What was life like for prisoners of war and civilian internees detained during the two world wars?
In the new book Captured Lives, author and historian Peter Monteath provides a captivating visual look behind the barbed wire veil that was drawn around people deemed a threat to Australia's security. Civilians from enemy nations, even if born in Australia, were subjects of suspicion and locked away in internment camps. Many were long-term residents of Australia, had contributed economically and brought new skills and know-how to the nation. For them, being interned was bewildering.
Captured Lives covers over 30 of the main internment and prisoner-of-war camps that were spread across Australia during the two world wars, and includes over 40 text boxes that focus on particular events and various civilian internees, prisoners of war, officials and others.
Readers learn fascinating personal stories, such as:
German-born Edmund Resch, a naturalised Australian and resident for over 50 years, and a pioneer of the very Australian activity of beer brewing, who was interned in 1917
Kurt Wiese, a prisoner of war for five years, honed his illustrating skills by sketching fauna and cartoons to amuse fellow prisoners, leading to an international career as an illustrator of hundreds of books
Reinhard Waldsax, a trained dentist, found himself in the Hay camp with many patients, but only rudimentary equipment. He carried out hundreds of fillings and extractions with improvised equipment such as a chisel and wooden mallet
Richly illustrated, with many never before seen photographs and sketches, Captured Lives provides an insider's look into what life was like for prisoners of war.
Peter Monteath is Professor of History at Flinders University in Adelaide. He has published a number of books on Australian and European history, among them POW: Australian Prisoners of War in Hitler's Reich (2011), Interned: Torrens Island 1914–1915 (with Mandy Paul and Rebecca Martin, 2014) and Escape Artist: The Incredible Second World War of Johnny Peck (2017).
Author: Peter Monteath
Question: What inspired you to write Captured Lives?
Peter Monteath: The National Library of Australia put an exciting proposition to me. I would write the words for a book which would feature lots of wonderful images from Australia's internment camps and POW camps in both World Wars. It was an offer too good to refuse.
Question: What do you hope readers take from Captured Lives?
Peter Monteath: I hope they get some insight into a piece of Australian history that's remained well hidden for a long time. The lives of thousands were very profoundly impacted by the time they spent in Australia's camps. I think there is much to learn from that piece of history, but I think also the reading experience will be an engaging one, because the NLA has managed to put together an attractive combination of words and pictures.
Question: What research did you do prior to writing Captured Lives?
Peter Monteath: I began with a very detailed study of a World War I camp on Torrens Island in Adelaide. In those days the camps were called German Concentration Camps, and they were established in all of the Australian states. From there I spread my attention to the Second World War, looking into the vast array of records that relate not just to civilian internment but to the experiences of the German, Italian and Japanese POWs who were brought to Australia.
Question: What's next for you?
Peter Monteath: I'm working on a book about a battle that took place in Crete in the Second World War and that involved Australian, New Zealand and German forces. I'm trying to understand what it is that motivates men to fight.
Interview by Brooke Hunter
Author: Peter Monteath