Posted by: billpurdue | May 16, 2012

I like to talk to friends about the books they are reading or have enjoyed in the past and sometimes I try the books they recommend. I sometimes like to reminisce I suppose about the books I enjoyed when I was at primary school or as a teenager. I remember reading Animal Farm when I was (I think) about 11 or 12. I enjoyed the book , but I didn’t understand the significance of the different characters. I just thought it was a really good, if a bit gory, fairy story.

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about the books she remembers. We are both of a similar age and you’d think that we would have read some of the same books – the Famous Five series for example. But it seems I’ve missed out completely on one author – Malcolm Saville (1901 – 1982) and his “Lone Pine Club” adventures. This is a series of adventure books, many of which are still available, for young people about a group of children who form a “secret society” and call themselves the Lone Pine Club . Their activities are set in the Shropshire countryside. The first book in the series came out in 1942 and the last in the late 1970s, but the characters never seem to grow old, or at least they don’t age very quickly. By the final book in the series, they have reached their late teens. None of that seems to matter to the many fans and why should it?

To find out more, there are three websites to look at: the Centenary Malcolm Saville website, a section of the Collecting Books and Magazines website and the Malcolm Saville Society. Many of the titles are still in print, most of which are published by “Girls Gone By” (but they are not just girls’ stories!).

Now for a book that a friend passed on to me. I don’t normally read books about the Second World war – or any war come to that, but this one is a bit different. What prisoners of war (POWs) did to pass the time whilst they were incarcerated in Germany or the Far East is a topic that I suspect hasn’t been examined in such great detail as in this recent book. In The Barbed-Wire University [Aurum £25 9781845136291], author Midge Gillies explains how life behind the barbed wire in the POW camps during the Second World War was not complete boredom. And it wasn’t boring simply because the POWs were determined that they would have as full a life as possible in the circumstances.

There seems to have been no end to the variety of activities that they got up to – not just trying to dig escape tunnels. Taking part in sport and amateur dramatics are two of the activities we might think of when trying to imagine what life as a POW was like, but that was not all by any means. The title refers to prisoners who studied for UK qualifications whilst in prison camps. Thanks to the Red Cross, prisoners not only received parcels from loved ones back at home, but also books and materials to help them study.

Many prisoners studied for university degrees and even achieved them by sitting suitably adapted exam papers. There seems to have been no end to the types of equipment that the Red Cross supplied – or attempted to supply. There was also a strong culture of “make do and mend” amongst the prisoners. Nothing was allowed to go to waste if it could be reused or adapted in some way.

Life in prison camps in the Far East was rather different. Often there was no chance of escape – the camp may have been on an island surrounded by shark infested waters for example. Prisoners were put to work and worked extremely hard, so that a combination of tiredness and poor diet meant that they had little energy for other activities. However even here concerts were staged and some cottage industries sprang up. One shoe mending business was so good that even the Japanese soldiers brought their shoes to the prisoners to be mended. This is a fascinating piece of research : I was surprised how enthralling the book is, because this sort of topic could so easily be a bit dry. You don’t need to be interested in the Second World War to enjoy this book. Next time – another book from childhood

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