A thrilling escape

Philip Godsal, sone of a Welsh landowner, was captured early in the war, and eventually made a daring escape in 1917.

5 February 1919

Monthly Meeting

A most interesting lecture was given by Capt Philp Godsal on his experiences as a prisoner of war in various camps in Germany, and his thrilling escape to Holland.

Hurst WI minutes (D/EX1925/33/1/1)

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Arrest of escaped German Prisoners of War

The Standing Joint Committee heard how Berkshire policemen had helped to recapture escaped PoWs.

5 October 1918

CHIEF CONSTABLE’S REPORT

Arrest of Escaped German Prisoners of War

Two German Prisoners of War, who escaped from Bramley Camp on 4 September, were arrested at Woolhampton by PC 117, Brooks, assisted by Special Constable Charles Taplin and two civilians.

Another, who escaped from the same Camp on 5 September, was captured by PC 64, Holloway, at Maidenhead Thicket.

The War Office Authorities, to mark their appreciation of the services rendered, sent a reward of £5, viz £1 for each of the Constables and civilians who assisted, and I have, under the circumstances, allowed them to receive the same.
Approved.

PC 158 Giles Rejoining Force

PC 158, Giles, who joined the Army on 6 December 1915, under the terms of the Police (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1915, has been discharged from the Army as medically unfit for further military service in consequence of his left wrist being injured by a gunshot wound.

He rejoined the Force on 1 September, 1918, and has been given indoor work for the present, on the understanding that he will be medically re-examined in three months’ time by the Police Surgeon to see of there is any probability of his being fit for further Police duty.
Approved.

Berkshire County Council and Quarter Sessions: Standing Joint Committee minutes (C/CL/C2/1/5)

German PoW on the run “is alleged to have drawn a formidable looking dagger (which was afterwards discovered in a rick where the fugitives had been hiding”

Three Germans PoWs on the run were foiled by the brave actions of a Berkshire policeman and three Special Constables.

6 July 1918

CHIEF CONSTABLE

Lt-Col Poulton attended the Committee and stated that he had been absent from his Police work for three years, and he thought it was time he returned to such work; that his Army work was now so organized that it could be easily carried on by some other officer; and that he had now reached the age of 60; and suggested that the Secretary of State be asked to apply to the War Office for his relase from Army Service to enable him to resume his duties as Chief Constable of the County, as from 31 August, 1918.

Resolved:
That the Secretary of State be asked to make the application to the war Office as suggested.

Resolved also on the motion of the Chairman [J. Herbert Benyon] and seconded by Sir R. B. D. Acland, knight: That the very best thanks of the Committee be accorded to Col. Ricardo for services rendered as Acting Chief Constable.

Capture of three escaped German prisoners

The Acting Chief Constable has brought to the notice of the Sub-committee the action of PC 105 Reginald Jordan, stationed at Burghfield, and of Special Constables Webb, Holland and Hill, in effecting the capture of three Prisoners of War who had escaped from Bramley Camp on 24 April 1918.

PC Jordan challenged these men whom he met at Burghfield at midnight, and, finding they were foreigners, attempted to arrest them. After a struggle in which one of them is alleged to have drawn a formidable looking dagger (which was afterwards discovered in a rick where the fugitives had been hiding), the Germans succeeded in escaping, but were discovered and recaptured the following evening by PC Jordan – with the assistance of the Special Constables above-named, who had been working indefatigably all day in search of them.

The Military authorities sent £4.10s.0d as a reward, which was apportioned as follows: PC 105 Jordan, £2; Sergeant Taylor (who had also assisted) and the three Special Constables, 12s.6d each.

MOTOR CARS

The two motor cars which were so kindly placed at the disposal of the Superintendent at Maidenhead and Wokingham at the commencement of the war by the late Mr Erskine have now been returned to the present owner, Mrs Luard of Binfield Grove, and I beg to recommend that a letter expressing the gratitude of this Committee for the use of the cars, which have been of very great value to the Police, be sent to that lady.

I should also like to take this opportunity of referring to the loss sustained to the Force by the death of the late Marquis of Downshire, who, as a Special Constable from the commencement of the war, had kindly placed his valuable time and the use of his two cars (free of any charge) at the disposal of the Superintendent of the Wokingham Division, and by this means saved the County a great deal of expense.

