An acquaintance of mine who lived on a farm during the Second World War once told me how German prisoners of war had been sent to carry out agricultural tasks, and how they had impressed the locals with their capacity for hard work. After the war one of these POWs, whose home was in the eastern zone, had been reluctant to go back to Germany and had remained on the farm until the mid-1950s.
Something about the incongruity of it all – the idea of prisoners staying in what had recently been for them an enemy country – appealed to my curiosity. I started looking into the subject more deeply in late 2011 and my idea for a book on the subject – Hitler’s Last Army – was taken up by The History Press. Incidentally, the title was inspired by one German prisoner’s recollection of being marched, with hundreds of other POWs, along a street in Britain on their way to a prisoner of war camp. ‘The English civilians didn’t pelt us with stones like in Belgium,’ he recalled. ‘The English stood at the side of the road, and just said, “Hitler’s last army!” No stones – just “Hitler’s last army!”’