Like many men I know, as I get older, I read less fiction and more non-fiction. I’m a casual reader of military history, and recently was given The Book of War Letters, a collection of letters written by Canadian military personnel throughout the 20th century. I just finished the World War II section, and was frequently moved by the bravery and selflessness of the letter-writers. Some of the most engaging letters are those written by POWs, who clearly misrepresent the conditions in their prison camps for the benefit of their families back home. RCAF Flight Lieutenant Ian Fowler of Castor, Alberta was imprisoned in Stalag Luft II in 1944, and writes of how the prisoners kept busy in the winter:
There are 3 small ice rinks in use around the camp now & the 4th, a much larger job is to be ready to-morrow. So I borrwed Eski’s skates this afternoon & really enjoyed myself for three-quarters of an hour. Then the first hockey match is planned for Xmas day & boy I’ll be right in the thick of things. Be the best thing that happened to me for months.
I’m sure they couldn’t actually describe the conditions–the censors would have edited the content. Each letter is framed by an introduction of the writer, and a description of what happened to them afterwards. The most poignant, of course, are those who didn’t make it home.