World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I


World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I 

A collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I


If you are a former Prisoner of War or a next of kin of a POW, we invite you to sign and leave your email address so others that come may find you. Please mention camp, compound, barracks and room numbers if possible.

 Sign or view our Guestbook

Visit our
Online Store




If you would like to
  help us keep this website online, please click on the above PayPal link, where you may make a monetary contribution to this site using your credit card.  Thank you.



Stalag Luft I - E-mail us

Click to send us e-mail

by Roy Kilminster

Barracks and guard tower at Stalag Luft I
A first view of my new camp - Stalag Luft I, It was at Stalag Luft I that I first became directly involved with escape and other types of undercover work, and it is now time to introduce the various undercover activities that were taking place in most of the camps for RAF prisoners in Germany.


Although there was no formal demarcation at Stalag Luft I the undercover work fell naturally into three categories, eventually becoming known as X,Y and Z.

X Y & Z Organizations

he X organisation is probably the area of undercover work that most people are already familiar with from escape stories. The X committee planned escape attempts, organised tunnel digging and devised other methods of exit from the camp. The escape committee would usually try to help any POW determined to try an escape although it naturally gave most encouragement to, those persons deemed to have the best chance of success. For instance, priority might be given to persons fluent in one of the European languages.

Next, there was 'Y'. That section provided forgeries of maps, clothes and food, money and perhaps a compass. It also organized a system of look-outs, to protect the various undercover activities.

Finally, there was the 'Z' section. Activities included operation of the ­camp's secret radio. Probably most importantly, Z maintained contact with the RAF intelligence section in England by means of written codes.

All of the undercover work will be described in considerably more detail, and to begin with, a little more about the 'Z' section and its codes. In the earlier days of the war, a few aircrew were given instruction in written codes in case they were ever taken as prisoners-of-war. To improve the obviously difficult security aspect, such information was very restricted, and it was suggested that other aircrew might work out a code with their own family. Fortunately, as things had turned out, I had done that, having devised a code with my brother.

Tony Kilminster

Tony Kilminster

And this is the other half of our private code team, my brother serving with the RAF in Africa in 1942. In the first letter that it was possible to write home, from Stalag VIIIB, I was able to give my brother the details of how our aircraft had been lost. The information was duly passed on to the intelligence section of the RAF.  

The vital part of secret communication work, however, lay with the RAF codes. As soon as the 'Z' section became organised at the new Stalag Luft I, it debriefed all new POWs arriving in the camp, any useful items of information being sent back to England by coded POW mail. The information would be concerned mainly with details of the loss of the new prisoner's aircraft so that, provided a crew member was taken prisoner, the RAF would learn the reason for the loss of that particular aircraft. Anything thought to be of a military interest that may have been noticed during a prisoner's passage through Germany would also be included.

Richard Drummond, one of my fellow crew members and the second pilot of our ill fated Halifax. Drummond had been one of the aircrew briefed in code work and, as a prisoner-of-war, played a major role in the intelligence gathering and code transmission operations at Stalag Luft I.

Richard Drummond - RAF

Richard Drummond

Code work has received little publicity compared to that of escape operations; in fact; codes are not even mentioned in the official RAF history of escaping from Germany. However, with the 'Cold War' at its height when the history was first published, that is perhaps understandable. It is only comparatively recently that I have heard some stories about that area of secret work myself.

One of the more-remarkable tales about secret codes.  A POW camp received a request from England to find out the thickness of the armour on the then new German Tiger tank. Their first reaction was 'How do they think we can find that out from a POW camp'? The story goes that they were able to do just that. They contacted a Polish national brought into the camp for some maintenance work; he, in turn, was able to contact the Polish Underground Movement, that organisation had people actually working in one of the factories that made the tanks.

Stalag Luft I

Returning now to Stalag Luft I, in addition to establishing the secret communications link with the intelligence section in England, undercover  work in general was soon under way and, for the time being, we leave the 'Z' , section for some stories about the 'Y' organisation.

It was of little use an escaper succeeding in getting out of the camp if he didn't have suitable documents. Apart from checks at most strategic points such as railway stations and major bridges, police and the Gestapo often made spot identity checks, particularly on any form of transport, and an escaper not adequately prepared would have been unlikely to survive any such check. In most cases, documents had to be forged.


In the early days, I only undertook forgery work after the huts (barracks) had been locked and barred for the night; there was less chance of interruption by German security staff under those circumstances. To carry out the forgery work, a stool and something to serve as a small table were placed on top of a larger table, so that the work could be brought as close as possible under the none too bright electric light. A blanket was draped over the window so that guards patrolling the compound could not see through any chinks in the shutters that were clamped across the windows at night. One of those earlier types of forgery that has survived the years is described with reference to the next two illustrations.

Forged Identity Card

his is a forgery of a German personal identity card, and it was the first type of forgery that I produced for the fledgling escape committee at the new Stalag Luft I. It was actually copied from another forgery that, to get us started, had been brought by the volunteer group from Sagan when Stalag Luft I was reopened.

