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The War Behind the Wire The Life, Death and Glory of British Prisoners of War, 1914-18 by John Lewis-Stempel

The War Behind the Wire The Life, Death and Glory of British Prisoners of War, 1914-18

History   Biography / Autobiography   World War One Literature   eBook Favourites   

Sue Baker's view...

Some stark facts – over 2 million servicemen were imprisoned by Germany from 1914-18, of these around 185,000 were British. It’s estimated that 12,000 of our British soldiers died while prisoners of war many in unmarked graves. Against these statistics, John Lewis-Stempel has gone back to primary documentary sources to tell the story of the British prisoners of war during World War One.

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Who is Sue Baker

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. The film The Great Escape, with its haughty Nazis and epic adventures, has added a lustre of glamour and adventure to the life of prisoners of war in the Second World War. The 1914 to 1918 conflict has not been so lucky. Now, John Lewis-Stempel points out that the lot of PoWs in that conflict very much resembled that of their peers twenty-five years later. Stempel recreates 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.
~ The Good Book Guide

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The War Behind the Wire The Life, Death and Glory of British Prisoners of War, 1914-18 by John Lewis-Stempel

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.


'(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...'


'[Lewis-Stempel] has performed a notable service by telling the story of 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

'A vivid study 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.

'The author's enthralling narrative describes the new horror of the First World War as well as any account from the frontliners.'


About the Author

John Lewis-Stempel is a historian and author who has written on a variety of subjects from the Native Americans to his experiences of fatherhood, but who is predominantly known for his work as a military historian and nature lover. He lives in Herefordshire, where his family has lived for over 700 years, with his wife and children.

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Book Info

Publication date

6th November 2014


John Lewis-Stempel

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Weidenfeld & Nicolson an imprint of Orion Publishing Co


288 pages


Biography / Autobiography
World War One Literature
eBook Favourites

First World War
European history
20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000
Prisoners of war



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