13 Days: An Escape from a German Prison

While adding metadata to the album of photographs and ephemera of Brigadier John Alan Lyde Caunter (1889 – 1981) I became interested in the fact that during World War One he had escaped from captivity in a German prisoner of war camp. I would like his achievement to be brought to the fore through this blog as in 2017 it will be a century since he made ‘his great escape’.

Caunter 00092

Our room at Crefeld camp (Caunter 92)

Captain (later Brigadier) John Alan Lyde Caunter of the 1st Battalion the Gloucestershire Regiment was taken prisoner during World War One by the Germans, captured at Gheluveld on the 31st October 1914 while on active service near Ypres. Upon capture he was confined in Crefeld prisoner of war camp and then with 400 other officers of differing nationalities moved to a camp at Schwarmstedlt, Hanover; eventually managing to escape in the summer of 1917.

During the journey to get back to England he met two other escapees, one of whom was Captain Fox D.S.O (an Irishman) of the Scots Guards. Together the two men managed to reach the Dutch frontier and safety – although during the last 24 hours they became separated. Upon their return to England on July 7th 1917 they were photographed together outside the Guards Club in the clothes they had worn during their hard won journey to freedom.

Caunter 00003 Caunter 00004

Outside the Guards Club (Caunter 3 and Caunter 4)

On the 18th July 1917 both men were invited to Buckingham Palace for an hour long audience with King George V.

Caunter 00015

Seeing the King (Caunter 15)

Captain Caunter wrote of his adventures in a book entitled 13 days an escape from a German prison, published in 1918, which also contained hand drawn illustrations by the author. The book is now out of copyright and can be downloaded free from various internet eBook providers for those that are interested in his story. The following is a review of the book copied from a newspaper cutting that was in an album of photographs and ephemera belonging to Caunter.

BRITISH OFFICER’S THIRTEEN DAYS JOURNEY TO FREEDOM

ESCAPE FROM GERMANY

Life and letters by J.C Squire published in Land and Water October 10th 1918.

“Captain Caunter was taken in 1914; he went to Crefeld and thence to Schwarmstedlt, in Hanover. His escape from the camp was extraordinarily ingenious and of the prolong nerve racking kind. He got on a top shelf in the parcels room, before the very eyes of a German; lay there, cramped and stifling, for hours; then stole out of the window while a sentry on each side turned his back. He crossed two rivers – there is a thrilling account of his wait by one bridge while the sentries carried on a conversation with two girls who seemed as though they would never go away and leave the men free to move or doze – and then, under a hedge, amazingly met two brother officers who had escaped after him. His chapters on the crossing of the Weser, the long walk along a railway track, and the final agonising wait in the marshes by the Dutch frontier, are wonderfully vivid; one’s heart stands still when a townful of dogs starts barking at him in the moonlight, and when Major Fox, an Irishman used to bogs, side-tracks the frontier guards into a morass. Major Fox slightly sketched is revealed as something of a Titan for strength and audacity. Captain Caunter’s exact wash drawings greatly elucidate his tales”.

Barbara Cornford

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *