The conventional picture of Allied POWs in the World War II prisoner-of-war camps is of escape attempts (Colditz and The Great Escape) or terrible brutality (the Far Eastern camps and Bridge on the River Kwai). But what did the men really do all day?
In fact, as this extraordinary book shows, British prisoners showed the most amazing ingenuity and determination to turn their camp into a hive of every kind of activity. Whole golf courses were laid out in the exercise yard; hours and days spent watching the birds beyond the barbed wire perimeter were turned after the war into definitive monographs on bird behaviour. Terry Frost turned himself into one of the finest postwar abstract artists after taking up painting as a POW with a brush made from horse’s hair snatched from the animal that toiled at the latrine pump. Clive Dunn’s theatrical career – like that of many postwar theatre names – began in extravagant drag costume in camp productions.
When men went “Stalag-happy” they even re-created a whole hunt hurtling pell-mell through the camp. Midge Gillies – whose own father was a wartime POW – has done an amazing amount of research and interviewed many surviving POWs to produce a work of social history which will genuinely re-define our picture of the POW camps and leave us with renewed admiration for the initiative, creativity and fortitude of men in wartime captivity.