There will be no street parties on the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday, and it’s uncertain how many will participate in the virtual versions being touted on social media.

Lockdown might have put paid to many plans to mark the occasion, but it wasn’t all celebrating crowds and Vera Lynn singing We’ll Meet Again on May 8, 1945 either.

For a start, the majority of troops were still overseas, either in Europe or in the Far East. Then there was still the war with Japan, that would go on for another three months, with many troops now freed from combat in Europe earmarked for that still active theatre.

Some of those who were expected to see more action, around 60,000 of them, had spent years enduring far more extreme forms of lockdown than any us might think we are suffering at present.

Read more: VE Day 75: Scotland's contribution to victory was immense

These were the 170,000 British servicemen taken prisoner by the Germans and Italians over the course of the war, and yes, the Germans were known to use the phrase “For you the war is over” to greet their captured enemies. More than 50,000 British servicemen were prisoners of the Japanese.

Around 10,000 British captives were released as the war progressed, in a repatriation scheme for wounded and sick POWs on both sides, while others were liberated or evaded transfer to German camps with the surrender of Italy in September 1943.

However, the majority had to wait until 1945, with most of them liberated in the weeks prior to the war’s official end. Some POW camps were surrendered as early as March, and their inmates released from a confinement that for some had lasted five years (by then over 40,000 British servicemen had been POWs for more than four years).

Read more: VE Day 75: Jubilant scenes across Scotland as people rejoiced the Second World War was finally over

For the adventurous among them, the heady brew of liberty and home-sickness resulted in break neck journeys westward in commandeered German vehicles, with passports taking the form of weapons confiscated from their captors. These renegades were just the types who would previously have engaged in escape activities, which involved thousands of men of mixed nationality over many camps, but resulted in a much smaller number making it home – for instance, just three out of 76 who got out of Stalag Luft III during the famous Great Escape made “homeruns”, while 50 of those recaptured were murdered by the Gestapo.

Many POWs underwent journeys while still in hands of their captors. As the Soviets advanced from the east, camps in their path were evacuated, and through the early weeks of 1945, columns of POWs and their guards made their way on foot through the snow and on trains to camps further west, on what was to become known as the Long March.

Likewise, the advance of the British, Americans and others from the west pushed POWs and their captors east, with the vice finally closed by the meeting of the Allies and the Soviets on April 25.

Those 4,000 British POWs liberated by the Soviets prior to the link up were transported east, usually in railway cattle trucks, and eventually put on ships at Odessa for the return home.

For the majority of those liberated from POW camps by the Allies advancing from the west, the return home was via an organised and, given the circumstances, efficient repatriation system.

Transit centres were established near places of POW concentration and here they were processed. It was the prospect of further confinement, albeit in friendly hands, which had caused some to slip the leash and go their own way. Here, men were cleaned, fed and received medical treatment.

The next stop were airfields from where they were flown to the south-east of England, many of them from Brussels. Last stop was one of around 20 reception centres, where they were given full medicals, issued with fresh uniforms and documentation, and debriefed on their experiences by MI9, the branch of the intelligence services devoted to POW affairs. This last part of the process took around two days, after which time men were permitted to return home on six weeks leave, which might lead straight into demobilisation.

For some, the re-adjustment back into family and civilian life was a painless transition, but for many the years of confinement had taken their toll, and men exhibited a variety of symptoms, including irritability, problems with authority, sleeplessness, claustrophobia, and guilt, along with others, which today would be associated with what is known as PTSD.

Studies were made by military psychiatrists and specialist centres established to help men to cope, including the Larbert POW Rehabilitation Unit in Scotland. Perhaps though, it was self-help groups, in the form of ex-POW clubs, where men could spend time with others who had shared their experiences, that provided the greatest path to recovery from the war behind the wire.

Tony Pollard is Professor of Conflict Archaeology at University of Glasgow.