News out of Nothing: POW Newspapers

29 March 2019

History | War and Conflict

I think most would agree whatever the world’s current problems, a lack of news is not one of them. With so many world changing events going on and the level of interconnectivity we now enjoy, there is an unending stream of news available for us to consume from a whole host of outlets.

A very different situation presented itself to those incarcerated as prisoners of war between 1939-1945. Kept in relative isolation in the depths of a hostile country, the only news available to them was either heavily censored or originated from pro-Nazi sources. Given the obvious obstacles to setting up a newspaper in these circumstances it is quite surprising to discover the sheer number of newspapers that were created in POW camps –  thirteen of which feature in  the upcoming module of online rescource, Service Newspapers of World War Two.

Image © Imperial War Museums. Further reproduction prohibited without permission
Image © Imperial War Museums. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

In the almost total absence of news it is generally quite interesting to see what the editors of said newspapers turned to for content. , the newspaper of Oflag VII-B, ran pieces on everything from the merits of English food to whether foxhunting would survive the war (apparently it would, but only if “the poor” began to hunt). Oflag VIII-B’s published a piece on a post-war solution to dirty laundry. Other papers took an approach that would be instantly familiar to anyone who has read local news - they covered everything going on in camp, from amateur theatre, to arts and crafts to seemingly inane conversations between inmates. Anything that could conceivably be considered news was printed.

Image © Imperial War Museums. Further reproduction prohibited without permission
Image © Imperial War Museums. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

Of course to say that POW papers never featured any news is unfair. Some news did filter through, indeed on the 12th of June 1944 a handwritten edition of the announced the Allied invasion of Normandy, only five days after the mainstream press. However the absence of news was never far away. The same issue also announced that: ‘Owing to a lack of News, ideas, gags, ect ect it may be another fortnight before we go mad [publish] again’. Some newspapers had more luck than others with news; small details could make all the difference, the harshness of the censors, the attitude of camp authorities and perhaps none more so than the presence of a POW-made radio, which seems to be what stood behind the s news column.

Whatever you might make of the content of POW newspapers I’d suggest they are deserving of some credit – after all it’s not easy to spend six years making news out of nothing.

 


The second module of Service Newspapers of World War Two publishes in September 2019. For more information or trial access email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

About the Author

Jacob Downey

Jacob Downey

Since joing Adam Matthew in September 2018 I have worked on a variety of projects, including Service Newspapers and East India Company. My academic background is in the history of the British Empire, with a particular focus on the interactions between British and indigenous peoples.

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