About the book
The book draws on exclusive face-to-face interviews as well as on British and German official archives. It reveals how the POWs played a vital part in Britain’s post-war survival while, at the same time, their prolonged detention sparked political uproar. Its central theme though, is the human story of trust, friendship and even romance which developed between the POWs and the local population.
On 16 January, Paula D. gave 'Hitler’s Last Army' a five-star review on Amazon!
“… a very well written book retelling people’s experiences of being a German POW during and after WWII. The various stories are cleverly interwoven with background information taking one back to a different time which most of us have no knowledge or experience of. Highly recommended for anyone who just likes reading about other people’s lives and experiences. Couldn’t put it down until I’d finished it – very unusual for me."
Blog: Hitler’s Last Army
- Last of the German POWs ? November 1, 2016
The article was sub-titled: ‘Last of the German prisoners of war who worked on English farms during the war and then settled here in peacetime’.
While Mr Luedtke was one of the last surviving German POWs, there are certainly others still alive – as some of them were quick to point out! The obituary has sparked quite a bit of interest, and my sources inform me that The Times will be publishing a feature on this subject in the very near future.
Up to 400,000 German prisoners were held in Britain between 1939 and 1948, and most of them were put to work in agriculture. After the majority had been repatriated, some 25,000 chose to remain in this country as civilian farm workers. For more info, see Hitler’s Last Army, especially Chapters 15-20.
Watch this space for updates on the projected Times article!
- The Winter of 1947 October 4, 2016
The winter of 1947 was extremely harsh with heavy falls of snow which threatened Britain’s fragile economy in those difficult post-war days.
One of the German prisoners held in Britain, Dieter Hahn, recollects: ‘They sent us out to shovel snow over Shap Fells. It was a waste of time – in places with the snowdrifts all you could see was the tops of the telegraph poles. We had to dig down to find the road. We never cleared the thing. That road, the old A6, was the only main road between England and Scotland over Shap Fells. We shovelled the snow into lorries. We had no extra clothes except maybe some gloves or a scarf.’
- Writing influences August 22, 2016
A factor that has shaped my writing style is my work as a radio producer and script-writer: this was my full-time occupation for over ten years and something I am still engaged in, though to a lesser extent than in the past.
A rule when writing for radio is to write as people speak. So “it is” becomes “it’s”; “does not” becomes “doesn’t”. In everyday speech sentences don’t always have verbs. Really. But although radio scripts are better when they closely follow the way we speak, this principle should be used in moderation in a factual book. If overdone, it is likely to irritate the reader.
In matters of vocabulary, I prefer to err on the side of simplicity. Few of us know the meaning of the words “imbricate”, “mangonel” or “zymurgy” and authors who manage to shoe-horn them into their writing are either crediting us with a wider vocabulary than we actually have or – more likely – are simply showing off. And I feel the same way about writers who use Latin and Greek phrases and sayings. As a schoolboy (long ago!) I had to study Latin, most of which I have never had to use and have now forgotten. Greek was not taught at our school. And a knowledge of these languages is even rarer today. So remember, using obscure language is contra bonos mores — (contrary to good manners)!
Writing for radio taught me how to use interview material. In a book – especially a historical one – the equivalent of an archive audio interview can be a quotation from a newspaper of the period, or a passage from another book. I like to ensure that the narration guides the listener/reader through the story, providing a factual background for individual events and reminiscences. The actual words spoken by witnesses are often best used to convey more subjective ideas, such as the speaker’s impressions and feelings:
After his unfavourable first impressions of Britain, Henry Metelmann also came to see things in a different light. The turning point came when he was being moved to a camp near Romsey, Hampshire, and watched the countryside rolling by as he gazed out of the train window. ‘In many ways England was a strange country. That narrow channel of water seemed to have made much difference over the centuries. Most things seemed small and old-fashioned. The rows and rows of houses in the towns, with their small backyards and gardens, seemed cramped. The people were friendly enough, but strangely reserved, and life generally had an unhurried flow, so very different from America and the Continent of Europe. And yet, there was something likeable about it all … Those [prisoners-of-war] who lived out on the farms had very good relations with the farming people, and on the whole were treated very well … I was transferred to an out-camp in a beautiful old country house called Hazelhurst, near the village of Corhampton. It did me much psychological good, as it gave me a feeling of freedom which I had not had for many years.’ [From Hitler’s Last Army, page 201].
The quotation also serves to amplify and reinforce what has been said in the lead-in, while at the same time introducing independent evidence for the author’s statements:
Even his longest-serving employees had no real idea who he was. Monsieur Coste told a correspondent: ‘The man was a mystery. He never spoke to anyone. He didn’t have any friends, male or female. He opened all his mail himself, and kept any money he received to one side. He was out all day — I don’t know where.’ [From The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, page 181]
- German POWs in Soviet Captivity July 18, 2016
I have received an enquiry about German prisoners of war in Soviet captivity during WW2. As my book, Hitler’s Last Army, is about German prisoners in the UK I’m by no means an specialist on events in Russia. But I was able to send a short list of information sources to the person who wrote to me.
If you have any research questions whatsoever, I’m always very happy to help, if I can. The same goes for individuals whose relatives were POWs and who want to carry out family history research, or simply want to know what it was like in a British POW camp. In a few cases I have detailed descriptions of individual camps.
- People say the nicest things … June 28, 2016
Hitler’s Last Army – which came out in 2015 – now has seven five-star reviews on Amazon. My thanks to those who have made such kind and positive comments, and I’m delighted that they have found the book interesting.
I was especially grateful to reader J. Barry, who says:
Fully agree with all the glowing reviews, and note too the ex POW reviewers find that it does justice to their own experience. Like the others, I couldn’t put this down either.
It’s well written, interesting, informative, and heart-warming in equal measure since the author interweaves personal experience with the wider story of government policy. As a WW2 obsessive, I’m always on the lookout for books that give us a different angle, or about subjects not well covered previously. This fitted the bill perfectly. The author does not gloss over the less creditable aspects of the mens’ treatment in British hands but I bet many others had a smile on their face like I did by the time I finished it, because you like the people and their stories. I would recommend this even to those not especially interested in WW2, as a fascinating slice of Anglo-German social history of 70 years ago. Buy it.
When writing the book I had taken particular trouble to locate first-hand witness accounts from former prisoners. I carried out a number of face-to-face interviews and also used memoirs from the Imperial War Museum and other sources. My aim was to set these against the historical background of the time. It wasn’t always easy, but – if J. Barry’s review is anything to go by – it seems to have worked!