kit, coffee, tea, tinned meat, jam, sugar and essentials were distributed equally.
In PoW camps, captured officers were paid an equivalent of their pay in "lagergeld" or internal camp currency, and could buy items such as musical instruments and what few everyday goods which were available. Captured NCO’s did not receive any such allowance, but the officers regularly pooled lagergeld from their own pay, and transferred these to the NCOs’ compound. It was strictly forbidden to be in possession of real German currency, a vital escape aid. At Luft III, all lagergeld was pooled for communal purchases of what items were made available by the German administration.
An internal official method of collective bargaining and bartering called "Foodacco" was set up, allowing PoWs to market any surplus food or desirable item, for "points" which could be "spent" on other items, amongst themselves. Great trouble was taken in food preparation, with special occasions such as a birthday or Christmas requiring months of hoarding. PoWs usually banded together in groups of 8 men for cooking and messing purposes, and such groups usually became very close-knit.
The recommended intake for a normal healthy active man is 3,000 calories; German rations allowed between 1,500 and 1,900. It was a case of the issued official rations providing prolonged and unpleasant starvation and only the Red Cross food parcels saved the day.
Letters were censored both at the sending and receiving ends. PoWs were not restricted in how many they could receive, but were only allowed to send three letters and four postcards every month. Letters averaged three weeks to arrive from Canada, four from the UK and five from the USA.
Clothing was often a problem, items of civilian nature being strictly forbidden and military uniform often being cobbled together from whatever was available, regardless of branch. Thus it was not unusual to see officers of any rank in RAF battledress top, Army trousers, and whatever footwear was to hand. Most men made every attempt to maintain a military bearing, ensuring that their rank and flying badges were correct no matter what they were attached to! Any officer who had hidden a genuine civilian item of clothing took great care to keep it safe.
It was absolutely vital to carry aircrew badges and brevets in a secret place whilst escaping, in order to prove that an escapee was not a spy. The Geneva Convention dictated that a serviceman should always wear uniform, or be shot as a spy. Being able to produce evidence of being an escaped PoW was essential. The Germans issued each captive with an official PoW identity disc which could also be used to establish a man's genuine identity.