Of the fate of Australian prisoners of war in the hands of the Japanese during World War II, the literature – memoir, fiction, history – is voluminous. There were 21,652 of them, of whom thirty-five per cent, or 7780, perished. A good deal has also been written of enemy prisoners – Japanese, German, Italian – who were held in camps in this country, and in particular of the mass breakout at Cowra on 5 August 1944, when 231 Japanese and four Australians died. Less attention has been given to the 8500 who returned to Australia after having been prisoners of the Germans or Italians, or of the 242 of them who died in Europe. These ‘Australian prisoners of war in Hitler’s Reich’ are the subject of Peter Monteath’s vivid and expansive study P.O.W..
Your daily bread
P.O.W.: Australian Prisoners of War in Hitler’s Reich
by Peter Monteath
Macmillan, $34.99 pb, 429 pp, 9781742610085
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Peter Pierce is an Honorary Professor at Monash University. He recently edited The Cambridge History of Australian Literature and has been chief judge of the Prime Minister's Literary Award for Fiction for the past four years. Among his other books are From Go to Whoa: A Compendium of the Australian Turf; Australian Melodramas: Thomas Keneally's Fiction; and The Country of Lost Children.
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