28th August 2020

Alan Malpass, recently appointed Lecturer in Military History at Bishop Grosseteste University (BGU), has had his book 'British Character and the Treatment of German Prisoners of War, 1939-48' published by Palgrave Macmillan.

The book examines attitudes towards German prisoners of war held captive in Britain, drawing on original archival material including newspaper and newsreel content, diaries, sociological surveys and opinion polls, as well as official documentation and the archives of pressure groups and protest movements.

Moving beyond conventional assessments of POW treatment which have focused on the development of policy, diplomatic relations, and the experience of the POWs themselves, this study refocuses the debate onto the attitude of the British public towards the standard of treatment of German POWs. In so doing, it reveals that the issue of POW treatment intersected with discussions of state power, human rights, gender relations, civility, and national character.

Speaking following publication, Alan discussed what drew him to the study and how it feeds back into the Military History course at BGU:

“Having been brought up watching films of British POWs in Germany and the Far East, the captivity of hundreds of thousands of German POWs in Britain instantly interested me when I was told of them having worked on the land collecting in the harvest. If asked about the fate of POWs during WWII, I think most people would immediately think of Steve McQueen attempting to jump the barbed-wire fence on his Triumph motorcycle in The Great Escape and Alex Guinness collapsing on the plunger at the end of The Bridge on the River Kwai. Certainly, I was very surprised when I first learned of the German military cemetery in Cannock Chase and that German POWs were held at a camp just down the road from my parents’ house in Staffordshire during the war. Hopefully the book will help shed further light on this marginalised episode in British memory of the conflict. Given the prominence of Colditz Castle and the Great Escapers in our popular understanding of the Second World War, I wanted to investigate the debates, concerns, and memories the British had concerning the enemy prisoners who were held across the UK in wartime and post-war Britain”.

“Prisoners of war might be ‘out of the fight’ when captured, nevertheless their experiences and roles, especially as workers for their captors, are important to consider when studying war and warfare. The history of POWs is as long as that of warfare itself and the codification of international laws to help protect them from abuse is intricately bound up with the development of ethical thought towards conflict. While combat and the ‘face of battle’ are central elements in the study of warfare, our BA (Hons) Military History Course also emphasises the wider social, ethical, and cultural impacts of war and its aftermath”.

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