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
- Close to the Enemy November 11, 2016
The series is based on actual events. The Times of 7 May 1946 reported:
German scientists, many of whom are leading aeronautical authorities, are coming to Britain to cooperate with British scientists in hastening the development of aero-dynamics, to solve the problems created by the jet engine … When Britain captured the air speed record of 606 m.p.h., jet engines had to be held back. They could easily have gone on at a greater speed if the development in aero-dynamics and in the structure of aeroplanes had kept pace with the progress of the jet engine. Since then the jet engine had forged ahead again and its development was going on by leaps and bounds …
… The scientists, all of whom are non-Nazis, will work at Farnborough, Hants, where they will live in a special hostel and will be waited on by German prisoners of war. They have been working in German research stations and will be paid the same salaries as they received there.
… In the disarmament of Germany … it was decided that this vital realm of research should not be left intact in Germany … America, Russia, and Britain had now agreed that so many of these scientists should go to each of the three countries to cooperate with their own scientists. About 25 would be coming to this country.
In Hitler’s Last Army I describe many of the other occupations in which German prisoners of war were engaged in Britain, both during and after the war. Many people would be astonished to learn, for example, that trusted German POWs were given the task of compiling records of Nazis who were wanted for war crimes; other detainees had the job of keeping an up-to-date index of all POWs in British camps.
- 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.