The escape tunnel at Holzminden after its discovery. Rachel Bilton / mediadrumworld.com

Prisoners and Escape

By Rebecca Drew

STUNNING black and white images showing what life was like for prisoners of war who attempted to escape during WW1 have been unveiled in a new book.

The sign on the wire between Belgium and Holland read ‘Warning! High Voltage. Danger to Life’ with a guard house behind in case anyone successfully crossed the wires.  Rachel Bilton / mediadrumworld.com
The sign on the wire between Belgium and Holland read ‘Warning! High Voltage. Danger to Life’ with a guard house behind in case anyone successfully crossed the wires.
Rachel Bilton / mediadrumworld.com

The series of historical images show the high security precautions of Prisoner of War camps to deter escapees with guarded electric fences between Belgium and Holland and a room full of soldiers who were recaptured after an unsuccessful attempt.

A failed escape tunnel that came to the surface too early.  Rachel Bilton / mediadrumworld.com
A failed escape tunnel that came to the surface too early.
Rachel Bilton / mediadrumworld.com

Other pictures show failed escape and hidden excavation tunnels.

Escapers all, recaptured officers in a room at Holzminden. Left to Right: Churchill, Lyon, Clouston, Robertson, Sharp, Bennet and Matlock.  Rachel Bilton / mediadrumworld.com
Escapers all, recaptured officers in a room at Holzminden. Left to Right: Churchill, Lyon, Clouston, Robertson, Sharp, Bennet and Matlock.
Rachel Bilton / mediadrumworld.com

The images have been released in the book Prisoners and Escape WW1: Those Who Were There which has been edited by Rachel Bilton and published by Pen & Sword. Each chapter of the book has been written by prisoners who were there.

“The book looks at the escapes of a number of men, other ranks and officers from their imprisonment to their eventual freedom,” said Rachel.

“Tunnels were popular because they could be completed under the noses of the Germans and apart from digging equipment, nothing else was needed.

“Each camp would also contain a number of captive engineers so the skills for tunnelling were readily available, a tunnel also took them out of the camp without being seen.

“In the initial stages, when the war was fluid men were taken prisoner one day and the next were back in Allied lines fighting again.

“However, French officer Henri Giraud escaped in October 1914, having only been caught in August 1914 and he also managed to escape in World War Two.

“Gunther Plüschow escaped from a POW camp in Donnington Park, Leicestershire, England in July 1915 and returned to Germany, a mere two months after he’d been first captured.

“This was the only successful escape from Britain in either of the world wars.”

A rope ladder down to the excavation of a tunnel hidden in a disused building.  Rachel Bilton / mediadrumworld.com
A rope ladder down to the excavation of a tunnel hidden in a disused building.
Rachel Bilton / mediadrumworld.com

In Germany during WW1 there were approximately 313, 400 escapes counted and 67,565 of these succeeded. Captured escapees were sent back to camps and punished.

Conditions in other ranks barracks were never comfortable but a stove like this in the summer could be a useful starting point for a tunnel. Rachel Bilton / mediadrumworld.com
Conditions in other ranks barracks were never comfortable but a stove like this in the summer could be a useful starting point for a tunnel. Rachel Bilton / mediadrumworld.com

“Tens of thousands tried to escape but most were caught with only a few hundred actually making it back to Britain,” added Rachel.

“What I think is important to note is that the book documents stories of females who escaped – often female efforts in the war get pushed to the side-line and yet their heroism and bravery was equal to many of the males.”

The book's front cover.  Rachel Bilton / mediadrumworld.com
The book’s front cover.
Rachel Bilton / mediadrumworld.com

Published by Pen and Sword, Prisoners and Escape WW1: Those Who Were There by Rachel Bilton is now available to buy on Amazon for RRP £12.99.

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