The lot of a prisoner of war is well documented in more recent conflicts such as the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf conflicts, however the British prisoners of war during the Napoleonic period have received scant attention as whole. Edward Fraser, a noted author on the period set out to redress this balance in the literature of the period, offering a view of the trials, mistreatment and hardships of the British POWS
During Napoleon’s campaigns, along with canon, and standards innumerable, he captured the soldiers of the opposing powers in vast numbers, according to best estimates around half a million men fell into his hands. Of this number only a small fraction were in fact British, some twelve to sixteen thousand, this for two main reasons; that Britain never put into the field the numbers of the conscript armies such as Austria, Prussia and Russia, secondly they were never involved in such disastrous campaigns on the scale of Austerlitz, Jena, or the initial campaigns in Spain. Of the prisoners that were captured, either as crews mainly via shipwreck or during the 1809 Coruña campaign, their lot was hard enough, but was much better than the lot that befall the prisoners of Napoleon’s continental enemies.
However the tales of the British prisoners recall shootings, extortion, maltreatment and arbitrary punishments and are a powerful counterweight to the proposition of the supreme enlightenment of the French system. From the high rank of general Lord Blayney, captured in an abortive sortie on Fuengirola to the lowly Midshipman Edward Boyes, the British prisoner tell tales of their incarceration and abuse at the hands of various French authorities. In fairness the treatment of the more than one hundred thousand French prisoners in English hands was not a great deal better, as they were imprisoned on floating hulks.
An excellent addition to the collection of Fraser’s books on the Napoleonic Wars.
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