Prisoners of war

One of our motivations for working with you all on Measuring the ANZACs is to bring rare stories to light. We can do this together by indexing the files on more dimensions than are currently listed, so small groups of men with similar wartime experiences can be identified and studied together, or individually.

One example of how military experiences interact with our research on health and longevity is the question of prisoners. We were reminded of this when a member of the Measuring the ANZACs community shared this file of Thomas Michael Lynch (58995) with us on Talk (join the conversation and share your finds and questions!)screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-10-22-05-am

Being a prisoner was quite rare among New Zealand’s World War I soldiers in contrast to World War II, about much which more has been written. It seems that the experience of these men needs to be told. It’s a great topic for an Honours or MA thesis!

Being a prisoner and surviving to come home distinguishes these men in an interesting way. How did it affect their health later on? You might suppose that being a prisoner would shorten your life, owing to the stress and deprivation. On the other hand, sometimes being a prisoner meant a lower risk of further injury on the battlefield. A fascinating study of American Civil War prisoners by Dora Costa found that “Among severely stressed former Union Army prisoners of war (POWs), the effect that dominates 35 years after the end of the Civil War depends on age at imprisonment. Among survivors to 1900, those younger than 30 at imprisonment faced higher old-age mortality and morbidity and worse socioeconomic outcomes than non-POW and other POW controls, whereas those older than 30 at imprisonment faced a lower older-age death risk than the controls.” But studies of World War II POWs from Australia and the US have typically found that being a prisoner of the Japanese was bad for men’s health in the long-term.

World War I may have been different again, but we don’t know. There have not, as best we can tell, been any studies of what happened after the war to World War I prisoners. As with suicide in which you are helping us do important research, the files of New Zealand’s prisoners could tell us a lot. Help us tell their stories, and what happened to them after the war. Onwards with transcribing!



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