Emotions of Captivity : Australian Airmen Prisoners of Stalag Luft III and their Families

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Embargoed until 2023-03-31
Copyright: Alexander, Kristen
This thesis analyses the captivity experience of Australian airmen prisoners of war and their loved ones from capture until death. It explores their emotions, motivation, memory, and accounts of captivity, as well as the affective aspects of agency, community, altruism, duty, identity, resilience, relationships, masculinity, prison camp domesticity, faith, grief, and death. Many of these, as historian Stephen Garton notes, are central themes in contemporary social and cultural scholarship. This thesis, however, is the first scholarly work to examine through a cultural lens, within the context of history of the emotions, the experience of and responses to captivity of Australian Second World War prisoners of Germany and Italy and their families. In addition to autobiographical evidence which narrates lives and reveals traces of intimate and public responses to captivity, this thesis draws on medical evidence which depicts post-war psychological, emotional, and moral responses. In particular, it features testimony contained in confidential medical records compiled by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The Australian airmen of Stalag Luft III did not passively accept captivity. They exerted personal and collective agency to actively manage and mitigate the strains of confinement, including threats to their martial masculinity. Even as they maintained their air force identity in the barbed-wire battleground, the airmen reinforced their emotional and romantic links to home. Through their loving and sexual agency, wives, fiancées and sweethearts forged a firm role in captive lives and laid the foundation for their romantic futures. Captivity did not end at liberation. Many former prisoners of war faced physical, psychological, emotional, and moral challenges. As they had done in captivity, they actively attempted to overcome them, either through personal agency or familial support. They also tried to make sense of their experiences. Loved ones, too, bore the legacy of captivity. Some effects were intergenerational. This thesis is an original and significant contribution to Australian and international captivity studies, Australian air force history, Australian post-war social and medical and psychological history, and moral injury enquiry. It allows for a deeper and more nuanced understanding of wartime captivity and its legacy.
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Alexander, Kristen
Stanley, Peter
McKernan, Michael
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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