I recommend that a letter be written to the present Marquis from this Committee, expressing regret at the death of his father, and its appreciation of his generous services.

The present Marquis of Downshire has very kindly placed his car at the disposal of the Superintendent at Wokingham on condition that the County keeps the car insured, [and] pays the licence duty and cost of running.

Berkshire County Council and Quarter Sessions: Standing Joint Committee minutes (C/CL/C2/1/5)

School closed for RAF funeral

William Loder Symonds, in the RAF, was son of the lord of Hinton manor. He had only recently escaped from a German PoW camp when he was killed in a plane crash. The story is told in detail in his fellow-escaper J L Hardy’s memoir ‘I Escape’, which is an entertaining read.

June 3rd 1918
School closed for the day for funeral of Captain W. Loder Symonds.

Hinton Waldrist C of E School log book (C/EL84/2, p. 165)

“The main thing that prevents men escaping from here is their foreign accent which would lead to their re-arrest”

Hugh O’Rourke was a 23 year old ship’s steward born in Co. Tyrone and now an American citizen. Interned as a Nationalist following the Easter Rising, he would be transferred to Reading on 9 May 1918 from Islington Prison, and stay until he went to Brixton in 1919. It was feared that he would be a troublemaker.

April 23rd 1918
[To] Place of Internment, Reading

Hugh O’Rourke, an American, was of the Sinn Feiners and was at Cornwallis Road, is [recorded?] to be acting rather out of hand, and will probably attempt to break out if he remains here. So will you please say if you see any [illegible] [objection to be removed?].

[Ilegible signature]

I know nothing of this man.

The Commissioners, who have more information, can judge better as to what effect he would have, remembering that the men here are in constant association and out in the exercise grounds up to 7.30 pm with only one officer on duty, after 5.10 pm, in the grounds. The opportunities for causing trouble or escaping are infinitely greater here than in an ordinary prison, and I am unable to barrack [illegible… ] as is done in other Camps – consequently the safe… can be very general.

I am quite ready to do whatever the Commissioners [say].

C M Morgan
Governor

The main thing that prevents men escaping from here is their foreign accent which would lead to their re-arrest, and the poor results that have attended the many escapes from various Camps, and which they read about in the various papers, they freely admit.

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“He was the leader and chief agitator” of the internees

Ferdinand Louis Kehrhahn arrived at Reading in January 1917, aged 33. He was an art publisher born in the UK (Birkenhead) of German parentage. He had been sent back to Liverpool Police in April 1917, but now (following an unsuccessful escape) wanted to return to Reading. The Governor of Reading Prison objected to this troublemaker returning.

18 April 1918
Reading PI

The internee Ferdinand L. Kehrhahn, now in Brixton Prison, has petitioned the Secretary of State to take into consideration his present position – no companions with whom to mix with. On that account it is suggested that he be moved back to your custody, but before so doing please furnish your observations and views of the questions.
[?] Wall
Secretary

19 April 1918

In reply to letter … dated 18.4.18 on the subject of F. Kehrhahn, I think it very undesirable that he should return here for the following reasons:

When here before he was the leader and chief agitator amongst the men, and almost all of the men (of what was then C. party) are here, including his special friends.

Secondly, after leaving here he brought most untrue and unfounded charges against Warders, accusing them of stealing prisoners’ food – and they deeply resented his accusations.

Thirdly, when Kehrhahn and others escaped from Islington, information was given to me by Escosuras as to their whereabouts. I communicated with Scotland Yard by telephone, an official was sent from Scotland Yard within an hour to see me, and two of the men were arrested the same night, Escosuras being moved from here before Kehrhahn came. Escosuras is now here.

C M Morgan
Gov.
[to] The Commissioners

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Scenting battle

Percy Spencer told sister Florence about his experience defending a soldier at a court martial, as he awaited news about his destination at the front.

21st Res Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Mar. 24, 1918

My dear WF

Of course down here all we GS officers are scenting battle, but I think there’s a tremendous reserve of officers, and do not expect to be rushed out. Apropos of this – while at the Orderly Room the other day the CO showed me a letter from the 1/21st London regiment applying for me to be sent out as he wanted me as his adjutant. As the present CO of the 1/21st London does not know me, of course this is the going of General Kennedy.

