Ray Kestner’s granddaughter, Jessica Kestner McMahon, calls the little book that Ray brought home from prison camp the “Christmas book.”
Entitled Christmas 1942, the calendar booklets were a gift of Pope Pius XII to the Allied prisoners.
The booklets consist of 48 pages and a cover. They have calendar pages for January–December 1943, as well as a “memorandum” page for each month (pages 2–25); the rest (pages 26–48) is comprised of hymns and Christmas carols.
Camp 59 prisoner Charles Simmons also owned one of these booklets, described in “Charles Simmons’ Calendar and Address Book.”
Most of the addresses throughout Ray’s booklet are penciled in his own very legible handwriting. A few are written in other penmanship—presumably by the prisoners themselves.
Aside from the address of Italian Virgilio Orazi (above) and one Englishman—Bob Johnson of Leeds in West Yorkshire—the names and addresses are those of Americans.
Raymond Kestner with family
The letters in this post, saved by Ray Kestner’s sister, are posted here courtesy of Ray’s granddaughter Jessica Kestner McMahon.
In one of his letters, Marshall Wells makes reference to Ray’s wounded arm. Ray had been shot in the left arm before capture and was treated by the Italians.
The sensitive correspondence between strangers in this post calls to my mind the sharing of news concerning Albert Rosenblum’s capture described in “Kind Strangers—Relays from Radio Rome” and the news of Willman King recorded in “Heard over Shortwave.”
For more on Ray Kestner, see “Local News Articles—Raymond Kestner” and “Ray Kestner—Letters and Postcards.”
Jessica Kestner McMahon shared the following letters and postcards that her grandfather sent home while in the service. Ray Kestner was interned at Camp 59 in 1943 from March 1 to September 14.
On December 17, newspaper articles about Ray were posted to this site.
[Fort Knox, Kentucky]
Dear Pappy, Mamy, and kids,
We finally arrived in Fort Knox at about 7:00 pm Fri. It took 39 hours to get here. While we were on the train we ate out of our mess kits. We had plenty to eat. The kitchen was in the baggage car.
It’s kool and cloudy here today. It sure rained hard last night. The ground is all red here except where there are trees. It’s kinda hilly around here and the buildings we are in are all new the same as at Snelling [Fort Snelling, Minnesota].
We have off from Sat. noon to Mon. morning, so I am just listening to the radio.
Yours with Love
Pvt. Raymond Kestner
Co. A, 10th Battalion
A.F.R.T.C., 4th Platoon
Fort Knox, Kentucky
In December 2011, I received a note from Jessica Kestner McMahon.
“I am the granddaughter of Pvt. Raymond Kestner who was interred in Camp 59, she wrote. “I am in the process of scanning his war letters, etc. into my computer. I happened upon your blog and found his name listed in Charles Simmon’s address book from January 2010. I have a similar book from my grandfather.
“My grandfather died in 1986, when I was only 8, so I don’t remember a lot about him. He moved to St. Paul, MN soon after returning from the war, and lived there until he died.
“His sister kept all the letters he wrote, as well as the newspaper clippings about him, which I have. I am currently working on scanning them into the computer. I will send some of those on to you as I get them.
“My grandpa seems to be a pretty laid back guy—he was much more content to wait things out than to try to escape.”
Is in Ireland
Private Raymond Kestner
Son of Mr. and Mrs. Jos. Kestner, East Main Street, is with U.S. troops in Ireland. He went across some time in May as nearly as his parents could ascertain. The first letter from Ireland arrived in Sleepy Eye [Minnesota] August 5th.
Private Kestner has been In the service about eight months, was first at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and then at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He is serving in the armored division.