The experiences of Australian prisoners of war (POWs) or Kriegsgefangeners held captive in Germany has been largely
forgotten or ignored – overshadowed by the horrid stories of Australians imprisoned by the Japanese during World War Two. Yet, as David Coombes makes known, the stories are interesting and significant – not only providing an account of what those young Australian soldiers experienced, and the spirit they showed in responding to captivity – but also for the insight it provides into Germany in the last eighteen months of the war.
Coombes draws upon previous inaccessible records – including the interviews conducted many years before by Chalk
– as well as private papers and unpublished manuscripts. He paints a vivid picture of young soldiers who survived the trauma of battle, only to find themselves facing an unknown fate at the hands of an often vindictive and cruel enemy. These ‘comrades in distress’, many wounded and traumatised by trench warfare, quickly discovered the bond of brotherhood, often the key to survival in a harsh environment with little food, poor medical treatment, back-breaking work and the anguish of confinement.
What emerges in the pages of this amazingly detailed account is the typical Australian sense of humour and the sheer will to live that marked these men. Above all, it was their determination to be free and to return once more to their families that ensured their survival; often against overwhelming odds.
Australian POWs is a fitting tribute to the World War One soldiers and POWs. David Coombes highlights the ordeals these men went through, their stoicism in enduring their mistreatment, and the fearlessness of a few in launching
ingenious attempts to escape. He proves beyond doubt that their stories are by no means less compelling than those of
their World War II brothers.