Messages in bottle found in Cotuit may be from World War II POWs held on Cape Cod
COTUIT — A day of landscaping turned into a voyage of historical discovery for Shane Adams last week. Adams was working at a property in the Point Isabella neighborhood of Cotuit when he stumbled upon a half-buried bottle on a hillside near the water's edge.
There were messages inside the bottle. Adams peered through the glass, trying to decipher them.
"There were three or four little notes," he said, some of them written on cardboard from a Quaker rice box.
"I saw German names and a date of 1944 and it said something like 'prisoner of war,'" said Adams. He could see the names of Johann Huppertz, Andreas Wollny and Lothar Gernert.
Realizing he had something that might hold historical value, Adams, of Marstons Mills, left the fragile notes in the bottle and brought it to the Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit.
The society's administrator and archivist Amy Johnson was intrigued by the find. She wondered if the note might somehow be associated with the World War II-era training area in Cotuit known as Camp Can Do It, where troops learned techniques of amphibious warfare.
Johnson also thought the bottle might make a dandy historical exhibit, "once we research more of its provenance," she said.
Many Cape Codders might be surprised to learn that there was a sizeable population of German World War II prisoners of war (POWs) housed at Camp Edwards, located on Joint Base Cape Cod on the Upper Cape.
According to a Camp Edwards history published by the Massachusetts National Guard, "shortly after the Allies' North African campaign began in 1944, the U.S. Army built a prisoner of war (POW) camp for captured German soldiers at Camp Edwards. The POW camp, located at the south end of the runway, housed up to 2,000 POWs at a given time, many of whom were from Rommel's famed Afrika Korps."
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And the POWs didn't spend all their time at the base. According to the Massachusetts National Guard, "the prisoners worked around Camp Edwards much of the time, but were also sent to work in the area's farms and cranberry fields. German prisoners also assisted in salvaging millions of board-feet of lumber after the Otis (air base) vicinity was devastated by a hurricane in September 1944 … by the end of the war, the camp had received, processed and repatriated up to 5,000 POWs."
Joseph Yukna, co-founder of the Cape Cod Military Museum, thinks Adams' discovery could be the real deal.
"It all fits the narrative and history that I'm aware of," he said.
Yukna said that German POWs were involved in the demolition of Camp Can Do It after amphibious training ceased at the Cotuit site. "They tore down all the buildings and warehouses."
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He also wondered if the messages in the bottle might be more of a time capsule; buried in the hillside for posterity as opposed to launching it into the water.
Adams, who found the bottle, hopes it might be possible to get word of the messages to families of the German POWs. He said the discovery has made him reflect on the dangerous and turbulent World War II era.
"It made me think about how tough men had it in the 1940s," he said.
Contact Eric Williams at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @capecast
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This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Cape Cod: Old bottle found with messages may be from World War II POWs