Jackdaw on a drainpipe, Copyright Sarah Niemann.
There are many remarkable experiences of those, who, whilst physically imprisoned, remain “free” in their minds to endure and survive. One such example is the Chinese pianist Liugh Chi Kung who although imprisoned for 7 years and deprived of piano and music continued to practise daily in order to retain the ability to play, rehearsing every piece performed note by note mentally.
In his book Birds In A Cage, Derek Niemann writes about four men who came together as POWs during World War Two to form a small bird watching group during the 5 years of their imprisonment, in Warburg, Germany. They determined to track and record the migratory birds flying over them. It was this contact with nature that, in the words of one “occupied hundreds and hundreds of hours during which, in spirit, I was not confined.” Although their observations were hampered by prison limitations, their determination was not daunted. The four, Peter Conder, Edward Buxton, John Barrett and George Waterston, were already keen bird watchers from an early age and were used to keeping meticulous notes. Buxton “realised from the beginning of captivity that the prisoners’ immediate enemy was boredom, a listless nothingness that allowed doubt and fear to prey on their minds.”
The study of our small feathered friends, who in spite of the war, were continuing with their lives, was to bring purpose and structure into their own.
In essence, by having contact and focus on the birds they observed, they retained their sanity. At the end of the war, Conder, Buxton, Barrett and Waterston were to continue with their work for nature.
However one perceives war, whatever our personal thoughts, we are all affected by it. Whether directly or indirectly, it can be suggested that we are all victims of war, humanity and nature alike. War does not differentiate between human or other forms of nature.
In many strange circumstances, victims of war unite, man with nature, to forge a small interconnected web of life and survival.
Birds in a Cage is published by Short Books, paperback edition 2013 and cost is £8.99.
Derek Niemann is the editor of the RSPB’s children’s magazines and has written several books on nature and conservation for young readers. He lives in Bedfordshire with his family.
Derek Niemann www.whispersfromthewild.co.uk
Sarah Niemann www.whispersfromthewild.co.uk/Gallery
~ Joan How, QCA Membership Secretary.