Barbed Wire Disease
British & German Prisoners of War 1914-19
Date of publication: May 2011
Publisher: The History Press
By the time of the Armistice in 1918, around 6.5 million prisoners of war were held by the belligerents. Little has been written about these prisoners, possibly because the story is not one of unmitigated suffering and cruelty. Nevertheless, hardships did occur and the alleged neglect and ill-treatment of prisoners captured on the Western Front became the subject of major propaganda campaigns in Britain and Germany as the war progressed.
Barbed Wire Disease looks at the conditions facing those British and German prisoners, and the claims and counter-claims relating to their treatment. At the same time, it sets the story in the wider context of the commitment by both governments to treat prisoners humanely in accordance with the recently agreed Hague and Geneva Conventions. The political and diplomatic efforts to abide by the new rules are examined in detail, along with the use of reprisals against prisoners, Britain's voluntary relief effort and the effect of face-to-face negotiations at the height of the war.
This comprehensive analysis, using unpublished official files and cabinet papers, concludes by documenting the first ever efforts to bring war criminals to justice before international tribunals.