Doctor John "Jack" Clark Mustardé


Doctor Mustardé was a British officer serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was captured at Tobruk on the 21st June 1942, and after spending some time in Benghazi and Barce, ten doctors were asked to volunteer for what they had believed to be a camp in Italy where better conditions awaited them, however they ended up at Tarhuna, Libya, 65 kilometres south of Tripoli. The poem was written whilst he was here, believed to be October 1942. In mid-October he was transferred to the Bu-Setta hospital in Tripoli, and thence to a hospital in Italy. He was eventually repatriated to the United Kingdom, and the poem was included in his 1944 book, one of the first to be written about prisoners of war, The Sun Stood Still. On his return to health, Mustardé pursued an interest in plastic surgery, for which there was a great need among injured servicemen. He lived and worked in Nottingham and used his holiday entitlement to spend one morning a week training under Sir Harold Gillies, the father of plastic surgery, in Park Prewett hospital, Basingstoke. He also trained under Gillies's cousin, another pioneering surgeon, Sir Archie McIndoe.


Mustardé wrote of the poem, "For a short while... the rations improved a little, but they were still very far from being adequate, and the steady increase in the number of men becoming ill remained unaffected. During these difficult days I wrote a short poem in which I tried to record, while we were still in the midst of the psychological stresses and strains, the experiences the men went through, and the effect of those experiences on their thoughts and outlook." It is dedicated to all those who were held at Tarhuna.


Prisoners of War


Barren wastes of stone and sand,
Dry unfertile desert land,
Spiked wire on every hand.
Prisoners of war!


A hapless host of hungry men
Crowded like rats in cage or pen,
Shut off, it seems, from human ken.
Prisoners of war!


Ill-clad, unkempt, and underfed,
Trading watches, rings, for bread,
A chilly concrete floor for bed.
Prisoners of war!


Queuing for hours in the blistering heat,
Receiving a morsel of bread and meat.
Glad of even the scraps they eat.
Prisoners of war.


Bullied and driven like flocks of sheep,
Treated as dirt from dawn till sleep,
Hearts being filled with hatred deep.
Prisoners of war!


Cut off from news of the outside world,
Sifting the truth in the taunts that are hurled,
Silently keeping the flag unfurled.
Prisoners of war!


Striving to keep alive your hope,
Finding at times it's beyond your scope,
Drugging yourself, with rumours as dope.
Prisoners of war!


Setting new values on trivial things,
The smell of a flower, or a bird that sings,
The beauty and grace of butterfly's wings.
Prisoners of war!


Learning that life without freedom is vain,
'Tis better to die than live in chain,
Thank God for sure hope of release once again.
Prisoners of war!


Seeing new meaning in higher things
In life, in Christ, in the hope He brings,
Thus did they treat the King of Kings.
Prisoners of war!


Finding at last, if you've eyes to see,
This glorious truth, fixed by God's decree,
As long as the SOUL is unchained, YOU'RE FREE,
Prisoners of war!