Thursday, March 19, 2009

Scholarship During Wartime

So, the latest issue of BEYOND BREE has a brief mention, in a letter to the editor from Dale Nelson, of a TLS review of a new book called PRINT FOR VICTORY: BOOK PUBLISHING IN ENGLAND, 1939-1945, by Valerie Holman. According to the review, during World War II England and Germany came to an agreement whereby prisoners of war were allowed to take their university exams while in prison camps. In order for them to study, "an international inter-library loan system was organized from the Bodleian Library, using Basil Blackwell's book-dump in Geneva. Two Oxford dons, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, devised -- and marked -- an English Honours degree for 'kriegies' behind the wire".

We already knew JRRT undertook a huge amount of war-work with cadets on accelerated courses prior to their being deployed, and that he organized Lewis, Coghill, Williams, and others as his deputies to do a lot of the lecturing and paper-marking this involved. But this additional program is news to me.

Can this possibly be true -- that the war powers were able to behave with that level of civilized decency in the middle of wartime (1941, to be specific)? I have to admit I know little about what life was actually like in WWII prisoner of war camps aside from Wodehouse's experience, which was anomalous (since he was a civilian caught up in the fall of Paris, not an enemy combatant). I know there was a work camp near Magnolia Arkansas, at least near the end of the war, where German prisoners of war were kept when not working (in chain gangs, I think) on road projects and the like, but I have no idea what their working conditions were like.

Like Nelson, I hope we'll be finding out more about this.



Anke said...

A fair amount of co-operative efforts, such as care parcels or the repatriation of seriously injured/mentally ill PoWs, was arranged through the Red Cross. Thus British PoWs could be sent chocolate, woollens and records from the UK - and thus some records could be broken to find hidden maps (and the old joke about the chap who has to have limbs amputated). So studying is as likely as anything.

David said...

One case who comes immediately to mind is Fritz Gasch, the German POW who stayed in England after the war - itself a suggestive fact - and later married Pauline Baynes.