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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 8 April 2014
I was excited by this book; both my grandfathers became POW's in April 1918, my wife's grandfather was a regular Sergeant in the Cheshire Regiment and was captured on 24th August 1914 at Mons, so was a POW for almost the entire War. So, with three WW1 POW's in the family, I was looking for something to tell me what their life must have been like. In that respect this book did not disappoint; it is the product of massive research and comprises a vivid collection of the personal experiences of dozens of POW's, organised under chapter headings that track the experience of the POW, through capture, transportation to the camp, camp life itself, resistance, passing the time, escaping, liberation and the return home for those who survived. As such it provides vivid descriptions of what it was like for those unfortunate enough to experience life and/or death as a POW: the brutality, the starvation, the forced labour, the boredom, the incredible challenges, the often life-long aftermath, are all brought to life by John Lewis-Stempel's excellent writing, frequently quoting their own words. But the disappointing aspect is that there was little sense of an all-encompassing narrative, and especially of developing more complete stories of the individuals mentioned or quoted, some of whom seem to come and go in a single sentence or paragraph. So, the book seems to be a collection of anecdotes, organised under thematic chapter headings; they create a sort of verbal collage and paint an effective picture, but a picture of the aggregated experience of all, rather than the entire personal experience of some. Perhaps at this distance in time what I had hoped for is not possible and probably is done in other biographies, in which case my criticism may be unjust and I would apologise for that. But this book is very close to being a great book and therein lies my disappointment with it. Nevertheless, I found it to be a very worthwhile read and would recommend it to those interested in the subject.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 31 March 2014
Fantastic, breathtaking, sobering & heartbreaking ... the use of actual memoir's make's this World War One book standout from the crowd ... sometime's painful to read but alway's able to stir up enormous pride ... the bravery of these boy's is outstanding ... to be able to retain that dark, wicked British sense of humour even in the most dire of situation's, to be able to survive with nothing more than that & your wit's, to get through the long period's of captivity, starvation & daily brutality by using sheer bloody mindedness, the absolute refusal to give in & the downright stubborness of the stiff upper lip. The escape tale's are not only amusing and at time's unbelievable but also blood pumping stuff. John Lewis-Stempel's huge admiration for these men shine's out from every page. A highly recommended read.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
In his previous book on the Great War the author rightly demolished the prevalent myth that lions were led by donkeys ( Alan Clark claimed the term was his, in fact he stole it from a French writer). Stempel showed how the majority of British officers were excellent leaders who cared for their men. He reminded readers that by 1917 many officers were promoted from the ranks.

In this book he uses diaries, letters and poems to demonstrate the indomitable spirit of British PoWs. Morale for the majority was maintained despite the at time harsh conditions in the camps. The prisoners tried to escape,and carried on a constant war against their guards. Many suffered torture, starvation (our blockade of course meant food was short for all) and many other horrors. Shootings were not uncommon. Around 30% of those captured were wounded.

As bad as conditions were they never matched those suffered by Russians. The number of Russian prisoners overwhelmed German plans such as they were for looking after PoWs. Some 100000 were imprisoned after the battle of Tannenberg alone.

Officially, some 11147 British PoWs died in captivity. Stempel says thousands more were worked to death as slaves. He quotes Sgt Parsons of the Rifle Brigade as saying ' I would never be taken prisoner again'.

Sadly, in the plethora of books on the war these men seldom receive a mention. Stempel has filled the gap admirably. A word of caution, there are at least 7 other books with almost identical titles. Several deal with PoWs in WW2.
Recommended
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on 18 June 2014
This book covers an area of the 1st World War, which receives very little coverage. It is wonderfully researched and well written. To read about and try understand what the POWs went though was truly enlightening. There were occasions I found myself seething with anger at the way prisoners were treated. It covers the harsh reality of life in captivity, including some really barbaric treatment, slave labour and even cold blooded murder. The book also has a lighter side and gives examples of true the British stiff upper lip and the sheer cheek of the honest Tommy. What I found staggering was the manner that POWs were left to their own devices at the end of the war, basically having to find their own way home. For anybody who is interested in the 1st WW, this book is an essential read. Congratulations to John Lewis-Stempel for a brilliant publication,
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on 27 June 2014
I have ancestor who was a P.O.W and I was horrified at his treatment, but having read this book , it was not untypical. This subject is not one widely covered, like the returning P.O.W's , their story was lost and brushed aside by the Realpolitick and greater fear of the possible problems of the Russian revolution, the solution being to allow Germany after the war some leniency as Germany would act as a bulwark between Russia and the west , consequently the horrors of the treatment of British P.O.W's has not , I think been fully made known until now and even with the centenary of the 1914-18 , the emphasis is still on anything but this story.
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on 15 March 2015
Very impressive and powerful read about an aspect of the First World War that has often been overlooked. The treatment of British POWs by the Germans wasn't good and many died in captivity through starvation, neglect and violence. Lewis Stempel painted a very poignant picture of what it was like for many British servicemen kept in German captivity.
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on 28 September 2014
OK and with lots of descriptions of POW's experiences during the !st World War. I thought however that it was very broadbrush, not particularly well written and quite repetitive in some instances. Having a grandfather who was a POW at Güstrow I would have liked a little more detail on life "behind the Wire". I'm glad I read it though.
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on 11 June 2014
A good documentary describing the difficult and unpleasant life as a prisoner of war. the released surviving prisoners would not talk about their experiences and so it is surprising to hear what they went through .
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Very good read - not often told (about the evil Prisoner of War camps in Germany) in this detail. I am amazed that anyone survived the brutal treatment meted out on the English (let alone the lack of any decent food at all). I am very glad I was recommended to read it and it enlightened me about life on that side of the wire - which, after all the bombing and maltreatment of the Front Line, was horrendous to have (often) to go to....we have to thank our lucky stars for all these men who survived - and greave for those who so needlessly (in most cases) died.
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on 8 February 2015
Christmas present. Haven`t read it yet but a book about POW`s in the first world war was different to other books on the subject. Apparently it was in the Times top 20 books when released.
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