Survival by Barbara Trendos – Book Review

Survival-new-picStalag Luft III was a WWII German POW camp for officers, made famous by the 1960s movie, The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen.

I met Canadian author, Barbara Trendos, in 2010 at Sabino Springs Writers’ Retreat in Arizona. She has since written and published her book about her father’s war experience with the RCAF and incarceration as a POW in Stalag Luft III, titled, Survival: My Father’s War as an Air Force Gunner and POW, published by Stone’s Throw Publication.

Trendos’ book reminds us that the newly trained fliers from Canada’s RCAF training schools were merely boys, some in their late teens, but most in their early 20s, eventually flying under Royal Air Force Command in Britain. Training was diverse, quick and intense. They were green, away from home and eager to do their bit for king and country. And at times, they were afraid.

Imagine your plane being strafed, going down over enemy territory. Never before jumping from a plane by parachute, you poise on the edge of an open, burning plane, mustering your nerve to throw yourself into complete darkness at 12,000 feet. Famously the Air Force lost many of their young fliers in that frightening situation.

Barb’s father, Albert Wallace, is 96-years old now. Like many of his luckier flying buddies who survived the drop, he was captured in Germany and held with thousands of other POWs for 2 years in Stalag Luft III. The men lived with daily shortages, overcrowding, boredom, cold, heat, deprivations and punishments at the mercy of German command. (Wallace made a lifelong commitment to the Red Cross for the life-saving packages that helped him and others survive their ordeal.) For a while, he bunked in the room at the same time the planners of the great escape furiously dug the entry to the famous tunnel, a daring escape ending in the death of over 50 men.

After 2 years, as rumours of German capitulation circulated in the camp, the prisoners were force-marched long distances in bitter January weather to other locations to avoid Russian liberators, hundreds dying enroute from exposure, illness and starvation.

Barbara elected to tell the story in her father’s voice in Log Book form. It’s an effective technique to write in a young man’s voice of the era, the reader noticing how the boy’s maturation under difficult circumstances brought decisions that likely saved his life.

For WWII Air Force buffs the book is a valuable source of information about early days of training in Canada, the Air Force assemblage in Britain, and insights into the conditions of German POW camps that did not abide by the Geneva Convention for decent standards of treatment of prisoners.

Barbara Trendos travelled a great deal for her research. She tapped into other prisoners’ log books, contacted children of POWs and investigated military records. The thoroughness of information told to us in this short diary is captivating.

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