Forged Identity Pass
The ins
ide of the forgery. To begin with, these forgeries were produced entirely by hand drawing. The example here is one of our later editions, although still mainly drawn by hand, the police stamps had proved difficult to fake convincingly by hand painting and in this instance were added by a duplicating process, a method described later. The hand drawn parts of the forgeries were produced using a brush and Indian ink. Fortunately, some months before becoming the forger for Stalag Luft I, I had asked for some art materials to be included in any parcel that could be sent to me. Prisoners on both sides in the war were able to receive a small number of personal parcels through the International Red Cross.


As just mentioned, there were problems trying to imitate rubber stamps convincingly. In addition to hand painting, I had tried several ways of getting a more-realistic result. This is one of the earlier efforts, it is a stamp made by etching aluminum with acid: the aluminum was cut from a camp cooking utensil. One difficulty lay in finding a suitable substance to act as an acid resist for the design. Eventually, some cellulose paint was obtained from the camp theatre group and that proved reasonably successful. After drawing the design on the aluminum with the cellulose paint, the background was etched down using hydrochloric acid, a substance the camp authorities had supplied to clean the latrine. Metal Stamp

Metal Stamp


Most POW undercover activities had to take place virtually under the noses of the roving German security staff and to protect that work, all huts had a 'Duty Look-out'. If a guard or other suspect approached a hut, the look-out gave a shout of 'Goon Up'. All illegal activities would then cease and any incriminating items would be hidden.  The term 'Goon' puzzled the guards at first, although they were pretty sure that is was uncomplimentary.



In between forgery sessions, I was trying to teach myself the techniques of oil and water-colour painting. Although I made little real progress and I haven't attempted any painting of that sort from that day to this, those efforts did have a use, and two paintings that have survived are included here to visually complement an aspect of the forgery story.

Oil painting by Roy Kilminster   An oil painting of one of my room-mates. however, to the story. During the longer days of summer there was so little time between the huts being locked and barred for the night, and lights out, that forgery work necessarily had to proceed during open hours. To avoid having to securely hide forgeries being worked upon every time German personnel entered the hut, and that usually happened many times during the course of a day, upon the shout of 'Goon up' from the look-out, an unfinished painting was pinned over the top of the forgery and I just carried on with the painting.


water colour painting by Roy Kilminster

A w
ater-colour that took its turn in that procedure. Perhaps understandably, with a forgery hidden underneath a painting, I became increasingly uncomfortable if any German displayed more than a passing interest in what I was doing. Some of the regulars must have wondered why it was taking me so long to make progress on a particular painting.

Arts and Crafts at Stalag Luft I

On a somewhat similar theme, a POW arts and crafts exhibition, a time when kriegie talents were put to more-legitimate use. Even so, the abwehr, the
German security section, must have been very intrigued, to say the least, by these displays of kriegie work; many of the models required the use of files saws or drills to produce them, all such items being on the strictly forbidden list of course.



Whilst most illegal articles were acquired by bribing or sometimes even blackmailing a guard, some items were almost impossible to obtain in that way. However, some contraband was obtained from England by being sent in personal parcels. Although all parcels were supposed to be opened and checked by the camp security staff, POWs were used as labour to unload the parcels from railway trucks onto camp wagons, and to unload the wagons again at the camp. Parcels containing contraband would carry some prearranged distinguishing mark, and the attention of the guards could usually be distracted for the brief moment necessary to sidetrack a marked parcel. A number of items useful for the camp's undercover activities were obtained by means of the parcels route.

Secret camera at Stalag Luft I used for forgery purposes

In my own area of work, contraband material acquired by marked parcel included this Kodak camera, it came complete with a supply of film and photographic processing chemicals.



European Money European money

In addition to forged papers, money for European countries was an important item for intending escapers and, in that context; there was an amusing aspect to an incident at Stalag Luft VI. A marked parcel had slipped through their system without being spirited out in the intended manner and, according to regulations, was being opened by German security staff in front of the designated recipient. The parcel contained a box full of European money! The examiner stared in amazement; recovering, he rushed to the door of an office shouting to the security officer 'Come and see what I've found'. His back was only turned for a matter of seconds, but that was sufficient for several POWs waiting for their parcels to grab a handful of money and to stuff it into their pockets. The examiner could see that some of the money had vanished, but said nothing; he probably feared that he would be on a disciplinary charge for having left the money unattended.


