Whitehaven soldier, Drum Major Henry Barnes Jackson, survived his time as a prisoner of war thanks to his musical talent – and his story lives on in his granddaughter’s telling of the tale, The Music Maker: How One PoW Provided Hope for Thousands.

Whitehaven-born author Jaci Byrne discovered the amazing story of her grandfather’s time as the Germans’ ‘kapellmeister’ – their maker of music – when her aunt, Mona Jackson, flew to Australia in 2000 to give Jaci’s mother many of their father’s belongings, including his war diary and PoW photo album.

Drum Major Jackson listed 150 names in his diary, many of them other prisoners of war from Whitehaven and wider areas of West Cumbria, and his story is an inspirational one of hope and of keeping the spirits of his fellow prisoners as high as he could.

The Cumbrian men listed by the PoW include A. Ashbridge, H. Clements, Dudding (Company Commander, Border Regiment), D. Hazeldon, F. Kirkbride, H. Jackson, E. Orr, J. Ritchie and G. Teasdale as well as J. Doyle of Frizington, W. Ferguson of Workington, J. Millican of Cockermouth, T. Pence of Aspatria and H. Peet of Keswick.

After fighting in the horrific battles of World War One, Henry continued as a Drum Major in the Territorial Army, alongside leading a dance band during the 1920s, before returning to war in 1939. During the Allied retreat to Dunkirk in 1940, he was captured by the Germans, and spent the duration in a PoW camp.

But all hope was not lost for the 41-year-old soldier, with his history as a talented musician impressing his captors, who made Henry their Kapellmeister – translating directly to “the man in charge of making music”.

The Whitehaven man spent the next five years performing with his bandmates for the Germans, putting on shows and concerts for them, ‘touring’ around various labour camps in Poland, and documenting the entire series of events in his PoW diary and photo album.

An image of men performing as women in the camp’s version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates Of Penzance was even sent by Henry to his wife Mabel back at The Green, Whitehaven, and made it into The Whitehaven News on November 18 1943, alongside a brief article praising the amateur actors and musicians for their talents, and for “brightening the lives of British soldiers of war”.

Before the prisoners’ liberation by American soldiers on May 8 1945, Henry, exhausted and emaciated, was force-marched for 20 days over the Austrian Alps, and kept a tight hold of his diary that documented his time as a PoW.

The Drum Major’s granddaughter, Jaci, couldn’t wait to write and share the true story of her grandfather’s time at war after receiving his treasured journal.

She said: “After writing four novels and a children’s book series, I felt ready to write The Music Maker, which was published in Australia in August 2018.”

And the book is now available for UK audiences, after Pen & Sword Military published ‘The Music Maker: How One POW Provided Hope for Thousands’ in April of this year.

n Jaci’s telling of Drum Major Henry Barnes Jackson’s amazing true story is available in both paperback and Kindle form on Amazon.