Alf Binnie’s archtop features a rich
antique burst finish and a pearloid pickguard.
April 26, 1942, was a day of anticipation
and relief for the Allied prisoners of war
at Stalag IX-C in the central German
town of Bad Sulza. It was relatively early
in World War II, and the POWs had no reason
to believe they would be released anytime
soon. They lived a squalid, crowded existence
and were emaciated from meager
rations of cabbage soup and hard bread.
But that Sunday marked a rare occasion
for smiles: The inmates—who came from
many nations, including Poland, Belgium,
and France—had been given permission
to put on a concert, complete with a
stage, sets, costumes, and lights. Dubbed
Strike up the Band, the evening gala
featured sets by a rag-tag orchestra by
the name of Jimmy Culley and the Stalagians, and
a smaller jazz quartet billed as the Four Bilge Brothers.
Though life in the Stalag IX-C Nazi POW camp was dismal, with
plenty of hard labor and disease to go around, these men had reason
to smile when they were allowed to perform the occasional concert. Alf
Binnie is at middle right.
Alf in a photo taken of his POW camp
band, Jimmy Culley and the Stalagians.
One of those “brothers” was Alf Binnie, a guitar-playing Canadian
pilot serving in Britain’s Royal Air Force. He’d recently marked the
one-year anniversary of being shot down over Holland, and just a
few weeks before this rare performance, Binnie had miraculously
acquired a new handmade archtop guitar from a music store in
Weimar, Germany. Acquiring a good guitar is special for any guitarist,
but for Binnie it was part and parcel of how he survived the
most grueling trial of his life. Somehow, the guitar survived too.