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The War Behind the Wire: The Life, Death and Glory of British Prisoners of War, 1914-18 Hardcover – 30 Jan 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; 1st Edition edition (30 Jan. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297608088
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297608080
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.2 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 329,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

(an) excellent study of British and colonial prisoners of war..... What makes The War Behind the Wire important, however is John Lewis-Stempel's destruction of two widely held beliefs. First, he reveals that some 90% of the 420 successful escapers were not elite officers. Second and even more importantly, Lewis-Stempel proves that the Germans were animated more by the Kriegsbrauch (which allowed for the killing of POWs), than by the humanitarian values of the Hague Convention... (Nathan M. Greenfield TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT)

[Lewis-Stempel] has performed a notable service by telling the story of the 1914-18's prisoners, a sad but significant epic. (Max Hastings SUNDAY TIMES)

Lewis-Stempel describes our prisoners as the lost men of the Great War... In writing this moving, harrowing account he has done them a noble service. (Richard Kemp THE TIMES)

During the First World War, the Germans held 171,299 British PoWs in often appalling conditions. Humour helped: "Hun-baiting" was popular. And 573 prisoners managed to escape- using methods including tunnelling and impersonation of German officers. (THE INDEPENDENT)

A vivid study of the lost heroes of the First World War: the British PoWs who made valiant bids for freedom. (THE SUNDAY TIMES)

...an entertaining read, and one characterised by the authenticity of the prisoners' own testimony. (Fiona Reid BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE)

The author's enthralling narrative describes the new horror of the First World War as well as any account from the frontliners. (Louis Rive MILITARY HISTORY MAGAZINE)

Lewis-Stempel's book is fantastically well-written, thoroughly researched and full of surprising facts. (Christ Short HISTORY OF WAR MAGAZINE)

Stempel recreated life behind the wire for British servicemen, looking at how they kept their sanity, maintained their health, and sought to survive an often very grim existence. Readable and absorbing. (GOOD BOOK GUIDE)

Book Description

The last untold story of the First World War: the fortunes and fates of 170,000 British soldiers captured by the enemy.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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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Format: Kindle Edition
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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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