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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Could not put it down
As someone who has always been interested in history this book was always going to be of interest. However it passed my expectations and was one of those rare books that I simply could not put down. I believe that the stories of those imprisoned during the war has never been fully told until now.
I stingily recommend the Barbed Wire University to anyone with an...
Published on 9 Jun 2012 by Anthony

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting account full of description and anecdote, but lacking any real depth of analysis
The Barbed-Wire University provides an overview of the lives of British prisoners of war in Europe and the Far East. It's strength is the insights it provides into the everyday lives and experiences of the prisoners, showing how they coped with being in captivity. The book deliberately avoids the dramatic tales of escapers and instead concentrates on the mundane and...
Published on 24 July 2012 by Rob Kitchin


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Could not put it down, 9 Jun 2012
This review is from: The Barbed-Wire University: The Real Lives of Allied Prisoners of War in the Second World War (Paperback)
As someone who has always been interested in history this book was always going to be of interest. However it passed my expectations and was one of those rare books that I simply could not put down. I believe that the stories of those imprisoned during the war has never been fully told until now.
I stingily recommend the Barbed Wire University to anyone with an interest in the recent history of the UK. So many of those imprisoned never returned but those who did appear to made truly valuable contributions to this country.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A moving look at the captive lives of a truly remarkable generation..., 11 Oct 2012
By 
C. Ball (Derbyshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Barbed-Wire University: The Real Lives of Allied Prisoners of War in the Second World War (Paperback)
Most of what I knew about the lives of POWs during the Second World War I have to say, to my shame, I learned from films like The Great Escape or Bridge Over the River Kwai - which is to say therefore that I knew very little at all. Reading this book was a real eye-opener, particularly in the differences of experiences between those Allied soldiers held captive in Germany and Italy and those in the Far East.

Because the war in Europe was much more immediate for Britain, with the Blitz, bombing raids and threat of invasion - the Nazis have always been demonised far more than the Japanese ever were. It is still true to this day that the war in the Far East was something of a 'forgotten war' and what the POWs in Japan, Thailand, Burma and Singapore went through has never received as much attention as those held in Europe. And yet their experiences were far far worse - the suffering and indignity they experienced, the forced labour, the starvation. The Red Cross never had the infrastructure it had in Europe, so the often live-saving Red Cross parcels rarely got through, and there wasn't the same kind of ability to distribute books, musical instruments, sports equipment and small necessities that were such a highlight to the men held in camps in Germany.

What really fascinates in this book is the sheer inventiveness and ingenuity displayed by the POWs. The hospitals established, complicated medical procedures performed with little or no specialist equipment. Orchestras and bands set up, the plays and musical reviews performed, costumes and sets created out of nothing, the football, rugby and cricket teams, the classes taught, courses studied, languages learned - it is truly amazing at how these man managed to create something out of almost literally nothing. Many learned skills which changed their lives, set them on different careers and paths after they have been liberated. Many were exposed to different cultures, classes and races, men they might never otherwise have met.

I couldn't help but finish them with a really deep and abiding admiration for what this generation of men went through. Keeping one's sanity after, for some, four or more years of captivity would have been an achievement on its own, but, as some did, to take the opportunity to improve oneself, to study and educate with an eye to the future is truly remarkable.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great book, 22 July 2012
This review is from: The Barbed-Wire University: The Real Lives of Allied Prisoners of War in the Second World War (Paperback)
I enjoyed this book,though sometimes it was very hard to persist particularly when reading about the experiences of those who were unlucky enough to find themselves prisoners of the Japanese. My parents were the generation who lived through the war, my dad was in the RAF, and I have friends whose fathers were prisoners in Japan and in Germany. But this is something else and really gives you an idea of what life was like for those who found themselves prisoners of war (including the author's father). Imagine large groups of men, with possibly nothing in common, from a very class-bound society, cooped up day in, day out, and overseen by the enemy and you can see that something needed to happen to keep them occupied and prevent them turning on each other - or on their guards - with dire consequences. And it did: the endless creativity of camp activity in Europe never ceased to amaze me, and the resilience of those held prisoner in the Far East is staggering.

