Thursday, 16 March 2017

Review: 'Stalag Luft III. An Official History of the "Great Escape" POW Camp'

Given my current research I have been avidly awaiting my copy of Stalag Luft III. An Official History of the 'Great Escape' POW Camp, the history of the British and Commonwealth compounds at Stalag Luft III. 

I must admit that I was disappointed in that, although there is preface, there is no proper introduction setting the whole thing in context and explaining something of the background to the production of the report which you come to expect with the general release of  war time reports. Seb Cox's editorial introduction to the official Battle of Britain report in the RAF Official Histories series published by Cass, and Graham Pitchfork's introduction to the Air Ministry's escape report, published by The National Archives, come to mind. Both attribute the original authors and include significant background detail which adds to an understanding of the report. 

The nominal index is helpful, especially when tracking someone through multiple camps, but if mistakes were made in the original (sorry, life is too short to check), no attempt to correct them was made here. For instance, Gordon, JAR is actually JAC (James Anthony Cathcart) and F/Lt Hake AA was actually Warrant Officer Albert Horace Hake. There is no excuse for getting the latter wrong in this publication as he was one of the Fifty killed so has a certain amount of public recognition. And did the original report spell Belaria incorrectly?  

(Courtesy of the Preen Family)  

In my opinion, a subject index, including names, would have been better, and professional indexers do provide this service. Or am I the only one who wants to easily find compasses, or radios, or code work, for instance, without trawling through individual pages and so this expensive type of index was considered unnecessary? 

It is certainly useful having the reports of all the camps together: I made the mistake of paying a fortune for the North and East Compound reports only, and could never quite afford to get the Centre and Belaria compound's reports. Having all the British compounds in one handy little book is very helpful. 

One final niggle: there was much more to Stalag Luft III than the Great Escape, as is clear from the report itself. Why do the publisher's feel they need to hang the book on that event in its subtitle? (Rhetorical question: I know that the Great Escape is the camp's most recognisable event and accordingly the most marketable, but really, it annoys me because that experience was not shared by the majority of SLIII's prisoners.)

There is no author or editor attribution. I don't think it is available in Australia yet. One friend I know purchased his copy from Amazon, and mine came via The Book Depository (postage free). If you haven't forked out for the original which is at the UK archives, it is worth having. It is useful and informative, but with such a little effort and the assistance of an editor with knowledge of the subject to note errors in the original and interpolate clarifying footnotes and corrections, and a more detailed index, it could have been so much better. 

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