The Kaiser’s First POWs

The Kaiser’s First POWs

Philip Chinnery
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
The Kaiser’s First POWs is the first of two books by Philip Chinnery. The second, detailing escapes from German POW Camps in World War One, is yet to come. The author, the Chairman of the Ex-POW Association, describes, in this volume, how men came to be prisoners of the Germans and what their life was like. He has written it as a counter-argument to a German book, 1915, which was a propaganda piece stating how well POWs were being treated.

In untallguy family history is the story of a relative who was captured in 1914 (apparently during the retreat from Mons) and spent the rest of the war as a POW. Thus I was very interested to be given the chance to review this book and, hopefully, get an insight into his experiences. I must state at the beginning that I think the title is something of a misnomer: the author has described experiences of mare than the first POWs, something I interpreted as being those taken in 1914 and perhaps early 1915. There are experiences of POWs taken in 1916 which, compelling though they are, struck me as being too late in the war.

That said, this is a big topic and it seems to me that the book does not do it justice. Without the index, the book is only 187 pages and I estimate that some 30% of this is pictures; indeed, the final chapter is fifteen pages of which only five are script. The pictures provided are quite excellent, coming largely from the German 1915, but the decision to incorporate so many pictures at the expensive of narrative edges this book to the lighter end of the market.

Each chapter deals with a distinct subject such as capture, the guards, the camps themselves, working parties and escape. A number of the chapters open with quotes from 1915 which are then refuted, often with good use of personal accounts. Some of these are compelling, others sad, and all give a degree of detail into life in the camps. As with much POW literature, food and the availability of food parcels are critical areas for survival and also punishment and the relationships with the guards. All of these are variable depending on the nationality and the location. All these chapters serve as good introductions for the various topics but sometimes provide little more than snapshots.

As stated, the pictures are quite excellent and, if you are looking for a pictorial history of life in the camps, this is the book for you. A wide variety of topics and nationalities are displayed and provide an excellent insight into life in the camps. Many are obviously staged but are none the worse for that whereas as others manage to convey a more candid view of life as a POW.
To conclude, this book is worth reading if you want something to dip into rather than a study with great depth and breadth. It is of interest, especially the large range of pictures, but there are better books out there on this topic.
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