My CO explained that unfortunately he could do nothing except to advise his correspondent to apply for me. So I am now in the flattering position of having 2 COs applying for me. And yet I get no forrader. Isn’t it galling!

This week I’ve had some good news. I was detailed to defend a man on a charge of allowing a prisoner to escape. There was no getting over the fact that he did let him go, and the assistant adjutant was pretty confident I couldn’t get him off.

However, I did, and enclose his letter of thanks. It was quite funny to hear myself described as “counsel for the Defence”, and quite a shock later, when rising to cross examine on behalf of the accused, to hear this described as “Cross examined by accused”.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/25-27)

“Camp life makes them familiar”

Thousands of civilians from interned countries were housed at a camp at Holzminden in Germany throughout the war. Ernest Delfosse, a 32 year old motor mechanic from Belgium, 5 foot 6 ½ inches, with brown hair, was among the inmates there, until he escaped to England with the help of his sweetheart. Sadly, this did not mean freedom, as he was arrested on arrival as a suspected spy. He was transferred to Reading from Brixton Prison on 5 February 1917. He was classified as a Friendly Alien but stayed at Reading and was eventually deported in 1919.

HM Place of Internment
Reading

6th March 1918

Sir

With reference to your letter … dated 5th March 18 on the subject of correspondence between the interned alien E. Delfosse and Mrs E Owen, 54 New Compton St, London EC.

The first letter received from Mrs Owen by Delfosse was dated 22.12.17. This was sent to the Commissioners and I drew special attention to it, giving such information as I was able. It was passed.

Prisoner replied on Jany 5th 1918 – submitted & passed. A second letter was received on 12th January 1918 – submitted and passed. Both these letters are attached to this [though not to the letter book copy]. Please send them back as prisoner does not know they have been forwarded to the Home Office.

Prisoner’s reply to the last letter is the subject of the Home Office letter.

The history of the prisoner’s acquaintance with this woman appears to be:

He was interned at Holzminden, a camp of about 24,000. Men and women were allowed to mix for the purpose of visiting restaurants and cinemas in the grounds. He struck up friendship with this woman – also interned – [he] believes for trafficking in letters – but not sure. The majority of the women were interned for that reason. She stated she was a Russian. (I cross-examined Delfosse, who admitted that she might be a German Pole). He cannot (or will not) remember her name – always called her by her Christian name of Emmy. Camp life makes them familiar. She could speak no English and but little French – he could not speak Russian. Conversation carried on in German, in which both were fluent. Does not know if she was then married – thinks not – her maiden name could be obtained from his note book, black, 9” x 4” (about), taken from him by police at Gravesend 20th Oct 1916 (plain clothes man).

On 7th Oct: 1916 Delfosse escaped from Holzminden, “Emmy” keeping the sentry in conversation while Delfosse got away.

Heard nothing more of her until the letter dated 22.12.17. Does not know how she escaped.

Learns she is married to a Canadian officer. Does not know him. She wants to come & see him. Would like to see her.

I think that is all the information I have obtained.

I am Sir
Your obedient servant

C M Morgan
Governor

[To]
The Under Secretary of State
Home Office
Whitehall


Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

A socialist translator is banned from visiting internees

Florence Baldwin seems to have been a figure in the Socialist movement who had translated into English a number of tracts by German Socialists in the years before the war. The authorities did not want her making contact with German internees, and were alarmed when she visited internee and former escapee Ferdinand Kehrhahn in Brixton Prison in January 1918. Kehrhahn had briefly been at Reading. She later became a Communist, and translated the party’s authorised version of Das Kapital.

14.2.18
[To] The Governor
Reading P of I

Please note that Miss Florence Baldwin of 44, Marylands Road, London, W, will not be allowed to visit any persons interned in your Establishment.

A J Wall
Sec:

Noted
C M Morgan
15-2-18

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Escaped internee “did not make friends with the dog”

Carlos Kuhn Escosura y Diaz was a Spanish electrical engineer from Vigo, aged 28 when he first arrived at Reading Prison as an internee in May 1916. He escaped custody in 1917, and shocking claims were made in the papers about the way he had allegedly suborned a guard dog.

16 January 1918
Reading PI [Place of Internment]

Please note that arrangements are being made to bring back Carlos Kuhn de la Escosuras to your custody from the Spanish Embassy, whither he fled on escaping from your custody some time since. He will not be punished for his offence, and precautions will be taken to prevent his making any fresh attempt to escape.

