A new feature documentary from Alpha Vision Films
Please welcome guest author James Overton. “I find the ‘team’ quality of filmmaking deeply rewarding,” says the producer and director of Alpha Vision Films, Waynesboro, VA. “One can’t make films alone. So it’s necessary to assemble a group of interested associates, all with their own distinct talents, knowledge and experience. Then the ‘team’ combines their efforts towards a common creative goal, the envisioning, execution and completion of a film. Naturally, as producer and director at Alpha Vision Films, much of this responsibility rests squarely on my shoulders. But in the end, it’s a team effort all the way.” Overton’s recently completed documentary In This Land: The Camp Lyndhurst Saga / German Prisoners of War in The Old Dominion explores a little known and fascinating chapter in Virginia history.
On any given day, an intrepid hiker might stray off the path more traveled and find themselves on a certain mountain ridge deep in the George Washington National Forest near the small town of Lyndhurst, Augusta County, Virginia. That wanderer would possibly be struck by the quiet serene beauty of a lonely wood. But also, one might feel a sense of deep, isolated, melancholy remote separation.
Out of the corner of the eye, cracked and sunken concrete foundations suddenly seem to appear. But there are mature trees growing inside these old man-made formations. Then, a maze of complicated stone-lined pathways can occasionally be seen, as if in an attempt to affirm their continued existence under years and years of leaves, fallen limbs and bracken. A moss covered stairway leading to nowhere. Buried in the wilderness, what on earth could all this be?
This is exactly the impression made on me as I first arrived at the location of a forgotten structure deep in the forest. A location with great, but largely unknown and certainly unresolved for many, significance in Virginia history. This is Camp Lyndhurst. The home of nearly 300 German prisoners during the final years of World War II. But, that is only the last chapter of this incredible place, so lost and forgotten by many today.
Camp Lyndhurst was constructed deep in the throes of The Great Depression to house men who were part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. A program in FDR’s “New Deal” to employ thousands of jobless young men across America in construction and conservation projects, saving them from possible homelessness and starvation. The “CCC,” as it was familiarly called, constructed the Sherando Lake complex, did major construction on all areas of the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway, and was involved with numerous other projects along the parkway’s route. They planted billions of trees in a reforestation project to inspire the sprit of conservation, all under the strict supervision of the U.S. Army.
These CCC Boys, although not prisoners, were under military restrictions and regulations. Consequently, they were the first men at Camp Lyndhurst to experience directly the overwhelming loneliness of this remote place. In fact, in one year alone—1940—37 were given dishonorable discharges for desertion. The isolated sequestration in this place created an uncannily depressing atmosphere.
Main Street, Camp Lyndhurst during the Civilian Public Service era.
Soon, very soon, their boredom was relieved by a sudden and dramatic contingency: the looming global conflict of the Second World War. The camp originally opened on May 15, 1933 and was operational as a CCC camp for the next 8 years. That era of Camp Lyndhurst came to an end on July 18, 1941. The camp was closed and vacant until May 1942. In short order, most CCC Boys enlisted or were drafted into the military, along with millions of other young Americans. But not all.
At the same time, thousands of young men, mostly affiliated with pacifist-based religious orders such as The Mennonite and Brethren Churches, requested and were officially designated conscientious objector status. Accordingly, many months after Camp Lyndhurst had been evacuated and shuttered by The Civilian Conservation Corps, frantic activity at the camp resumed.
Conscientious objectors were assigned to The Civilian Public Service, or CPS, and the camp took on its second incarnation as CPS Camp 29. Several hundred conscientious objectors continued the work on the parkway begun earlier by The CCC, along with essential work in agriculture on farms and orchards in The Shenandoah Valley. Eventually, work on The Blue Ridge Parkway in the Augusta County sector was completed, and CPS assignees were transferred to a separate CPS camp near Bedford, VA to continue work in the area of The Peaks of Otter.
And so, once again, the camp was closed and temporarily abandoned. Few could have imagined the next role the camp was to play. In 1944, many of the over three hundred thousand German prisoners of war would find the old CCC/CPS camps their home for the duration of the war and beyond. Manpower in the nation’s factories, fields and farms had been drastically depleted during the war effort. These German soldiers provided much needed labor on the home front, directed by the Department of Agriculture following strict observation of The Geneva Convention. Camp Lyndhurst was now a POW camp, and enemy soldiers were in our land, The Shenandoah Valley.
Many were given work assignments and were directly supervised by their local farmer and agricultural employers. Some of these farm families were of the Mennonite and Brethren church communities for generations, and many prisoners’ lives were transformed by these hosts‘ pacifist beliefs.
When the war ended, POWs, without fanfare and with little notice, were swiftly repatriated back to their homelands where they encountered complete destruction, death and starvation. However, the qualities of freedom, liberty and democracy they had experienced while working alongside the civilian population of America had made an indelible impression. Many determined to return, one day, to the land of the free.
This new feature documentary, from my local independent film group Alpha Vision Films, explores a little known and fascinating chapter in Virginia history. “In This Land: The Camp Lyndhurst Saga” features President of The Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society, and author of The Longest Patrol, Gregory L. Owen. Mr. Owen’s book is about the life of one of the POWs interned at Camp Lyndhurst, Karl Baumann.
Karl Baumann was captured in France and eventually imprisoned at the camp. Following the war, he made his way back to the Shenandoah Valley to raise his family and live out his life. His story is prominently featured in the film. Karl Baumann passed away in 2009, so we have no direct quote from him. However, it’s recorded that he felt the attitude of the Mennonite and Brethren church families that employed him as a POW made a tremendous impact in his life. Although he was “the enemy” he was still given basic humanitarian treatment and respect.
