Thursday, 22 October 2015

Colditz - The Park Part Four

POW Escort to the Park - pegasusarchive

The POWs shambling walk from Colditz Castle to the park for the exercise period was well described by Hauptmann Roland Eggers in a recent post. Trying to maintain security around getting the POWs down to the park, monitoring their exercise and returning them to the castle without incident was a constant drain on German resources.  Eggers recorded that the Germans:
‘so found themselves with a problem…that needed as much attention for two hours daily, involving at the most 40 per cent of the prisoners, as the whole camp required for the twenty four hours day and night together, for anything up to 600 of them.’

By 2 July 1941 three French Officers had made successful home runs by escaping from the park, or in Alain Le Ray’s case, by slipping out of the column and hiding during  the march back to the castle. There had also been a number of successful attempts to get out of the park, which had resulted in recapture.
One effort targeted the POWs daily march out of the castle to a gate which led on to the steep pathway down to the park area. The idea was ingenious in its simplicity, but meticulous thought and timing were evident in the execution. On 25 June 1941, once again the French were at the forefront. The column of prisoners trailed and straggled along in the castle, concertinaing at entrances. It must have been a guard’s nightmare as the line knew just how far to push their luck.

Walk to the Gate before taking the path to the park

The line turned left off the roadway, stepping through the gate, before veering sharp right on to the path down to the park. There was a delay at the gate as the POWs filed through the narrow gap and the line of men behind shuffled along. An attractive looking neatly dressed German woman  passed by them, walking back up the road in the direction of the castle courtyard.  Some of the prisoners inevitably whistled. The sight of a woman, except via homemade telescopes and glasses from the castle windows was a rarity.

As she walked past the POWs, her watch fell near to Squadron Leader Brian Paddon. He picked it up, calling to her in German that she had dropped her watch. The woman kept walking and passed out of sight. Paddon signalled the nearest guard to explain what had happened. The sentry took the watch and running up the roadway towards the ramp back into the castle he shouted to a sentry in the courtyard to stop the girl.  
As the castle sentry approached the woman, he realised something was wrong. The woman’s hat and wig were removed to reveal the bald head of French Lieutenant Boulé, a man in his mid-forties. He neither spoke nor understood any German, but his face and skin complexion at first glance fitted the disguise and almost pulled off the deception. He had worn the disguise under his overcoat and concealed the hat inside. Skilful shielding by other POWs had given just enough visibility for him to pass the first head count inside the castle.

French Lieutenant Boulé in disguise

It is ironic that the plan failed because of inadvertent intervention by a British POW who had no knowledge of the escape plan. On previous occasions in Colditz, escape attempts had also been made by different nationalities with little or no liaison between them. Following the Boulé failure a more co-ordinated approach was adopted to prevent complications.

Sources and recommended reads
The Colditz Story - Major P R Reid MBE MC
Colditz The Full Story - Major P R Reid MBE MC
Colditz the German Viewpoint - Reinhold Eggers

The Pegasus Archive is also recommended at 
Author's Notes

©Keith Morley

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  1. This makes such an entertaining story for us, Keith, but how awful it must have been for that poor Frenchman who had planned the attempt, acquiring the stuff he needed, only to be foiled by an ally. Thanks for posting.

  2. Thanks LIz. I'm inclined to think he would have made it out of the immediate castle area if the good Samaritan hadn't stepped in. Interesting what his forged papers for later would have showed. Maybe once he was clear, there was another quick change and disguise planned.