Wednesday, 20 June 2012

How To Evade Capture Part Two - Last Twenty Tips Plus Information for Escapers

Paris 1943 -  André Zucca

French Countryside during WW2

Lone Evader

Advice to Navy and Army Escapers


If a sailor comes to grief in enemy waters or on land to the seaward side of enemy coastal defences his chances of Evasion are slight. He may be picked up by the enemy and taken prisoner, in which case he must devote his efforts to an early attempt at escape as indicated under * ‘Rules for Escapers of All Services.’ 


As long as a soldier is capable of bearing arms the problem of Evasion does not arise e.g. half a platoon cut off from the main force. It is their duty if humanly possible to fight their way back as a disciplined military unit and only resort to evasion when no other course of action is open. Evasion instructions are only to be followed after fighting is no longer possible. These reservations apply equally to Naval Beach parties where re-embarkation is not feasible and to air-borne troops where there is no opportunity of withdrawal by air. 

*Rules for Escapers of All Services

In the early stages of capture every opportunity should be taken to try and accumulate and hide an iron ration. This will require strength of mind, since the food provided by captors may be meagre in quantity and quality.

Look for every opportunity to escape during the early stages of capture. Regular troops are likely to be detaining you as opposed to specially trained guards on the journey to prisoner of war camp.

Remember that once in captivity the state of mind and powers of resistance of prisoners can start to deteriorate, especially on long and difficult journeys. The escaper should try their luck whilst still fit in mind and body. Feigning sickness or lameness may deceive the guards into relaxing their vigilance, creating an opportunity to get away. Once on the run escapers should follow the same strategies as evaders.


21) Keep your feet dry and clean. When resting, keep them elevated if possible. Leave your shoes off as long as possible, wash and dry your socks and change them from one foot to another. When faced with the possibility of frostbite, wrap your feet in straw or brown paper/ newspaper and keep them as dry as possible.  Author’s note  - which airman would ever take a spare pair of socks on an operation just in case he got shot down and had to evade.

22) Try to get regular sleep. Make a wind break by piling branches and grass against tree trunks. Haystacks are warm and comfortable. In extreme cold try to snatch odd half hours during the marching at night whilst the blood is circulating well.

23) Keep eyes and ears open; watch the behaviour of birds and cattle well ahead. They are easily disturbed and will give the enemy’s position away as well as your own (especially jays, magpies, plovers and black-birds.) The main dangers are in front, but remember someone may be following you.

24) A moving object is more easily noticed than a static one. A person will often not be spotted at distance or in general observation if standing still.

25) Farm dogs bark easily at night, but people rarely leave warm beds to investigate. A dog barking in the distance may denote a guard or policeman.

26) Many rivers are fordable. Sluggish waters are deep; a ford is often indicated by a line of rippling foam over shallow rocks below.

27) Water can be difficult to find. A line of bushes and trees following a valley often denotes a stream. Very green lush grass and plants often cover a natural spring. Digging a hole there can result in clean water seeping through. Boil water from ponds and ditches for two minutes. 

28) If you hear a noise crouch down and listen, rushing or ‘hurrying on’ may give yourself away.

29) A cigarette is often as good as a meal, but do not smoke in the daytime or when on the march. The smoke may give your position away. Save your butt ends, you may be thankful for them later on.

30) The dawn is in the east and sunset in the west, moss does not grow only on the northern side of tree trunks and the Northern or Pole star is a very accurate guide on cloudless night. Churches on the continent are not necessarily aligned East and West.

31) Survival Off The Land - All animals of the European continent are edible. Animals may be eaten raw or cooked. The official instructions go into graphic detail about catching, killing, preparing, cooking and eating rats, mice, birds, frogs, snails, dogs, cats, grass snakes, lizards , hedgehogs , eels, coarse fish, horse meat etc. They are not for the faint hearted, but provide important information that could keep an evader alive and are likely to apply today. Similar survival information is given around cultivated and wild vegetables such as stinging nettles, clover, bracken fern, sow thistle, dandelion, corn, fruits hips and haws, yew berries and the arrowhead plant. The dangers of mushrooms against other edible fungi are mentioned as are poisonous weeds such as all docks and sorrel, plus rhubarb leaves, buttercups and hemlock. The leaves of all cultivated root vegetables are seen as ‘first class food’ and a slight mould on the over ripe fruit ‘is a penicillin and quite harmless’ How to make a smokeless fire for cooking is also covered.

32) Aircrew should make sure that their Escape Kit is carried on their person at every operation and secured so that it will not be lost when baling out. They should make careful use of their Escape kit once evading (See Post 2 for some of the contents of an Escape Kit.)

33) If you are Aircrew make sure the photographs carried in your uniform are kept clean and uncreased, otherwise they cannot be used on a new identity card.

34) Do not wear a wristwatch. Conceal it in your pocket. Compasses must be kept in a safe place when travelling. These can easily become damaged.

35) If acting alone try to collect a bicycle to avoid public transport and improve distance covered.

37) In public, adopt a tired slouch. Do not march in military fashion. 

38) Sling your haversack over one shoulder. French peasants usually carry theirs this way, not over their back as a pack. Do not use a cane or walking stick unless directed, this is a British custom.

39) Use a beret in France, it is a good disguise.

40) Follow the instructions of your helpers and guides exactly and if approached and spoken to by a stranger, pretend not to hear or understand. 

Sources - National Archives Records  & Downed Allied Airmen and Evasion of Capture - Herman Bodson

 Next week – The Reality Part One. With Top Tips as headings, and using individual and eyewitness accounts, evasion and liberation reports, find out what really happened.  

© Keith Morley


  1. They had so many things to remember, and no room for error.
    Very interesting post Keith.

  2. It's so amazing to think all this happened not so very long ago. How much or what consists of an 'iron ration?'

    1. Thanks Sally for your comments. An iron ration was the term used to describe emergency rations in the field. The content varied according to whether you were British, American, German etc. Typical iron ration for the British soldier in WW2 would be Army biscuits and a tin of bully beef, also known as 'hard tac.' In the advice given to 'would be' escapers, I guess it meant squirrel away what you could ready for when you tried to make a break for it.

  3. Stuck.Not so bad if you’re stranded behind enemy lines and you have ammunition and comrades with you. Company and protection of sorts but expected to fight when required. Far worse for our lone evader/escaper who has but his ‘escape kit’, which he has hopefully retained about his person, and his wits and initiative. No ‘time to be scared’ certainly aboard the Lancasters and Spitfires etc. in the midst of heated exchanges in the air but now on the ground, alone and on the run our airman has too much time on his hands. Despite this worrying time, it is also definitely a voyage of personal discovery, finding out his strengths, weaknesses, things back home he might reflect upon that he would put right when returned. I thought of ‘King Lear’ who went ‘back to nature’ and had sudden moments of personal clarity about himself and his situation.
    ‘ Through tatter’d clothes small vices do appear;
    Robes and furr’d gowns hide all.’

    He realises he is not immortal,

    ‘they told me I was every thing; 'tis a lie, I am not ague-proof.’

    Back to basics and living off the land, taking advantage of any useful items, our evader has the human spirit to keep going. There is no end to the ingeniousness of man especially when his life is in danger……In 1997 lone yachtsman, Tony Bullimore, feared drowned after his boat capsized in the Southern Ocean was found safe and well after five days. He survived on "a little chocolate, water and sheer determination" crouched in the upturned hull of his yacht. He was described as ‘a survivor’.There are many more examples of the heroic escapes and evasions throughout history. This is another instructive and entertaining post, Keith.