[Illegible]
Secretary

Noted. Prisoner was received on the 15th inst.
C M Morgan
Governor

The attached cutting from last night’s “Evening News” [not attached] may interest the Commissioners. It is the average veracity of the Northcliffe Press.


C K de la Escosuras

1. He did not make friends with the dog.
2. The dog did not come into the Prison.
3. The dog does not exist – the only officer who has a dog is the Chief Warder and far from being friendly to strangers, it bit a policeman in the “tail” when he was searching the Forbury Gardens on the night of the escape – it is a bull dog.

He did not pick his cell lock with a wire. He was not in a cell – but free to walk about the prison till 8 pm – and this escape took place about 7.30 pm.

He does not collect Prison Keys – neither are they left for him to collect.

The key was made by another man out of tinfoil and the garden door unlocked as previously reported.

As regards his prolonged conversation with Police and other officials – he is the only man of the four who cannot talk English.

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“While interned here he expressed the strongest pro-German sentiments”

Louis Claas, aged 21 when interned in 1916, was a motor mechanic born in Birmingham of foreign extraction. He said he was a Wesleyan Methodist. He escaped from Reading on 3 November 1917 – but now he was back.

24 Dec 1917

Louis Claas
26.8.16 S of S Order, Defence of the Realm Regulation, Internment

The above named man who escaped from here last November and who while interned here expressed the strongest pro-German sentiments, called at the Prison yesterday wearing the uniform of a Private in the British Army and stated that he had been enlisted into the 30th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, stationed at Reading. He came nominally to enquire about some property – but probably in hopes of seeing other men.

He was not admitted to the Prison.

C M Morgan
[To] The Commissioner

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

The man who made the escape key

The governor of Reading Prison wrote to the Prison Commissioners about one of the foreign internees he considered to be a bad influence. Paul, alias Henry Mayer, was duly transferred to Brixton Prison in December 1917, for transfer to the Isle of Man. He was a German engineer, aged 26 when interned in 1916.

29 Nov 1917

P Meyer [sic]
S of S Order 12.7.06, Aliens Act Deportation

The above prisoner has been one of the leading agitators here as regards the proposed hunger strike.

He was also in touch with the men who escaped – and though I cannot prove it I am convinced in my mind from all the information I have obtained that he was the man who made the key with which the men opened the gates to the exercise court. His conduct is bad and today he has just completed 3 days No. 1 diet and 14 days No. 2 for refusing to obey orders and using filthy and grossly insubordinate language to a warden.

He is treated in the “Friendly Alien Wing” – now abolished, but claims to be a German and his record shows him born in Berlin – in my opinion he is certainly a German. As his influence is for the bad, I should be glad if he could be removed either to a prison or if he is a German to a Camp.

C M Morgan, Governor

He is an old criminal convicted in this country.

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Escape in a barrel

Florence Vansittart Neale’s nephew Lieutenant Paul Eddis was a submarine officer who had been interned in neutral Denmark for some time. He made a daring escape hidden in a barrel.

Florence Vansittart Neale
30 September 1917

Exciting letter of Paul’s escape. He home Friday. Got in barrel….

Too full moon! Fear raids. General Maude’s victory in Mesopotamia very good.

30th week of air raids. Met by barrage of fire. 3 balloons brought down.

Heard of Paul’s arrival & escape in barrel to waiting yacht 15 hours! Evading destroyers [illegible] to Helsingborn.

William Hallam
30th September 1917

Up at 10 past 5 and working from 6 till 1. Beautiful weather still and the nights as light as can be with a full harvest moon – just right for those air raiders. After dinner – roast lamb fowl too dear; 1/9 a lb, I went to bed … A gloriously bright moonlight night.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

“All the poor Serbs died like flies”

Maysie Wynne-Finch wrote to her brother Ralph with news of an escaped British prisoner of war’s horrific experiences.

March 27/16
Elgin Lodge
Windsor

My darling R.

