Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Humanities and Social Inquiry


This thesis is a study of one common aspect of the Australian POW experience across the Pacific and European theatres of the Second World War; leadership. The leadership of POWs is examined through a series of case studies based on three different types of leaders; positional (rank), professional (Medical Officers or chaplains) or emergent. Dependent on their leadership type, these men were responsible for a formal or informal group. Formal groups consisted of the POW population within a camp, compound, prisoner battalion or marching group. Informal groups were usually mates or acquaintances who found themselves in the same camp compound, working or marching group. Two other similar structures existed across the Pacific and European theatres; camp types and conditions. Four common camp types existed; transit, permanent, working camps or forced movement. There were three common camp conditions; relatively stable, volatile and extreme conditions.

Using this contextual framework this thesis’ examination of POW leadership is structured through an examination and analysis of a leader’s dominant behavioural style that he adopted in making his decisions and in the way he formed relations with and interacted with men and the captor. The work of leadership theorists, sociologists and behavioural scientists have informed the structure and composition of this study, but its disciplinary focus and methodology are historical.

Four leadership styles are examined in this thesis; authoritarian, transformational, democratic and self-sacrificial. The authoritarian leadership style was adopted by POW leaders in both theatres, albeit for very different reasons. Democratic and selfsacrificial leadership styles were unique to the context of captivity in relatively stable conditions in Europe and volatile and extreme captive settings in the Pacific Theatre. The only transformational leader examined in this thesis comes from the European theatre. The relatively stable conditions in Air Force Officer Camps combined with the particular circumstances and character of this individual, enabled this leadership style to be adopted.

For each leader examined in this thesis key questions have been posed. The manner in which they were selected for their leadership position, their behaviour and decisions as a POW leader and their interaction with and the relationship they formed with their respective formal or informal group and the captor. These questions are posed and considered using a variety of examples of the leader’s behaviour and his reactions to the respective challenges of leading men within their captive context.

Irrespective of the style a leader adopted, or the conditions they endured, a leader’s ability to maintain his legitimacy from the perspective of his formal or informal group members impacted on his ability to perform and, in some cases, maintain his leadership positon. Some of the leaders examined in this thesis realised the fundamental importance of the group’s perception of their decisions and the reasons for their decisions. These men worked hard to maintain the trust of their group. Others, either through choice or the nature of the volatile and extreme circumstances of their captive setting, chose to put their own interests and survivorship above the collective needs of their group. These leaders lost the trust of their men and in some cases their leadership position collapsed. The final chapter of this thesis examines what happened when the breakdown of leadership structures occurred in both formal and informal groups.

This thesis therefore, is essentially a study of human dynamics within the unique setting of POW camps. It considers what behavioural and leadership traits allowed positional leaders to retain legitimacy in captivity and the behaviour which led positional leaders to lose their leadership legitimacy. When the latter occurred, professional and/or emergent leaders responded to the physical and psychological needs of the group who, particularly in the Pacific Theatre, were powerless against the demands of their captor.

FoR codes (2008)




Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.