Fay Baker takes a look at a Pen and Sword release titled 'Barbed-Wire Blues'.


The following introduction is taken from the Pen and Sword website:

As the author, a young Army bandsman lies wounded at the Battle of Corinth, he is shot between the eyes at point blank range. Miraculously he survives but is blinded. In a makeshift hospital a young Greek volunteer saves his life with slices of boiled egg. Captured Allied medics later restore the sight in one eye.

In this moving and entertaining memoir Bernard describes daily life in POW camps in Greece and Germany. He established a theatrical group and an orchestra who perform to fellow POWs and their German guards. A superb raconteur, as well as a gifted musician, the author’s anecdotes are memorably amusing. Bernard was repatriated via Sweden in late 1943.

While blinded in one eye and seriously wounded, the author was told by his New Zealand doctor, fellow POW and musician John Borrie, ‘When nothing else will do, music will always lift one up’. Barbed Wire Blues’ inspirational, ever optimistic tone will surely have the same effect on its readers.


This offering from Pen and Sword titled “Barbed-Wire Blues” tells the story of Bernard Harris who is also the author of this book. This is a hard backed book, containing 172 pages. The book is primarily a written format, however there are a small number of period photographs roughly a third of the way through. 

Bernard Harris’ story is told over twenty two chapters which are as follows:

The End of the Beginning

Tidying the Dessert

A Rotten Shot

A Grecian Girl

Red Letter Days

Blind Spot

Thanks for the Memory

The Father of Models

Barbed-wire Blues

We Leave Athens

Golf Professional, for sooth

This is the News

What To Do All Day

Camp Concert

Christmas Past

Ins and Outs


Look After Your Organ

More Ins and Outs

The Dover Road

Repatriation, November 1943

On English Soil

At the very start of this title the author tells the story of his time in the field and the German Luftwaffe attacks on their position in the hours leading up to being wounded. His initial injury is then covered where he is shot in the back of the left elbow, and the bullet exiting out the front. When he wakes up, the sun is high and shining in his face. He pulled his helmet over to shield his eyes from the sun, a German Paratrooper saw the movement and fired a round into his head from 18 inches away which blinded him.

The book then tells the story of the treatment of his wounds and his return to something resembling able bodied. We also get to learn how music came to his rescue, keeping him sane and giving him enjoyment, relief and a chance to forget his disablement. He tells a few funny stories along the way, such as two of his fingers keep turning into his hand, a surgeon who had worked in Harley Street in peacetime, found some foreign bodies irritating the nerves in his arm and undertook an operation to remove them. The author well remembers being told that only two types of people could afford the operation, world class pianists and prostitutes. These sorts of stories continue along with the musical escapades that took place, and follows through to his repatriation in 1943. 


This book took me a while to get through, because I did not believe it would be of real interest to me. However, the more I took the time to read it, the more into the story I became. While not a story of blood, guts and bullets it does do a very good job, of telling the story of a man’s recovery from a wound that should have killed him until his repatriation and the return of the use of his arm, and then the return of the sight to one eye. This book is worth taking the time to read, as it can be considered to be the story of one man’s battle against adversity.



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