This is the story of an obsessive quest behind barbed wire. Through their shared love of birds, a group of British POWs overcome hunger, hardship, fear and stultifying boredom. Their experiences leave them scarred, but set them on a path to becoming greats of the conservation movement.
A raft of favourable reviews buoyed Birds in a Cage so much that the hardback edition all but sold out within six months of publication. The paperback came out in 2013 and has now been reprinted three times. I’m gratified by the universally positive letters, e-mails and phone calls from so many people. Perhaps the best of all came from (the now late) conservation giant Norman Moore, an ex-POW himself, who told me “you’ve captured it just as it was.”
I’ve lost count of the number of talks I’ve given about this book, but have lost no enthusiasm for giving them. It’s marvellous to find so many inspired by this story and wonderful that more people want to hear about it.
A number of people have contacted me with more information after having read Birds in a Cage, which is fantastic. If one of your relations was a POW and a naturalist, I would love to hear from you. You can email me your stories from our contact page.
Some special thanks from Derek:
My grateful thanks to all the families and friends of the POWs, who gave so generously of their time and their memories. This book would have been so much less without them.
Special thanks to Sarah Rhodes (daughter of Peter Conder), who first had the idea for the book, and who did so much to help me with my research. Sarah knows many of the POW family members, and she unlocked many doors for me. Without her help and support I could not have written the book that I did.
Thanks also to Sarah Rhodes, and to Jan Pickup (daughter of Barney Thompson) and her husband Tony for invaluable help at various book events.
Nature writer Mark Cocker provided both title and topic for my first non-fiction book. Because he already had another major project ongoing, he declined the offer to take the letters, diaries and reports of the ornithologist prisoners of war and shape them into Birds in a Cage. His generosity gave me the chance instead.
Mark is a fine writer – enjoy his Guardian Country Diary pieces here.