Master of Arts
In the First World War, 3,500 Canadian soldiers were taken prisoner. Throughout their captivity, they endured intense humiliation, dehumanization, and abuse. Despite this, the men were able to remain resilient and even found ways to fight back. By using memoirs and letters written by the prisoners, this paper will analyze how these Canadians were determined to keep fighting. This paper will be using an analogy of a bank account to explain how close the prisoners came to breakdown, and how they continuously struggled to endure. Society and war had taught these men that prisoners were weak and cowardly, but they were determined to change this narrative and prove their own bravery through decisive actions of physical and mental resistance, evasion, and escape. By all accounts, the prisoners should have run out of their morale reserves, they should have gone past the breaking point of war weariness to complete breakdown, and they should have had nothing left in them to endure. But the foundation of camaraderie they had built on the front lines set the Canadian soldiers up to endure trauma, remain resilient, and continue their own fight while in the prison camps of Germany. The purpose of this paper is to give a voice to Canadian prisoners of the First World War, and to use the concept of resilience to understand their determination to continue their fight in German territory.
Summary for Lay Audience
Canadian soldiers of the First World War underwent intense trauma and struggled to keep their morale up despite bombardments, trench raids, loss of comrades, boredom, mud, lice, and the constant fear of the unknown enemy. The men were able to endure these uncomfortable and adverse experiences by writing letters home, by sharing experiences with comrades, and by believing that they were fighting an immoral enemy. Society had ingrained in these men the idea that soldiers were the epitome of bravery, and once in the trenches their superiors, friends, and family told them that prisoners were cowardly and weak. Yet, 3,500 Canadians became prisoners of war. This experience shook their identity as soldiers, and almost completely destroyed their morale. But the Canadians were determined to find strength in adversity and remain resilient. They realized that bravery in the prison camps was different than in the trenches. They found ways to increase morale by building close-knit groups of comrades, resisting in any way they could, and, ultimately, by planning and attempting various escape techniques. The prisoners found that by building a strong foundation, they could endure abuse, humiliation, terrible working conditions, and a lack of food. Out of the 3,500 Canadian prisoners, 100 successfully escaped Germany. By using memoirs and letters written by the prisoners, this paper will show how these Canadian soldiers remained resilient despite the constant abuse and humiliation they underwent.
Peeters-Rosien, Grace, "Canadian Prisoners of the First World War: The Struggle for Resilience" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8891.
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