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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story that had to be told
Most people who know a little about the history of nature conservation will have heard of the fiersome ladies who started the RSPB in 1889 to protest about the plumage trade. But despite some of the protagonists of the present book still being in living memory and their impact on birds conservation being just as important, it hasn't really come to light before now...
Published on 21 Nov. 2012 by Anton E Mouse

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed it - but dragged in places
i would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in birdwatching but it did drag a little at times - but to be fair if you a describing several years' incarceration in a POW camp that is perhaps inevitable.
Published 23 months ago by S. C. Griffiths


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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story that had to be told, 21 Nov. 2012
Most people who know a little about the history of nature conservation will have heard of the fiersome ladies who started the RSPB in 1889 to protest about the plumage trade. But despite some of the protagonists of the present book still being in living memory and their impact on birds conservation being just as important, it hasn't really come to light before now.

This book brilliantly tells how four diverse young men found lifelong friendship through their common interest in birds in the most horrific of circumstances, and how the ripples from that friendship still affect our understanding of birds today. John Buxton's definitive study on The Redstart arose from his observations during the war, and there have been few finer monographs. And Peter Condor's contribution to the development of Europe's largest nature conservation charity lives on.

This isn't an easy tale to read because it's so well written. Some of the details of daily life in the camps is harrowing, but it is ultimately uplifting. The war scarred all four men in the book, but the redeeming power of a common interest in birds shines through.

If you are interested in history, in birds, in people's struggle against adversity, or just in a great read, I would strongly recommend this book.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book, 21 Nov. 2012
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This isn't just a book for birdwatchers, or those interested in military history. Anyone who is interested in the power of the human spirit will enjoy the story of the four men who set up a secret birdwatching club whilst prisoners of war. At times harrowing, at times disturbing, sometimes hilariously funny and often deeply sad, Derek Niemann skilfully weaves a journey with these four characters and explains how, ultimately, it was wildlife that kept them alive.

I read this book in two days. The characters will grip you right until the end.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Birds in a cage, 17 Dec. 2012
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I especially enjoyed this account as I knew some of the people after the war. John Barrett lived in our village and Peter was also involved in the local field study centre. I thought it had been sensitively edited and bought home the fact that being a POW was not a cushy billet and I would reccommend it to anyone interested in how men coped with imprisonment tat had no known term,their interest in ornithology kept them sane and led into a very worthwhile peacetime life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow PoW!, 21 Dec. 2012
By 
mia (Northants, UK) - See all my reviews
This is the story of four British prisoners of war, Second Lieutenant Peter Conder, Second Lieutenant John Buxton, Second Lieutenant George Waterston and Squadron Leader John Barrett, who, after WWII, went on to influence nature conservation practice and policy.

It's a remarkable tale which is beautifully told. On the face of it, it might not sound like the most interesting of subjects, but it really is fascinating.

Reading this book made me think of how easy birders have it these days with great optics. and field guides, and recordings of songs, and distribution atlases etc. And it made me think about how important nature was to these men and how their love of nature helped them endure hardships that were extreme. Walking, exhausted, through a frozen landscape these were the type of folk to keep a bird list as they travelled.

And I wonder how the birds have changed in numbers in the last 70 years. Are the skylark flocks flying still over Warburg (North Rhine-Westphalia) in mid-March in numbers of up to 15,000 a day? I wonder.

I wonder too whether any similar records were kept by German or Italian PoWs in the UK? Prompted by reading this book I discover that there was a PoW camp just up the hill from my local birding patch - I wonder whether there were any captive ornithologists there.

The story is interesting and the writing is excellent. For example, the opening sentence to the second chapter is surprisingly funny.

The strong message from this book is that the existence of nature was incredibly important to these men - as was studying the natural world around them. A little thing like captivity during a World War wasn't going to deflect them from their passion - indeed, in some ways it gave them the time and opportunity, and by chance the companions, to study more, learn more and think more. If you feel imprisoned in any way by your life then there may be a lesson for you in this book. There certainly is a message of hope and human endurance written through this excellent book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Birdwatchers, 24 Dec. 2012
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This is a fascinating and beautifully written account of the experiences of four men taken as prisoners of war at the beginning of WW2. The book works on many levels for me - it is a great story about the lives of many people during the war and interwoven with this there is a fascinating account of the natural history of Europe and Britain at that period. Beautiful illustrations. I would recommend this to anyone interested in birdwatching and the history of the conservation movement, anyone with an interest in a good romantic story and for anyone with an interest in world war 2 history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Birding within the Nazi POW Camp, 21 Jan. 2013
By 
Rob Hardy "Rob Hardy" (Columbus, Mississippi USA) - See all my reviews
You don't expect birdwatching and Nazi prison camps to go together. Oh, sure, there's that scene in _The Great Escape_ where Donald Pleasence is explaining how to identify a shrike, but that's just cover for his real lecture on forged papers. Some prisoners in real life, however, were confirmed birdwatchers and did not let a few Nazis and some strands of barbed wire stop them. That's the surprising and inspiring story within _Birds in a Cage_ (Short Books) by Derek Niemann. Niemann is an editor at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, in association with which this book is published, and which was to benefit from the prison camp birdwatchers. Not only did the four British birders here take their watching seriously, once the war was over, they were all influential in the birdwatching movement and helped in the beginnings of the wildlife preservation effort.

