After suffering solitary confinement for an escape attempt with a fellow prisoner from Belgium, Lt. Horace Caunt tries again with a German speaking fellow prisoner.
We left the camp in Karlsruhe shortly after the air raid, eighteen of us, all Flying Officers, were sent to Landschut in Bavaria. I said goodbye to my Belgian friend, who gave me a packet of hard biscuits to keep for my next escape attempt. We travelled south through Frankfurt and Munich passing through a lot of beautiful country, and away in the distance we could see the sun on the tips of the Alps in Switzerland. After two days on the train we arrived in the small market town of Landschut. We were marched off to a disused camp, re-opened for our party, situated on a small narrow island in a river and completely enclosed within high barbed wire fencing. We got a good hot bath, what a luxury that was, sadly though we found there was no real soap available just a non-lathering substitute. We were given two good meals a day with decently cooked meat and potatoes and we were allowed, on parole, free movement within the town where we could buy cigars, cigarettes, wine and sardines, but sweets, chocolate and soap were unheard of luxuries.
The exercise yard was a small square about 30 yards square and only guarded on two sides, the sides leading to disused huts on the other side of the barbed wire of course. Pensively I was gazing on these when Shaw, my new Australian friend, strolled up unseen and startled me by tapping me on my shoulder and saying, “Well, do you think we can get out?”
From that moment we started to lay plans secretly but later took two other officers into the scheme. Tins of sardines and hard biscuits were bought and secreted away. Our uniforms had been taken away from us for searching and cleaning and in their place we received a civilian suit of black coat and trousers, but, to dissuade any thoughts of escape, broad seams of yellow ran down the legs and a yellow disc was sewn into the back of the coat. So tins of boot blacking were added to our shopping list when we went to town. Our plans were delayed somewhat by the camp doctor who subjected us to a course of inoculations and vaccinations, which put into question our ability to cover the ninety miles to the Swiss border. Eventually we recovered our appetites, and after a few days of healthy exercises, our strength. Any day now we may have to return our black suits and have to wear our uniforms again, so plans were made to escape that evening.
Shaw had discovered a shallow ditch in the far corner of an unguarded part of the wire which led into the disused part of the camp, a suitable area for covering our escape. Our fellow officers were taken into the plot and asked for help by walking around the compound to hide our disappearance whilst we dropped into the ditch, one by one, and crept away, our shirts and trousers bulging with packets and tins of food. Eventually everything and everybody were ready so all the officers crowded into the compound, as was usual just before turning in before dark. Shaw went first, he was accompanied by three officers and when the trench was reached, down he went flat on his stomach and started to wriggle through. We gave him five minutes, then the second officer, he also managed to crawl away unseen. It was getting quite dusk when my turn came so there was a need to hurry as shortly the camp would be ordered into their huts to be secured for the night. My heart was beating furiously when I dropped into the ditch, to lay there for a few seconds, but I had not been noticed by the sentry, so crawling flat I comfortably managed to get safely under the wire and into a hut on the other side where Shaw and his friend were already blacking out the yellow areas of his coat and trousers. In a few minutes the fourth officer joined us, he had been in the ditch when the guards entered the compound ordering the others inside. The night roll call was made whilst everyone was in bed but we had put dummies in ours to avoid detection until the morning, allowing us to put a safe distance between the camp and ourselves.
It was now dark enough to tackle the outer wire, so ensuring that all our distinguishing marks had been well blacked out we crept out of the hut up to the high wire fence. It was impossible to get under or through it so our only alternative was to climb it. I went first and beyond a bit of frightening creaking got safely over, to be quickly followed by two others. Shaw came last, but when he got to the top strand his excessive weight caused it to snap. The noise to our tautened nerves, sounded like a gun going off, but the Germans did not hear it, or at least did not bother if they did, so Shaw completed his dangerous task and joined us in the bushes. We still had to crawl to the river bank where, taking off our shoes and socks we waded across the shallow part, but I shall never forget the icy coldness of that river. Safely on the other side we put a safe distance between ourselves and the camp and then sat down to arrange sharing out the food and have a council of war. It was decided that we split into pairs, being safer and more of a usual sight on roads, whereas a group of four would draw inquisitive attention and possible recapture. Shaw and I remained behind, allowing the other two to get clear. There was not any noise coming from the camp so our escape was still undiscovered which was valuable as the surrounding district would not have been alerted yet and by next morning we should be well away from the danger zone and safely hidden in some deep wood or haystack.
After traversing two fields we struck the high road and set off at a good pace in a southerly direction. Being a clear starry night we were able to make use of the heavenly bodies and set course by keeping the North Star behind us. Very good progress was made in the next four hours, only two people passing us calling out “Good night” on the way. Shaw spoke fluent German so all talking was left to him. Towards midnight we approached a village, but beyond the persistent barking of a dog, no other diversion occurred to hinder our progress and soon we were in the open country beyond. We walked well over twenty miles before dawn warned us to find a suitable resting place. It was not safe to walk in daytime, so in a Dutch barn full of hay we settled down to sleep and it wasn’t long before I was soundly asleep.
The sound of guttural voices awakened me, peering cautiously out I saw two German farmhands not more than ten yards away. Hardly daring to breathe I lay there wondering if Shaw was awake, or if he was going to sneeze or snore, giving us away, but as he told me later he was also wondering whether I was about to do the same thing. After a few tense minutes the Germans went off about their work and I was able to whisper to Shaw who immediately whispered back. We decided to find a safer hiding place, so crawling outside we saw a wood about one hundred yards away. This we safely reached and there spent the rest of the afternoon until dusk arrived and our journey was recommenced. We dare not talk much for fear of our language being heard, so long stretches were travelled in complete silence until Shaw would break into German to relieve the monotony a bit. Shaw’s feet were beginning to trouble him so finding a small stream we both bathed our feet and after a meal of sardines and biscuits we clambered to the top of a haystack where we spent several snug hours of restful sleep, which was certainly needed, for we has done forty miles of our journey in two days and considered that we were only about half way to the Swiss border.