Thank you for yours of 16th. It must be very boring for you with so little doing. You must all feel very like sea-weed left high & dry after a gale! Still you never know. Things in France seem settling down again rather. It’s a comfort anyhow to think the Hun cannot re-make all the men they’ve just thrown away anyhow. Beeky Smith writes a most amusing account of the French in their part of the line. He says they all look about 70 & wander about with brown paper parcels in their hands, presumably food, & generally a bottle of wine sticking out somewhere, & they never appear to carry any weapon or equipment whatever!

The last excitement here is a private just escaped from prison in Germany. Taken (wounded) Sep. 14, 1914. He gives the most gastly [sic] account of things. They think he’s truthful as he’s so shy it’s a job to make him talk so he’s not likely to invent. Like them all he says the journey after being taken was the worst time, & always it was the officers who either ordered or if need be personally ill-treated the prisoners. He was in 3 prisons, & twice before tried to escape. He says it’s fairly easy for men to escape really, but practically impossible for officers, they are so terrifically guarded. He finally got away with two Frenchmen – acrobats. They went through what was supposed to be impassable swamp land swimming two rivers, & so into Holland, where the Dutch were awfully good to them & did all they could & apparently loathe the Huns.

He had various punishments various times for trying to escape & also because he refused to work in munition factories – one punishment they call sun punishment in the summer is to stand a man 12 hours to attention with cap off facing the sun. The idea being to blind the man. Prison imprisonment [sic] means solitary confinement in total darkness. He had one go 4 days in the dark & one in the light & then 4 days dark & so on. Prison food is a piece of bread 3 inches square per day, & water.

He says our men live solely on parcels from home. The camp food is impossible, but as this man fairly says, it’s not any worse than the German soldiers guarding them had, & at all times Germans eat worse food than us. He says when he first went to Hun-land there were men & women to be seen everywhere, now every place is deserted – the men to fight & the women doing the men’s work. For 5 days & nights they had no food or drink when they were 1st taken. Apparently they all loathe & distrust the Belgian prisoners. All the poor Serbs died like flies when they arrived as they had been starved, absolutely to death, during the journey to the camps.

There is much more but it’s the same as all these men say & no doubt you’ve heard it all before. One amusing thing is that when our men work on the land as they have to, they do everything they can to foil the show. Plant things upside down etc!!…

Your ever loving Maysie

It was angelic of you sending that letter off to that man in hospital.

Letter from Maysie Wynne-Finch to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/3)

Patriotism is not enough

The Maidenhead parish magazine included various inspiring stories arising from the war, some well known today like that of Edith Cavell, other less so.

Sons of the Clergy.

All classes of the community have vied with each other in manifesting courageous self-sacrifice in the nation’s hour of need. But without drawing undue distinctions it is generally admitted that the sons of the clergy have been conspicuous in the Roll of Honour throughout the War. Week after week the long list of names appearing in the Church newspapers bear eloquent testimony to this fact. The work of the clergy in ministering to those left behind in a variety of ways has been of the greatest value.

“How Can I Help England – Say?”

Miss Helena L. Powell, the Principal of St. Mary’s College, Lancaster Gate, has written an earnest and helpful leaflet for children, showing how children can help in the War. It is addressed to the elder children in our Day and Sunday Schools, and copies required for distribution to these may be had free of charge from Miss Edith Neville, Banstead Place, Banstead, Surrey.

A Daughter of the Parsonage.

Edith Cavell, Directrice d’Ecole des Infirmières, Brussels, who was shot by order of Court-Martial in Brussels on a charge of aiding the escape over the frontier of British, French and Belgian soldiers, was the daughter of the late Rev. Frederick Cavell, Vicar of Swardeston, Norfolk. She was formerly a nurse in the London Hospital. In 1907 she went to Brussels, and when the Germans entered the city she refused to leave.

The Rev H. S. Gahan, British Chaplain at Brussels, has given a touching account of her last hours.

“She said, ‘I have no fear nor shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me.’ She further said, ‘I thank God for this ten weeks’ quiet before the end. Life has always been hurried and full of difficulty. This time of rest has been a great mercy. They have all been very kind to me here. But this I would say, standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’

We partook of Holy Communion together, and she received the Gospel message of consolation with all her heart. At the close of the little service I began to repeat the words ‘Abide with Me,’ and she joined softly in the end. We sat quietly talking until it was time for me to go. She gave me parting messages for relations and friends. She spoke of her soul’s needs at the moment, and she received the assurance of God’s Words as only the Christian can do.”

(more…)