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.