anzac POW freemen in europe

Part 1 - "Missing in Action - Believed POW"

 Chapter 2 - Being a POW

Part A - Health and Hygiene


The mental disease of "Gefaengenitis" - a name derived from the German word for prisoner "gefaengenis" - has been extensively studied by many military and civil psychologists.

"Revenge, being impracticable, energy is channelled into hate against authority figures ... A mental attitude arises, part of "caisson disease". There is a fear of becoming a forgotten man." (Dr. Fischer - 1919 M3).

"There is little doubt, that semi-starvation and exposure produces a special kind of person - different morphologically, chemically, physiologically, from his well fed counterpart." (Dr. Hocking - 1965 M43).

"He must have been off his rocker" (Comment by a nearby POW who witnessed the shooting of a colleague who ran wildly at the perimeter wire of Campo PG 57, Udine).

Dr. Fischer points out that lack of being able to continue in service is akin to losing one's job and without meaningful employment, one has to fall back on one's own resources to fill in time. Life is passing one by and there is a growing fear of becoming "a forgotten man".

Physically, one is also wasting away, perpetually hungry and often in pain for which there is no ready relief.

In a paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia, Dr. Frederick Hocking writes "It is probable that individuals subjected to extreme forms of stress, are left with an impaired capacity to adapt to the stresses of everyday life, including the physical and psychological stress of ageing... semi-starvation produces a special kind of person, different morphologically, chemically, physiologically, and psychologically from his well-fed counterpart. There is little doubt that being a POW has a long term mental effect on many servicemen".

"Caisson Disease" 

A mental attitude. When unemployed, it is difficult to fill in time when forced to fall back on to one's own resources. Suppressed longing for sympathy. Since revenge is impracticable that motive is channelled into hate against authority figures. Future expectations cannot be fulfilled by planning life during an unknown time and place of imprisonment. One cannot construct one's own nest and there is a fear of becoming a forgotten man.There is no competitive element and time is of no importance.

The lack of stimulation within a camp leads to difficulties of re-adjustment upon release. It is difficult for the newly-released prisoner to retain emotional balance. Time has stood still for him, while the rest of the world has moved on. This leads to a disrespect of discipline and authority. Irresponsibility. Cynicism. Embarassement in society. The long sought home is not quite like he thought it would be. Recreational habits have been laid aside. There is no anchorage of a daily routine. The art of working for a living has been lost. The excitement of active combat mitigates the humdrum routine of a job. Some form of Rehabilitation Centre is required  for a short or long period.

In chapter 21 of Ben Shephard's "A War of Nerves" covering POW (M3), he comprehensively deals with the psychological effects not only in battle but later when the active rage of war has subsided and an individual soldier is coping as best he can with his peace time life.

Shephard emphasises the need for military Rehabilitation Centres because "like a deep-sea diver returning to the surface needs a decompression chamber, a half-way house between camp and civilian life, in which to acclimatise himself to a new environment" (p317).

For whatever reasons, but certainly the feeling of being a "forgotten man" was perhaps the reason many AIF POW in Europe never joined their unit associations.


M3 "A War of Nerves, Soldiers and Psychiatrists, 1914 -1919", Ben Shephard, London, 2000. ISBN 0224060333
M5 "Barbed Wire Disease - "Caisson Disease" - A Psychological Study of POW", 1919, National Archives File 288/1/561 (5 pages)
H8 "Hitler's Digger Slaves", Alec Barnett, AMHP, Sydney, 2001. ISBN 1876439734
M25 "Prisoners of War", Major Pat Reid MBE MC and Maurice Michael, Book Club Associates, London, 1984.
M43 "The Medical Journal of Australia", 18.07.1965, paper by Dr. Frederick Hocking.
M48 "The Shock of Battle", Occasional Paper #16, Heseltine, ADFA, Canberra. ISBN 0731700880
M51 "War On The Mind", Peter Watson, London, 1978. ISBN 0091314402
F47 "We Had Some Bother", Ed. Hugh Gillan, 2/13th Inf Bn, 1985.
ISBN 09595540
M52 "We Were There", Edited by John Barrett, Viking Penguin Books, Melbourne, 1987. ISBN 1863739858.

Acknowledgements and Thanks to:

Doug Baker
Alex Barnett
Ted Faulkes

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