This is a human interest book. You learn about people's lives over the period of their imprisonment, see the difference that small things can make to someone facing death through starvation, and above all realise how many unspoken experiences my father's generation carried with them - often without speaking about them. This isn't a book about escapes (at least only in passing). But it is a book about how people with no control over their lives tried to make their time in captivity the best that they could. I thoroughly recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Captive lives, 13 Feb 2013
This review is from: The Barbed-Wire University: The Real Lives of Allied Prisoners of War in the Second World War (Paperback)
This is a very readable social history of the lives of prisoners of war. Gillies is very good at picking out the interesting stories and anecdotes from the interviews she has conducted and the sources that she has studied. She makes clear in the introduction that there have been many histories about escaping from POW camps, so she steers clear of that in her book, although a short chapter or two wouldn't have gone amiss. It's an excellent read but there are a couple of quibbles. The book is split into parts, with 1 and 3 looking at Europe and 2 and 4 looking at the Far East. There's a lot of overlap between the parts, and I'm not clear why it was decided to split them up - many of the themes are very similar (education, sport, health...) and it feels like some of the points are repeated between them. The last couple of parts looking at the end of the war deal with both Europe and the Far East together and I think they work better. Also, I'd have liked Gillies to consider the experiences of Axis prisoners in Allied camps - what were the differences and similarities between them? However, this is still worthwhile seeking out to find out about the soldiers' lives in captivity, something that most of us can thankfully only imagine.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read and inwardly digest., 12 Feb 2013
By 
Mrs. M. L. Clark "margie clark" (northampton,UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Barbed-Wire University: The Real Lives of Allied Prisoners of War in the Second World War (Paperback)
I picked this book at random and having read it have bought another copy to give as a gift.It is both brilliant and awe inspiring,and gives a fantastic insight as to how the POWs managed their time in the camps.Read it!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting account full of description and anecdote, but lacking any real depth of analysis, 24 July 2012
By 
Rob Kitchin - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Barbed-Wire University: The Real Lives of Allied Prisoners of War in the Second World War (Paperback)
The Barbed-Wire University provides an overview of the lives of British prisoners of war in Europe and the Far East. It's strength is the insights it provides into the everyday lives and experiences of the prisoners, showing how they coped with being in captivity. The book deliberately avoids the dramatic tales of escapers and instead concentrates on the mundane and banal - gardening, entertainment, sport, learning - as well as work details, camp conditions and contact with home. At one level it is fascinating, using individual accounts to provide a rich description. At another, it has a number of shortcomings that prevents the text from rising above an empiricist account.

The principle problem of the book is that it describes the men's lives largely outside any in-depth contextualisation of how camps were structured and organised both by the prisoners and guards or the inter-relationships between these groups. Indeed, the guards and the structural organisation of camps are curiously absent in the text except for brief mentions. There is very little about the social relations between men, the social structure, how regimes of regulation and punishment operated, the power dynamics operating, or even how the camps and work were temporally and spatially organized. There is very little detail on how the allies organised their connections to prisoners beyond a short discussion of Red Cross parcels and it would have been good to get a better sense of how that was all organised and operated. Instead, we get descriptions of football games or organising concerts or taking education courses which are interesting, but lack a real depth of analysis that frames and explains what was going on a deep social and psychological level.

Second, given that the book covers a wide range of experiences and not just education, I took the main title to be synonymous with the idea of a `university of life'. However, the subtitle is a little misleading. The book almost exclusively relates to the lives of British prisoners of war, with the occasional mention of Dutch or Australian. There is either no, or very little, discussion of Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, Indians, Poles, French, Russian, etc. How nationalities and ranks were treated and their experiences in captivity were very different. Indeed, the book could have been strengthened by much more systematically comparing and contrasting the experiences of Allied prisoners, and with how Allied prisoners were treated vis-a-vis Axis prisoners.

Third, I found the structure of the book a little odd. It's divided into six parts. Parts 1 and 3 concern Europe, parts 2 and 4 deal the Far East, and parts 5 and 6 relate to the closing of the war and repatriation, and after the war. In the latter two cases, Europe and the Far East are dealt with together, comparing and contrasting the experiences. That probably would have been a more effective way of dealing with the first four parts as well. As it is, themes are repeated across all four parts and it's left to the reader to do the work of comparison. Moreover, it's not really clear why there are two parts per continent as there's no real differentiation in time or the logic of themes between them. It all seems a little haphazard. Rather than organise the book almost exclusively around activities, it would have been profitable to also have mixed in structures, organisation and social relations.

Overall, an interesting account full of description and anecdote, but lacking any real depth of analysis as to how the camps operated as social systems that shaped the life that took place in them.
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4.0 out of 5 stars interesting material, but reads like a compilation, 29 July 2012
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This review is from: The Barbed-Wire University: The Real Lives of Allied Prisoners of War in the Second World War (Paperback)
The content of this book is of constant interest. There is a lot of information about the things that were done in PoW camps, and I found the material on education particularly good. You come away thinking that the PoW films present only a small part of what actually happened.

On the other hand, a lot of the material is familiar in a general sort of way, notably the privations suffered by the PoWs in the Far East. Here I was not sure that the author had added a great deal, although the sources are well marshalled.

But, like another reviewer, I was left wondering about a number of things: by what route did the exam papers reach the camps? why were some prisoners moved about so much (which must have been a lot of trouble for the captors)? what happened to the 'other ranks' (most of the sources she uses are officers)? And so on.

And I am afraid the presentation is not sparkling. The book reads a bit like a compendium of PoW material, rather than a coherent exposition. There is not much narrative, more a collection of material from the different sources.

However, there is much of interest, so four stars.
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