Our documentary also includes President of The Waynesboro Heritage Foundation, Shirley Bridgeforth. Shirley was essential to the conception of film. The Foundation’s museum in downtown Waynesboro retains some fascinating relics from the camp. This is covered in her film interview. My study of these relics led me to the idea of making the film. At that point, Shirley introduced me to Gregory L. Owen. Greg had already done several years of research into the camp history, which was incredibly helpful in creating the narrative of the film. Shirley also did considerable research.
Karl Baumann, U-Boat
Gunner, Age 19
The production began in January of 2014 and was completed by June this year. The location of the camp is a very compelling, but extremely dangerous place. One thing I hadn’t considered in sharing this story is that I’m now being swamped with requests for details on the location. Consequently, I’ve posted the following statement on all of our relevant social media: “Friends, thank you for your interest in the film. I have received numerous inquiries asking about the location of the camp. EXTREME caution should be used if attempting to visit the site. It’s a dangerous spot for many reasons:
1.) Sinkholes abound (we almost lost one of our associates up there filming one afternoon) Most of what I call “sinkholes” are the result of the foundations cracking up and settling, holes where fence/telephone/power line posts have been removed and eroded away, wells and cisterns, etc. All of these hazards are completely covered in years’ worth of leaves, limbs, bracken, etc. and consequently, totally invisible.
2.) It’s VERY remote. Please do NOT venture up there without advising the US Forest Service that you’ll be on the site.
3.) It’s a rattlesnake den! Additionally, we were given the stern warning from the US Forest Service to not remove any item large or small from the campsite. Please respect this completely reasonable directive. With a little research, the camp can be located. However, my one main concern in sharing this story is that someone will go up there and be injured… Consequently, I’m not generally publicizing the location. But it is indeed an amazing place…We learned all of this at the location the hard way!
One interesting production incident: over the weeks of location shooting, we had the son of former POW, the late Karl Baumann, request to join us at the site. Michael Baumann, who is an educator in Kenova WV, had not been back to the camp location since his first visit, age 6, when he was accompanied by his father. Michael Baumann is now 52. I had not, at that time, had the opportunity to secure rights, releases, and permissions to include him in the film. This visit had come up suddenly and unexpectedly.
Author Gregory L. Owen inspects grounds of Camp Lyndhurst with Shirley Bridgeforth.
So I firmly instructed my director of photography, Mark Miller, not to film him or have him on camera on this particular day’s shooting. While we were split up with different crews over several different spots at the site, Michael found himself alone with Mark at a very significant landmark, which we had discovered and excavated at the camp, the “stone pedestal” bulletin board. Effectively, the center of the camp.
At this point, Michael insisted that the camera start rolling. He had something to say, and over Mark’s objection, his sequence was filmed. It was very fortunate, for Michael did not return to the campsite at any other time during the filming. Michael’s statement in the film is, without doubt, one of the emotional highlights of the entire production. In the end we received the full co-operation of the Baumann family.
We were able to track down some fascinating people here in Virginia, some of whom had been at the camp in one of its many facets. Mr. David Flora of Bridgewater VA is a good case in point. Mr. Flora, 92 years old in 2014, was the son of a Brethren Church minister and lifelong member of the Brethren Church community. He requested, and was officially granted, conscientious objector status by Selective Service during World War II.
In 1943, at age 21, he reported to CPS Camp 23, Camp Lyndhurst, to begin his compulsory service. He describes the concept of conscientious objection in the film thus: ‘It means not killing. Seeking the good in a person rather than the evil. You wouldn’t go out and shoot a person who was your friend, so you don’t go shoot a person who’s not your friend!’ Mr. Flora’s sequence in the film is another emotionally powerful moment.
Barracks interior. CPS era. 1943. 21 year old David Flora is seated far right.
Needless to say, these first hand witnesses are fewer and fewer with the passing years. Their recollections proved to be most interesting.
The film raises many important issues, still completely valid today. The question of conscience versus duty… The idea of how humans relate to each other and how one or two inciting incidents in a person’s life can send them off on a path of which they could never have dreamed… Our film will appeal to those interested in both the history of Virginia and/or of World War II. Also, since local Brethren and Mennonites played important roles as both conscientious objectors and as consumers of POW labor, the story of Camp Lyndhurst would be of interest to those immersed in church history.
You can view “In This Land: The Camp Lyndhurst Saga / German Prisoners of War in The Old Dominion” free of charge by visiting the Alpha Vision Films website: www.alphavisionfilms.net or www.alphavisionfilms.com. (All of our 19 previous productions, many also with local interest, can be seen at the site free of charge as well.) You won’t want to miss this incredible story that retraces, and at long last reveals, a compelling true-life drama in The Shenandoah Valley. We hope you will find this story as exciting and profound as we did in bringing it to you.
Alpha Vision Films’ production team also includes Associate producer Theresa Reynolds Curry and Mark Miller, Director of photography. Who is funding Alpha Vision Films? In short, I am. My ‘real job’ has been professional singer and entertainer in Virginia for the last 38 years. But I have also been a lifelong film fan, studied the process, and long intended to one day undertake film-making myself. This is not now, and has never been, a ‘commercial’ venture for me. I’ve spent a small fortune in all this (and I’m not wealthy by any means) and haven’t yet made a dime. Purely done for the intrinsic joy of being a part of such a creative form of expression and working within a new medium that I love.
Just as I do, everyone donates their time and talent while I pick up all expenses. Very gratifying undertaking, and our work has dramatically improved and met with enthusiastic acceptance over the last 5 years. We’re incredibly grateful.
One final thought on this particular subject—I know from personal experience, having spent my entire adult life in the entertainment industry, that this approach—concentrating solely on the artistic merits and quality of one’s work, NOT the money—is EXACTLY how amazing and unexpected opportunities often find a person. So… this is how I’m betting!