Captives of War. British Prisoners of War in Europe in the Second World War (Cambridge University Press, 2017)
This is a pioneering history of the experience of captivity of British prisoners of war in Europe during the Second World War, focussing on how they coped and came to terms with wartime imprisonment. Captives of War reveals the ways in which POWs psychologically responded to surrender, the camaraderie and individualism that dominated life in the camps, and how, in their imagination, they constantly breached the barbed wire perimeter to be with their loved ones at home. Through the diaries, letters and logbooks written by seventy-five POWs, along with psychiatric research and reports, she explores the mental strains that tore through POWs’ minds and the challenges that they faced upon homecoming. This book tells the story of wartime imprisonment through the love, fears, fantasies, loneliness, frustration and guilt that these men felt, shedding new light on what the experience of captivity meant for these men both during the war and after their liberation.
Reviews to date of Captives of War are listed here.
”Pinky Smith looks gorgeous!’ Female impersonators and male bonding in prisoner of war camps for British servicemen in Europe’ in Men, Masculinities and Male Culture in the Second World War (eds) Juliette Pattinson and Linsey Robb (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017)
Female impersonators were a familiar sight in prisoner of war (POW) camps, appearing in theatre productions, at dances, at tea parties as ‘waitresses’ and in auctions to raise money for welfare funds. This essay explores British POWs’ reactions to them, as an insight into conceptions of sexuality and gender during the Second World War. Men in drag provided prisoners with a release from their single-sex society and POWs’ admiration for these ‘women’ enabled them to assert their collective male superiority. However, there were limits to this ‘safety valve’ interpretation of drag. Prisoners’ attitudes towards female impersonators also blurred the boundaries of male heterosexual desire, reflecting a fluidity in attitudes towards male sexuality, more generally, in British society during this era.
Art was a vital and integral part of many prisoners of war and civilian internees’ experiences behind barbed wire but historians of captivity have yet to give art the same prominence as word-based sources in their research. This chapter proposes four interpretative categories designed to help historians think about how works of art can further our understanding of the experience of captivity. These are: constructing art, art as witness, art and its maker, art and its spectator. It looks at ten pieces of prisoner art to demonstrate how this categorisation works.
This feature looks at the mental disturbances that British POWs held in Germany and Italy in the Second World War experienced whilst behind barbed wire.
Veterans associations after the Second World War have received very little attention from historians despite the insight they can provide into postwar societies. This article draws upon the literature published by national ex-prisoner of war (POW) associations formed in the aftermath of the Second World War to examine the significance different groups of British ex-POWs attached to their wartime incarceration.
All existing histories on the lives of British POWs in Germany and Italy during the Second World War focus inwards on life in the prison camps. This article looks outwards, beyond the barbed wire. It examines the material exchange of letters and parcels between prison camp and home, as well as how home was conceived in P.O.W.s’ imaginative realms, to demonstrate the importance of loved ones in enabling prisoners to make sense of their captivity. It also shows how this dependence resulted in the reconfiguration of P.O.W.s’ roles within their families.
Magazines and newspapers
This feature tells the remarkable story of the spirit and courage of Far East POWs, which they demonstrated both during the war, and again in peace.
This article sheds light on an aspect of Far East POWs’ lives that historians have ignored and relatives largely forgotten: the ‘Claim’ for compensation. From the late 1940s, Far East ex-POWs in Britain vociferously campaigned for compensation for their treatment during incarceration in the Second World War and eventually received payments, totalling the equivalent of about £1500 in today’s money.