The War Behind the Wire

ebook / ISBN-13: 9780297869252

Price: £9.99

ON SALE: 30th January 2014

Genre: Humanities / History / Military History

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

On capture, British officers and men were routinely told by the Germans ‘For you the war is over’. Nothing could be further from the truth. British Prisoners of War merely exchanged one barbed-wire battleground for another.

In the camps the war was eternal. There was the war against the German military, fought with everything from taunting humour to outright sabotage, with a literal spanner put in the works of the factories and salt mines prisoners were forced to slave in. British PoWs also fought a valiant war against the conditions in which they were mired. They battled starvation, disease, Prussian cruelties, boredom, and their own inner demons. And, of course, they escaped. Then escaped again. No less than 29 officers at Holzminden camp in 1918 burrowed their way out via a tunnel (dug with a chisel and trowel) in the Great Escape of the Great War.

It was war with heart-breaking consequences: more than 12,000 PoWs died, many of them murdered, to be buried in shallow unmarked graves.

Using contemporary records – from prisoners’ diaries to letters home to poetry – John Lewis-Stempel reveals the death, life and, above all, the glory of Britain’s warriors behind the wire. For it was in the PoW camps, far from the blasted trenches, that the true spirit of the Tommy was exemplified.

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(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 entertaining read, and one characterised by the authenticity of the prisoners' own testimony.
[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
A vivid study of the lost heroes of the First World War: the British PoWs who made valiant bids for freedom.
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.
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
Lewis-Stempel's book is fantastically well-written, thoroughly researched and full of surprising facts.
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.
The author's enthralling narrative describes the new horror of the First World War as well as any account from the frontliners.