Objects of Concern: Canadian Prisoners of War Through the Twentieth Century by Jonathan F. VanceObjects of Concern: Canadian Prisoners of War Through the Twentieth Century by Jonathan F. Vance

Objects of Concern: Canadian Prisoners of War Through the Twentieth Century

byJonathan F. Vance

Paperback | January 1, 1994

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Hockey magnate Conn Smythe, Trudeau cabinet minister GillesLamontagne, and the composer and former conductor of the TorontoSymphony Orchestra, Sir Ernest MacMillan, share something other thantheir fame: they all have the dubious distinction of having beencaptured by the enemy during Canada's wars of the twentiethcentury. Like some 15,000 other Canadians, Smythe, Lamontagne, andMacMillan experienced the bewilderment that accompanied the moment ofcapture, the humiliation of being completely in the captor's power,and the sense of stagnating in a backwater while the rest of the worldmoved forward.

From prison camps in Eire, where POWs were allowed to keep pets andto be members of the local tennis clubs, to camps in Japan, whereprisoners were often severely beaten, systematically starved, andoverworked, Canadian prisoners of war throughout the twentieth centuryhave faced a variety of conditions and experiences. But they did notfight their war alone and isolated. On the home front, many otherpeople attempted to help them. Against the backdrop of the POWexperience, Jonathan Vance provides the first comprehensive account ofhow the Canadian government and non-governmental organizations such asthe Red Cross have dealt with the problems of prisoners of war.

Beginning in the nineteenth century, Vance traces the growth ofCanadian interest in the plight of POWs. He goes on to examine themeasures taken to assist Canadian POWs during the two world wars andthe Korean war. The book focuses in particular on the campaigns to shiprelief supplies to prison camps and on attempts to secure theprisoners' release.

POWs have sometimes been seen as forgotten casualties whoseprivations were misunderstood during war and whose needs were neglectedafterwards. This perception developed out of a tradition in POW memoirswhich paid little attention to the efforts of politicians, civilservants, and individuals who devoted considerable time and energy totheir cause. Vance argues that this impression is wrong and that, infact, every effort was made to ameliorate conditions for men and womenin captivity. In his book, he outlines the difficulties and confusionthat arose from jurisdictional squabbling and lack of clearcommunication. Ironically, Vance concludes, obstacles were more oftencreated by an overabundance of enthusiasm than by a lack of interest inthe prisoners' fate. Canada's wartime bureaucracy, oftenpraised by historians, is revealed as needlessly complex and, in manyways, hopelessly inefficient.

In Objects of Concern, Jonathan Vance examines Canada'srole in the formation of an important aspect of international law,traces the growth and activities of a number of national and localphilanthropic agencies, and recounts the efforts of ex-prisoners tosecure compensation for the long-term effects of captivity. In doingso, he reminds Canadians of an aspect of war that has often beenoverlooked in conventional military history.

Jonathan F. Vance is a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of History and Centre for Military, Strategic, and Disarmament Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Title:Objects of Concern: Canadian Prisoners of War Through the Twentieth CenturyFormat:PaperbackDimensions:330 pages, 8.97 × 5.98 × 0.98 inPublished:January 1, 1994Publisher:Ubc Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:077480520X

ISBN - 13:9780774805209

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Table of Contents


1 Nineteenth-Century Precursors

2 "Everybody's Business"

3 Repatriation and Liberation

4 The Interwar Years

5 The Organizational Framework, 1939-45

6 Relief and Release in the European Theatre

7 A Tougher Nut: Prisoners of the Japanese

8 "The Debris of Past Wars"






From Our Editors

The plight of Canadian prisoners of war is explored in Objects of Concern: Canadian Prisoners of War Through the Twentieth Century. From prison camps where POWs played tennis and kept pets to Japanese camps where prisoners were beaten and starved, the whole story is here. Starting with the 19th century, Jonathan Vance examines how the Canadian government and organizations like the Red Cross dealt with the POW problem.

Editorial Reviews

Vance’s text provides an exhaustive and meticulous account of the individual experiences of Canadian POWs. Objects of Concern is a meaningful and valuable work, one that should be read not only by those interested in military history, but by those with an interest in the courage and spirit of Canada’s ex-POWs of the twentieth century. - R. Bruce McIntyre - The Canadian Historical Review