In any film about POW's you get the impression that the prisoners are constantly working on ways to get out. That type of camp was for officers, who were not required to work during the day. The Other Ranks did not have that choice. After a 12 hour shift in an iron mine, thoughts of digging a tunnel would not be uppermost in a man's mind.

"What kept us prisoners was not the stockade, nor the guards, but the sheer physical barriers of distance and mountains in a land where everyone was an enemy and the escapee an outlaw. -- Escape had to be far from impossible, but it would only come after careful planning, and then only to the man for whom the ball consistently bounced right."

Elvet Williams, 'Arbeitskommando'

Nevertheless, escapes were made. There were two periods in the year when an escape might be successful. These were known by the POWs as the Spring and Autumn Handicaps.

My own father made at least two attempts. On one occasion, he went through the wire with a big New Zealander. This fellow cut a hole in the wire big enough to walk through upright, and their escape was soon discovered. On the other occasion, he was at loose in the Austrian mountains long enough to keep a diary before being captured by the SS. He spent some time in solitary for that escape and was threatened with a firing squad.

Harry Hockey (also known as Victor Snow to confuse the guards) escaped on at least two occasions. In the winter of 1943 he left the camp in a Work Party under the name of another POW. When captured after his second attempt, he managed to get lost amongst the cheering crowds welcoming him back. He then hid in the church roof behind a false wall.

Walter (Bill) Gossner was captured in Libya in 1941 and spent some time as a POW in Italy before being transferred to a Work Camp in Marburg in early 1944. He successfully escaped into Yugoslavia in September, 1944.

Recaptured POWs had to endure the 'Sweat Boxes' in the Disciplinaire or Punishment Area (See Map). It was here that 'Pop' Dillon, Harry Hockey's friend, was shot through the head (and survived) for accepting a drink of water through the barbed wire from a fellow POW.

Return to top of page
Return to last page