The four men were captured early in the war, and three remained in custody until 1945. They met in Warburg, a giant POW camp for Allied officers, and although they did not spend all their years in custody there, it was the site of their most intense ornithological work. And work it was. These men were busy; they lacked binoculars, but they scrounged paper and made detailed notes that were ready to be published eventually in ornithological journals. They cadged scrap wood to make nestboxes installed on the ends of their huts, and then kept a log of every bird's coming and going. The men made their own bird rings, and banded swallow chicks in a nest; the birds migrated to Africa and seven of them returned the next year. Their fellow prisoners were often bemused; one wrote that "practically the whole camp" would come and look at what he was doing while he was observing a nest, "and not only that but will keep on asking me questions when I am trying to look at the bird, or write down what I have seen." Some of the men, however, became interested in watching and helping. Keeping such records brought order, structure, and a sense of control to the lives of men who had little control in their fates. It wasn't all birding behind barbed wire. Niemann does not neglect to remind readers about how cold, lice, starvation, and illness took their toll on the men during all those years. However, since Niemann quotes extensively from their letters home, letters which the men knew had to pass by the censors, there is much good humor and understatement in their descriptions of their own lives. At the end of his confinement, when the Germans were giving up, one wrote joyously on 25 April 1945 about the excitement in the camp, and ended with, "The Commandant had not yet had confirmation, but to all intents and purposes the camp is now under Allied command. First swift of the year this pm." Niemann also ties in the men's activities to the timetable of the larger war, putting the birding efforts in the context of bigger events, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and more.

Once they were liberated and back home, they were not the men they were; it is sad to read how medical problems had taken a permanent toll. There were mental scars as well, some more serious than one's being unable to write if anyone was behind him or anothers's inability to pass food to anyone else at table without taking his share. Reunions with family members were not the stuff of fairy tales. However, the four went on to train naturalists, found observatories, and write up their wartime findings. One birdwatcher mailed to himself at war's end a huge body of raw data that he never saw again, but another's wartime notes went into his volume on the redstart. Yet another ran the RSPB from 1963 to 1975, making it a professional body and growing its membership by ten. The birds had, in a real sense, saved these POWs, and it is inspiring to read how the former prisoners returned the favor.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Both historical and ornithological... An interesting mix, 14 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Birds in a Cage: Germany, 1941. Four POW Birdwatchers. The Unlikely Beginning of British Wildlife Conservation (Paperback)
I enjoying reading real life stories about WWII and am quite interested in birds and wildlife, so I thought this would be a good book for me, and it was. It follows the lives of 4 British POW's and their experiences in the Prisoner of War camps, and how that shaped their lives afterwards.

The book was very well researched and included lots of detail (a little too much at some points) and from a birding point of view it was very interesting to read what they saw and how they integrated bird watching into the daily life.

My only critisism, and this is a very small one, is that I some times got lost which POW I was following, but this could be as much reader error than anything.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The cameraderie of birders, 24 Oct. 2013
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Quite an extraordinary read. Imagine the tedium of confinement over long periods of time that these guys had to deal with. This is captured very well in the book. The distraction/joy/focus of birds in the camp saved their sanity. The other phenomenon that is apparent is the common ground that birdwatchers share irrespective of nationality or politics - that played its part too in the midst of the conflict and turmoil of war. It was a privilege as a young man two meet two of the individuals whose experiences are described in the book. I now understand so much more about what they went through and how it affected them. Altogether a thoughtful account, very well written.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed it - but dragged in places, 2 July 2013
By 
S. C. Griffiths (Yorkshire UK) - See all my reviews
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i would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in birdwatching but it did drag a little at times - but to be fair if you a describing several years' incarceration in a POW camp that is perhaps inevitable.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Freedom of the mind through birds, 23 April 2013
This is a harrowing but uplifting tale centred around four prisoners of war, all of whom spent the majority of the Second World War in German POW camps. All four also had an interest in birds, which helped them pass the time and come through of the experience. What better way to release their minds beyond the barbed-wire fences than by watching the birds, who could go about their lives both inside and outside the barbed wire. Working without binoculars or other aids, they carried out scientific studies of birds and their behavior - redstart, goldfinches and many more. The book is very well-researched with the help of the four families, although it's a little short and very focused on the birding side of the story. Personally, I'd have rather the book been a little longer and gone into a little more detail on the POW experience - more on the food, living conditions, other activities that went on around them - but essentially, I enjoyed this book and I'm saying I wanted it to go on longer. So recommended reading!
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