Page last updated at 06:02 GMT, Thursday, 3 September 2009 07:02 UK

WWII prisoners' publishing feat

By Carl Yapp
BBC News


Cymro ("Welshman") was produced by prisoners of war in 1943 and 1944

They were behind barbed wire in cramped wooden huts hundreds of miles from home during World War II.

But some Welsh prisoners of war overcame adversity with a remarkable series of morale-boosting magazines about their homeland called Cymro (Welshman).

They stole medicine to make ink, while their meagre rations were used to stick illustrations onto pages from school exercise books.

It featured snippets of news from home taken from letters sent by loved ones, and was handwritten in English and Welsh from inside Stalag IVb, near Mühlberg in Germany, between July 1943 and December 1944.

Now, as the 70th anniversary of the start of the war is commemorated, the National Library of Wales in Aberysytwyth has published its collection of the magazines online.

Experts at the library explained how prisoners went to extraordinary lengths to produce Cymro.

One edition mentioned the then up-and-coming Welsh actor Stanley Baker, while others featured the history of different regions of Wales, such as Pumlumon in Ceredigion and the Llyn peninsula, and Welsh mythology.

Home news in the Cymro
Although they were far from Wales, by writing about Welsh news and articles to do with Wales, they felt they were much closer to home
Morfudd Bevan-Jones, National Library of Wales

Stories carried by the magazine were designed to boost the morale of hundreds of inmates exposed to the deteriorating conditions in the camp, said the library.

It held 30,000 prisoners and more than 7,000 were British, but it is unclear how many were from Wales.

The library's Morfudd Bevan-Jones said: "The magazines give us an insight into the lives of the prisoners of war at Stalag IVb.

"It's awe-inspiring to think that the prisoners could create such attractive and interesting magazines under such hard conditions. The magazines remind us of the pivotal role played by Welsh soldiers during the Second World War."

She added that Cymro reflected the importance of Welsh identity to the prisoners.

"Although they were far from Wales, by writing about Welsh news and articles to do with Wales, they felt they were much closer to home," said Ms Bevan-Jones.

"Camp life was all about surviving and in their own way these magazines are also survivors and we are very fortunate to have the original copies here at the National Library of Wales and the digital copies available to be enjoyed online."

The magazine's articles came complete with impressive colour illustrations. Inks were made from stolen materials like the anti-malarial and pain-killing drug quinine.

The pictures were then stuck into place with fermented millet soup, kept from the meagre camp rations.

Christmas edition

As for the news, editor William John Pitt, from Treharris, near Merthyr Tydfil, urged Welsh prisoners to "comb letters for news from home".

Most of the magazine was written in English, but two pages were in Welsh.

There were stories about actors of the day Emlyn Williams and Stanley Baker, and the boxer Charlie Bundy.

The national library's collection includes three Cymro issues, a special Christmas edition and three supplements.

The Stalag IVb camp was liberated by the Red Army in April 1945.

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