The POW Cook Stove

In March of this year, ex-POW Neil Torssell sent me this diagram of a handmade Camp 59 cook stove. He labeled the parts of the stove: 1) fire pot, 2) air shaft, 3) blower pot with crank and fan blades, and 4) pulleys. Sketch 5 is a top view of the fire pot, showing supporting wires to hold the wood and fan blades under the wires for fast heating.

All parts were crimped together, he explained, as screws and solder were not available. Some of these burners were mounted on wood—when wood was available.

Italian historian Giuseppe Millozzi, in his thesis on Allied prisoners of war in the Marche, has this to say about the stoves:

“POWs cooked food that arrived in the Red Cross parcels and boiled water for their tea that they loved to drink very hot using special heaters made by themselves. These were made with the KLIM condensed milk tin to which was added a small fan that was turned manually. With this system it was possible to produce the maximum heat using the smallest quantity of wood or any inflammable rubbish found in the camp. The KLIM heater was invented by a POW who was an engineer and it met such a success that it could be found in practically all the camps thanks to the POWs who were transferred.”

In 1976 my father, Armie Hill, had this to say about the little stoves:

“One of the New Zealanders built blowers out of tin cans. We weren’t allowed knives in the camp but we were allowed scissors. So the guys used scissors to cut apart our cans and make things out of them. The blowers had gears, with shoelaces for pulleys. Turning a crank made from wire would cause another gear to turn. The blower had a propeller-like fan and a forge. We used the blowers for making tea and coffee. There were few matches in the camp, so someone would go to the kitchen and get a few coals in the morning to get his blower started. One man would cook his meal and then empty his coals into another man’s blower.

“Nothing was wasted. We burned up the wooden boxes that the Red Cross supplies came in, we picked up branches that blew down in the yard from trees, and we’d strip bark off the tree trunks. We lived fairly well there because things were organized.”