Part 1 - "Missing in Action - Believed POW"
"What was it like to be a POW, daddy?"
The sudden shock of being captured by the enemy takes a long time to wear off.
Individual reaction to such a traumatic turning point in a soldier's life differs, depending on the psyche and character of the individual concerned. But the feeling of despair is basic to nearly all whose personal freedom abruptly vanishes. A positive attitude towards life has been cruelly wrenched away, and in its place, an unpalatable process of replacing strongly held values begins to unfold.
The narrators of this compendium describe their feeling to becoming a POW and the slow starvation which inexorably becomes the paramount element of their everyday life. The fight now is not so much against the enemy who has enslaved him, as against the enemy he is now fighting against - within himself.
The survival procedures put in place, follow a basic pattern. The discipline of his former army life has to be basically replaced by a self-discipline, which only he, himself, can nurture and develop.
While the knowledge that he is generally protected by the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of POW, is some comfort and the regularity of delivery of International Red Cross Parcels and other support, becomes all-important, that knowledge does little to help the enforced separation from mates and family.
As Patsy Adam-Smith quotes Winston Churchill in her classic "Prisoners of War" (M26 p6) "You are in the power of the enemy. You owe your life to his humanity, your daily bread to his compassion. You must obey his orders, await his pleasure, possess your soul in patience. The days are long, hours crawl by like paralytic centipedes. Moreover, the whole atmosphere of prison is odious. You feel a constant humiliation at being fenced in by wire, watched by armed men and webbed about by a tangle of regulations and restrictions".
An Italian prison camp reflects these words, whether it be one for officers or one for other ranks, whether it be transit or permanent, whether one lives under strict peer discipline, such as the permanent camp for ANZACs at Gruppignano or the more easy going work camps of Vercelli or Torviscosa.
They are nevertheless all places of incarceration, where individual liberty is curtailed for an indefinite and unknown period, in, at best, confined conditions of military imprisonment, or at worst in harsh conditions of almost unbelievable squalor.