The Music Maker

One POW provided hope for thousands


Jaci Byrne

Big Sky Publishing   2019

Hardback   239pp   RRP $34.99


Reviewer: Mike O’Brien, August 2019


 The hero – and he was one – of this story is Drum Major Henry “Harry” Jackson of the 5th Battalion, The Border Regiment (British Army) in the Second World War. He had also served in the Royal Field Artillery in the First World War.

Jackson enlisted early in the Second World War and was sent to France and Belgium with the British Expeditionary Force. He was captured by the Germans at the end of May 1940 and remained a POW until his release in May 1945.

From the outset, Harry Jackson was ill-treated by his captors. Those of us that have the view that German POW camps treated their inmates fairly for most of the time will find this account informative. Harry was beaten, robbed and starved. He suffered forced marches and arbitrary unjust punishment. He witnessed the extremes of the German treatment of untermenschen – the ‘masses from the east’ and the effects of the holocaust.

Harry was also a chronicler of some of the lesser-known and less-then-saintly POW practices such as the prevalence of suicides and the use of German-supplied ‘comfort women’.

He was a talented musician and a major theme of the book relates to his ability to procure instruments, play and conduct music, greatly helping many of his fellow inmates and helping to sustain his morale during five captive years.

The latter chapters of the book recount his reunion with his family. Though perhaps simplistic, he (and most British POWs) underwent debriefing – they were advised not to speak about their incarceration. The clash of cultures between the former ‘head of family’ and his newly and necessarily independent wife is particularly interesting.

It is, in my opinion a mistake that his grand-daughter, the author of this book, took the poetic licence to add emotions to Harry’s diary entries. Her justification is that men of that era did not express their emotions. True, but it is a pity that Harry’s unvarnished truths could not have spoken for themselves.

This is a worthwhile book and it is great that an Australian publisher (who donated this review copy) has taken up this British story – read it to understand a great deal about the POW experience!



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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