Are Friends Adjacent? The Manx Experience in European POW Camps

In: Imprisonment: Identity, Experience and Practice
Author: Stacey Astill

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This chapter explores the life of prisoners of war (POWs) in the European theatre during WWII with a focus on Isle of Man (Manx) POWs and their attitude towards Axis and British soldiers. Reflections further include how daily life was conducted within POW camps (such as Stalag VIIIB and 334) and the prisoners’ subsequent transition to freedom. Emphasis will be placed upon the POWs in work camps, the (unplanned) use of the donation of 65,000 cigarettes by the Manx Newspapers fund, the events and shows organised by prisoners. As well as contraband items used to create a sense of normality (i.e. self-made radios), relationships with the ‘opposing’ soldiers, the process of freeing the prisoners and their overland journey home through Europe. Oral testimony from primary interviews with ex-POWs as well as photographs and artwork, play programmes, and various contemporary newspaper articles to demonstrate that within a POW camp lasting relationships were formed, order was kept and society continued to function as a microcosm of civilian life. As there was no conscription on the Isle of Man, Manx soldiers were all volunteers-eventually receiving battle honours for the defence of Crete where the 129th Battery was captured. Though Manx POWs were treated as British, they had their own sense of identity which was instilled by Island life. One escaped POW gave the Manx papers names of more than 20 Manxmen he had sought out whilst being moved through camps, notifying their families of their wellbeing. Manx national identity was important for prisoners far from home. These men remembered British suppression, yet they had fought for, and were now imprisoned and forming communities with British nationals. Manx POWs were, as a consequence of their situation able to re-evaluate their views of perceived domestic as well as international national groups. The Manx, contrary to perceptions – at the time and at present – are not British, suffering a ‘mild alienation’ and ‘qualified foreignness’.