Writing the ‘ill-managed nursery’: British POW memoirs of the First World War
Ian Isherwood 267-286View the article abstract
The British war book took many forms in the inter-war period. Within the umbrella categorization of ‘war book,’ there were many experiences depicted of the global war effort. One of the more distinctive experiences published was of the Prisoner of War (POW). POW memoirs, representing soldier captivity in the hands of the enemy, were reasonably popular with British publishers both during and after the war. POW accounts defined an experience of war distinctive from other ‘war books’ as they described surrender, confinement, mistreatment and, in many cases, escape. It is the contention of this article that POW literature offers a distinct variation on the British war book, one that culturally demonstrated a different side of war memory in the 1920s and 1930s. Rather than POWs being disillusioned by their confinement and suffering, the POW book, especially the escapee narrative, represented a different take on martial literature during this period. The POW memoir represented often an adventurous experience, one infused with military bravado, where prisoner escapees could be read as military heroes in an age where the notion of a ‘heroic’ war experience was being widely questioned.
Key Words: Prisoner of War, memoir, war writing, memory, publishing