"In the summer of 1940, lying in the sun, I saw a family of redstarts, unconcerned in the affairs of our skeletal multitude, going about their ways in cherry and chestnut trees." Soon after his arrival at Warburg PoW camp, British army officer John Buxton found an unexpected means of escape from the horrors of internment. Passing his days covertly watching birds, he was unaware that he, too, was being watched. Peter Conder, also a passionate ornithologist, had noticed Buxton gazing skywards. He approached him and, with two other prisoners, they founded a secret birdwatching society.
This is the untold story of an obsessive quest behind barbed wire. Through their shared love of birds, the four PoWs overcame hunger, hardship, fear and stultifying boredom. Their quest would draw in not only their fellow prisoners, but also some of the German guards, at great risk to them all.
Derek Niemann draws on original diaries, letters and drawings, to tell of how Conder, Barrett, Waterston and Buxton were forged by their wartime experience into the giants of postwar wildlife conservation. Their legacy lives on.
Derek Niemann is the editor of the RSPB's children's magazine and has written several books on nature and conservation for young readers. He lives in Bedfordshire with his family.
"A wonderfully crafted hymn to the life-giving qualities of birds"
– Simon Barnes
"Immensely moving [...] a beautiful and gripping story"
– Tim Dee, BBC Wildlife Magazine
"The most gripping and illuminating tale of a hidden side of PoW life in WWII"
– Toby Little
"A wonderful story [...] gives you that warm feeling that a shared love of Nature conquers all"
– John Beard
"[...] The great value of this book is that it brings together the story of what these men experienced. These are stories that have rarely been told, as each of them remained relatively tight-lipped about their experiences – even to close family. Peter Conder did write up some of his thoughts but never completed them, and John Buxton even wrote a book on the subject, which was rejected for publication. The strength of this book comes from the fact that you are drawn into their lives and it feels as if the men are in a room talking about what had happened. All four died a long time before Derek Niemann had the idea for this book, but despite having never met any of them, he has brought to life their different attitudes and experiences with great ease."
– Keith Betton, 25-04-2013, British Birds
"[...] Birds in a Cage is not simply a book about birds, nor is it a biography of Conder, Waterston, Buxton and Barrett, and nor is it a history book about the PoW camps of World War II. It contains, of course, elements of all three. It is a tale of survival, endurance, adventure and resourcefulness all bound inextricably to a love of birds. Anyone who has sat miserably at a desk gazing out of the window willing a waxwing to appear in a nearby sorbus has some insight into the minds of these men. This is a fascinating and engrossing book, a perfect Christmas gift, but make sure you buy one for yourself at the same time."
– Fiona Barclay, Monday 17th December 2012, www.birdguides.com