A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War
Stories mainly untold about war are those of the soldiers captured on the battlefield and held prisoner until the end of the war they have fought in. Neal Bascomb has written such a book involving British prisoners held in Germany during World War One, their treatment by the German military, their thoughts and dreams and the many and varied attempts at escape successes and recapture.
The amount of research that has obviously gone into the project dealing with events of a century ago is prodigious to say the least. Drawing on documents held by museums, families of the men that lived the experience, and scholarly works as found help to bring to light stories of real people and real events during the War to end all wars.
The first section of the book involves experiences of many men in various prison camps, descriptions obtained by research of the actions involved in the attempts and of course the results. By no means a dry chronicle of old news we have the experience of meeting real young men that had faced the entrance into the horrific experience of modern combat and than being captured and imprisoned. They lived lives of complete and utter boredom in the prison camps as well as facing deprivation of normal meals, and atmospheres of filth and possible brutality at the hands of their jailers.
The final section of the book is a description of the breakout of prisoners from one of the worst of the camps: Holzminden situated about 150 miles from Holland than neutral and the planned destination of the escapees. Twenty six prisoners fled the camp at one time making it the largest escape attempt up until that time. Details of the plans, the coordination and the results are presented and make the breakout real to any reader of the book.
I must indicate that the book is nowhere near the dry tome that it might thought of as being. The young men had real lives and certainly went on from their captivity to life after the war. There is chronicling of some of them, including several that went on to present their experiences to groups of soldiers and airmen destined to take part in World War Two. The point is made that the accounts presented helped to sharpen the escape attempts of these men in their turn.
9/18 Paul Lane
THE ESCAPE ARTISTS by Neal Bascomb. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 18, 2018). ISBN 978-0544937116. 336p.