Airey Neave's Escape Report

Escape report completed by Lt Airey Neave, RA. The report details his escape first from Stalag XXA, Thorn, and later from the infamous Colditz Castle. Neave was the first British POW to make a home run from Colditz. Back in Britain he was recruited into Intelligence School 9, the executive branch on MI9. Working for IS9 Neave assisted other British service personnel to evade capture and escape from POW camps. After the war Neave became a conservative Member of Parliament until his murder in 1979 by an Irish National Liberation Army car bomb.

 

MOST SECRET

M.I.9/S/P.G.(G)676

The information contained in this report is to be treated as
MOST SECRET

INTERIM ACCOUNT OF ESCAPE OF
Lt. NEAVE, A.M.S. 1 SEARCHLIGHT REGT., R.A.

 

Captured: 26 May 1940
Escaped: 6 January 1942
Arrived: Switzerland, 9 January 1942

 

Airey Neave
Airey Neave

1. CAPTURE

I was Troop Commander in 2 Bty., 1 Searchlight Regt. R.A. We retired from ARRAS and took up position 2 kms. south of CALAIS on 19 May 1940. On 24 May I was wounded while defending a forward position and was taken to a French hospital, which was shelled and bombed during the next two days. On 26 May I contacted the last line of defence of the British forces, but it was impossible to evacuate the wounded. I was captured on a stretcher on the shore at about 1730 hrs. on 26 May.

Being wounded, I did not reach Germany till August and from then I was in three camps altogether.

 

(1) OFLAG IXA, SPANGENBERG, nr. KASSEL, Hesse. August 1940 – March 1941

This was a well guarded Schloss, considerably over-crowded by 250 P/W. Medical stores were scanty, and health was bad as a result. No Red Cross parcels had as yet arrived and food was poor. There were several cases of brutality.

 

(2) STALAG XXA, THORN, Poland. March-May 1941

This was the reprisal camp for Fort KINGSTON, Canada. The following conditions obtained:-

Underground rooms with no daylight. (Windows were boarded up if necessary);

Guards with rubber truncheons;

Three appels a day;

Revolting sanitary conditions;

Officers were locked in their rooms at 2000 hrs. till 0700 hrs.

The effect on morale was negligible, and the Germans seemed rather ashamed of the whole affair. After a month most of the restrictions were withdrawn. The food was the same as elsewhere.

FIRST ESCAPE

On 16 April I attempted to escape to Russia, but was captured near WARSAW and handed over to the Gestapo. During my escape I observed:-

  1. All crucifixes and many religious monuments have been deliberately destroyed in occupied Poland.
  2. In LESLAU I saw a young member of the Hitler-Jugend beat an old Pole about the head and stamp on his hat in the street amid roars of applause.
  3. I was told that the Ghetto in WARSAW is in a bombed quarter of the city and that leaving the boundaries of it was punishable by death.
  4. I was in the Strafgefängnis in the town of PLOCK. It is run by the Gestapo and political prisoners of both sexes were mixed with thieves and other criminals. I saw people being kicked and heard sounds of beating.
  5. Members of the Gestapo admitted to me that hundreds of Germans were being murdered by the Poles.
  6. The morale of the Poles is remarkable and they are always ready to help escaped prisoners.

 

(3) OFLAG IVC, COLDITZ, Sachsen. May 1941 – January 1942

This is a camp for “Ausbrecher”, or escapers. There were also Jews and political prisoners there. The total number was over 550 and it is very strongly guarded by a complete battalion. General morale was very high and everything was done by escapes, demonstrations, etc., to keep guards occupied. The result was a series of minor incidents and reprisals. There is overcrowding and little opportunity for exercise. Medical attention is poor, but parcels come in well. Censorship of letters and books is very inefficient.

ACCOUNT OF ESCAPE

On 6 January 1942 I made my escape with a Dutchman, both of us dressed as German officers. By a complicated scheme involving breaking through a ceiling we emerged from the guard house and passed two sentries without arousing suspicion. At 0545 hrs. we took a train from LEISNIG to LEIPZIG. There we learnt that the best train left at 2052 hrs. We therefore spent the day in the town, visiting the cinema twice. From LEIPZIG to REGENSBURG (where we changed) and then to ULM we travelled without difficulty. At 1030 hrs. on 7 January we attempted to take a ticket to ENGEN near SINGEN in the frontier district. We attracted some suspicion here and were handed over to the Reichsarbeitspolizei, to whom we presented our Dutch papers. They seemed satisfied with these, but said they were not valid for travel beyond ULM. A Policeman accompanied us to the Reichsarbeitsdienst where we were supposed to report. Fortunately, he said that, as we spoke such good German, he would wait for us below. We went upstairs and managed to make our exit through a door at the other end of the building.

As it was now impossible to travel by express to the frontier, we walked and travelled by local trains until we were 3 kms. from SINGEN about 0400 hrs. on 8 January. There we were questioned by workmen on bicycles who seemed suspicious, and we heard them say they would inform the police. We had hoped to get over the frontier during the darkness, but we were now obliged to hide up for a whole day. We hid in a small hut and slept there. Weather conditions were terrible and the temperature very low. At 1800 hrs. we left the hut carrying large spades and a couple of long white coats found in the hut. A Hitler Jugend patrol stopped us and we satisfied them that we were Westphalian workmen. They told us they were looking for two prisoners of war who were reported in the district. We entered SINGEN and from the station we walked west as far as a signpost to GOTTMADINGEN 4 km. There we travelled north and then round a large wood that fringed the GOTTMADINGEN-SINGEN road, eventually travelling south over the railway line that runs north of this road to a point where road and frontier meet for about 50 yards. There we threw away the spades and put on the white coats. An open space lay before us with woods all round. Seventy metres away we saw a sentry at a barrier and cars being stopped. This was to our left. At about 0030 hrs., walking and crawling, we crossed the road and this open space which was about 200 yards across and thus passed over the frontier. We saw no Swiss guards and no lights. After accidentally crossing back into Germany (which we discovered by observing a sentry to our left – i.e., to the East) we followed compass line to RAMSEN and were there interned at 0100 hrs.

 

Notes

  1. As far as our observations went, no one but the military were asked for passes in trains.
  2. It would attract undesirable attention to eat chocolate in public or smoke too much.
  3. Station waiting rooms may be dangerous, as I have noticed that railway police ask civilians for passes, particularly on large stations at night. Coffee and beer can be bought without difficulty.
  4. Cinemas are good places to rest in.
  5. It seems probable that the local civilian population in the frontier areas are instructed to question strangers who may be prisoners of war.
  6. Since the black-out in Switzerland at 2200 hrs. there will be no lights visible as a guide after that hour.
  7. Trains are very stringently controlled in occupied countries, especially Poland, and it was generally thought too dangerous to travel in them.
  8. Advantage can be taken from the presence of two sorts of foreigners in Germany:-
  1. Volksdeutsche (German nationals) who may speak very little German and who have been repatriated from places like Bessarabia, Volkynia, and Lithuania. This is particularly useful for those escaping in Poland where large transplantations of the population have taken place.
  2. Workers from occupied countries and Italy, especially Dutch, Walloons, and Flemish. There are many of these in industrial areas of Germany adjoining Holland. All of these speak only a certain amount of German.

 

[Source: TNA WO 208/3242, transcribed by www.arcre.com]