Consider the birds
Your mind does not have to be confined when your body is. A true story from the Second World War by Dixe Wills
Being in lockdown is a bind, isn’t it? All those activities we could have been getting on with but now can’t, all those carefully laid plans dashed. It’s all very frustrating.
Eighty years ago, similar thoughts to these were passing through the head of one John Buxton. The newly married academic and poet had been captured in Norway while serving as a Second Lieutenant in the commandos and packed off to a camp in Bavaria. As was common among soldiers in the Second World War, Buxton discovered that while he had prepared himself mentally for injury or death, he had never seriously considered the possibility of being taken prisoner. His sudden confinement left him stunned.
Once the shock had worn off and he had come to terms with his new reality, Buxton became depressed. This was not to be wondered at: living conditions at the Laufen prison camp were miserable, the food was barely sufficient to keep body and soul together, privacy was practically unobtainable and he had no way of knowing how long it would be until the end of the war restored to him his freedom. Furthermore, since the Geneva Convention ruled that captured officers should not be compelled to work, Buxton found the idle hours weighing heavily upon him.
He was saved by an epiphany. It came one summer day as he was lounging in the sun looking across at a neighbouring wood. ‘I saw a family of redstarts,’ he wrote, ‘unconcerned in the affairs of our skeletal multitude, going about their ways in cherry and chestnut trees.’ Buxton resolved that he would try to redeem his unwelcome situation by making an exhaustive study of this migrant songbird. The young English literature graduate couldn’t possibly have known in that moment what a profound effect his revelation would have…
Dixe Wills is a travel writer. His most recent book, Tiny Castles, was published by Automobile Association in October 2019
This is an extract from an article that was published in the June 2020 edition of Reform