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Old Sunday 26th February 2017, 11:24   #1
Jonno52
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Through the Wire

Those with access to BBC Radio iPlayer may be interested in this: Helen Macdonald - Through the Wire. It's a "drama documentary" about the British POWs in WW2 who made an important contribution to the methods of modern bird study and recording.

I should add that I haven't actually listened to it yet! But Helen Macdonald is the author of H is for Hawk and a fine writer. Here are the iPlayer program details:

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Helen Macdonald's drama documentary tells the story of the British POWs who survived incarceration in German camps in World War Two by studying the birds that flew freely all around them. While some of their fellow prisoners plotted escape and dug tunnels, men like John Buxton, Peter Conder and George Waterston looked hard at the birds that flew overhead on migration and also at those that chose to fly through the camp wire, like redstarts and goldfinches, and breed amongst the prisoners and their guards. With days, even years, to spare but without any binoculars or other equipment, the birdmen turned watching into their way of getting through the war. They enlisted the help of other prisoners and even some of their guards (bird study was a major field in Germany) and they recorded their observations using scraps of old cigarette packets to write on. After the war their studies were often published and became, and in cases remain, key texts for the bird species they were writing about. Several of the birdmen went on also to become major figures in ornithology and bird conservation. Using scientific papers, monographs, letters and diary entries Helen Macdonald, poet, falconer and scholar of wartime ornithology, has created a drama about men sitting still and straining their eyes looking at the sky. The music is by Olivier Messiaen, the French composer and bird lover, who was also incarcerated in another nearby prison camp by the Germans, where he listened to the birds he heard and inspired by them and the accidental collection of instruments and players there were in his camp, wrote his modernist masterpiece, The Quartet for the End of Time.
Peter Conder's name will be familiar to some. He was Director of the RSPB for some years, and the author of the RSPB Guide to Birdwatching (1978) which was one of the first bird books I bought.

Here's some more background on the same guys, from 2012: The bird men of Warburg PoW camp.
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Old Sunday 26th February 2017, 14:21   #2
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Hi and thanks for posting.

I've just listened to the programme, an interesting and entertaining introduction to the work of these remarkable men.

Far more about their astonishing achievements can be found in the book "Birds in a Cage" by Derek Niemann. A far more comprehensive account of the studies carried out by Peter Conder, John Buxton, George Waterston and John Barrett. Very readable and containing extracts from the original notes of the prisoners during their studies.

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Old Sunday 26th February 2017, 14:36   #3
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Originally Posted by Corvus cornix View Post
Hi and thanks for posting.

I've just listened to the programme, an interesting and entertaining introduction to the work of these remarkable men.

Far more about their astonishing achievements can be found in the book "Birds in a Cage" by Derek Niemann. A far more comprehensive account of the studies carried out by Peter Conder, John Buxton, George Waterston and John Barrett. Very readable and containing extracts from the original notes of the prisoners during their studies.

Cheers
Agreed, "Birds in a Cage" is excellent. - well worth reading.

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Old Sunday 26th February 2017, 17:22   #4
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Thanks for the heads up on the radio prog.
Agree that 'Birds in a Cage' is a top book.
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Old Thursday 2nd March 2017, 11:50   #5
Jonno52
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Corvus cornix View Post
Hi and thanks for posting.

I've just listened to the programme, an interesting and entertaining introduction to the work of these remarkable men.

Far more about their astonishing achievements can be found in the book "Birds in a Cage" by Derek Niemann. A far more comprehensive account of the studies carried out by Peter Conder, John Buxton, George Waterston and John Barrett. Very readable and containing extracts from the original notes of the prisoners during their studies.

Cheers
Thanks Corvus cornix. Yes, it worked well as poetic drama, but clearly Niemann's book is where to get the full story and I'll be ordering it shortly.
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Old Sunday 5th March 2017, 14:23   #6
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If you like war stories with a difference, then Birds in a Cage is a must read. I obtained a copy a couple of years back. Amazing story and one I know I will pick up and read again and perhaps again, something I don't normally do with most books I've read.

Si.
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