Prisoners of War

There came a time during many battles when soldiers had no option but to surrender to the enemy, and of all war experiences some said that being taken prisoner was one of the most traumatic. The initial feeling of uncertainty, helplessness and then hopelessness at being taken by the enemy eventually gave way to boredom, frustration and a sense of deprivation.

Only 100 of the 6,500 men who served in the Boer war were taken prisoner. During the First World War again it was not that common, with only 497 captured. But for New Zealanders in World War II it was a completely different story. Over 9,000 New Zealanders spent time inside the wire of German, Italian and Japanese prisoner camps.

Over 4,000 of these were men left behind to be captured in the disasters of Greece and Crete. In the North African desert, the New Zealand infantry were often left to face German tanks without adequate support from Allied armour or anti-tank guns. As a result another 4,000 men were rounded up with no option but to surrender in the face of hopeless odds.

This exhibition gives a taste of life “behind the wire”, as well as stories of escape and liberation.