Home made compassAnother item sometimes useful was a compass. Being more enthusiastic at the time rather than knowledgeable about the feasibility of escaping, I had made my first compass in the early days at Stalag VIIIB by magnetizing a razor blade. At that time we had virtually nothing apart from the clothes that we wore. Occasionally though, we received a Red Cross parcel and amongst the 'goodies' was a tin of cigarettes. The top of the cigarette tin was sealed with a metal foil and, using a pair of nail scissors, the foil  was cut into a long spiral, producing a sort of wire. That 'wire' was insulated with paper and wrapped around the razor blade in a coil. With an improvised fuse, the arrangement was connected across the electricity supply in a lamp holder, there was a flash and a bang and the main electric cutout for the hut was tripped, my fuse had been ineffective! Nevertheless, and somewhat to my surprise, the razor blade had been magnetized, and when suitably pivoted made a useable compass.


Returning to the topic of escaping, the most obvious problem was to find a way to get out of the camp.

Between the fences at Stalag Luft I

This photograph shows the outer fence at Stalag Luft I. In addition to this
double fence, several yards further in there was a warning wire, to step over that invited a shot from one of the sentries in the guard towers. Nevertheless, a number of prisoners did 'have a go' at the wire. Such operations usually took place at night, but it was a 'dicey business' at any time, several POWs were shot, or shot at, during such attempts.


Sentry or Guard Tower at Stalag Luft I
One of the guard towers or 'Goon boxes' as they were known by POWs. Note the power and telephone lines, an aspect which recalls one of the most
audacious individual escape attempts of the war. A POW at Sagan who spoke fluent German disguised himself as a German camp electrician, the ruse included making a dummy electricians test meter. Borrowing a ladder and a plank from the camp theatre, the bogus electrician walked up to one of the guard towers and explained to the sentry that there was a fault on the wires and that he had to test them.

Placing the ladder against the inner fence, the POW climbed up and with the plank bridged the gap between the inner and outer fences.  He then pretended to check the wiring. At the far side of the fence he dropped his meter; swearing profusely in German, he climbed down the outside of the wire, retrieved the meter and, after examining it, explained to the guard that it was damaged and would have to be replaced. He then walked off through the German part of the camp.

Even the exceptional nerve and initiative of this escaper was finally unavailin
g, he was recaptured at Stettin, a port on the Baltic, after five days on the run. However, the man was an inveterate escaper; he managed to get out of prison camps on several occasions. On what turned out to be his last escapade, which makes a truly remarkable story in itself, he finally disappeared without a trace.

Having a go at the wire was probably the most dangerous way of trying to
 escape, it took particularly intrepid individuals to take the chance. There were other, inherently safer options. One reasonably safe way of getting out of a prisoner-of-war camp was just to walk out, through the gates!  


With a forged gate pass and suitable clothing, persons fluent in German could pose as a German civilian workman, or even a German guard! Such ruses were tried on several occasions.

dummy rifle made at Stalag Luft IIIThis photograph shows parts of a dummy rifle used by a bogus guard at Stalag Luft III in one of the most daring incidents of that type. By using a forgery of a gate pass, the bogus guard successfully marched a whole squad of prisoners out through both the compound and the main gates of the ­camp. After marching some distance from the camp, the escapers dispersed into the surrounding countryside. As happened all too often, they were all eventually recaptured. Although we didn't achieve anything so spectacular at Stalag Luft I, that tale from Sagan helps to set the scene for some stories about our own efforts at forging gate passes.

Gate pass from Stalag Luft I
Genuine Daily Gate Pass

This is a genuine daily gate pass that was used at Stalag Luft I. To increase the security of this gate pass, the abwehr changed the colour of the pass from da
y to day in a random fashion.


forged daily gate pass at Stalag Luft IForged Daily Gate Pass

This is a forgery of the daily gate pass, it was copied from a genuine pass bribed out of one of the camp guards. Although I drew several of these dail
y gate passes, this particular copy was drawn by an American prisoner­-of-war. During the last year or so of the war American airmen increasingly made up the majority of the POWs at Stalag Luft I, and we naturally shared our experience in escape and forgery work with them.

 German guards and officers at Stalag Luft i

Camp Guards

group of German guards with their officers at Stalag Luft I.    According to the feedback of information that we were able to obtain from some of the more amenable guards, our forgeries were so good in general that the gate guards, when they were questioned by their security officer, were unable to tell the difference between a genuine gate pass and one of our forgeries that had fallen into the hands of the abwehr.


pattern on back of gate pass
Back of Daily Gate Pass

Shortly after one of our forgeries had fallen into the hands of the German security staff, this intricate pattern was printed on the back of the pass to make forgery more difficult, if not almost impossible


monthly gate pass at Stalag Luft IMonthly Gate Pass

The problem with a daily gate pass was that, once it was dated, it was of no further use if a planned escape attempt had to be postponed for any reason to another day.  However, the escape organisation achieved a major success in acquiring an example of the genuine monthly gate pass shown here. This was the most useful gate pass because it was valid for a whole month. Being so important, it was also correspondingly difficult item to obtain but, eventually, sufficient pressure was applied to one of the camp guards to persuade him to loan us his pass.

The guard slipped the pass through a window of the hut at night when he was on compound patrol duty. The only method of making a record of a pass at the time was by hand tracing, and that took several hours. We only just managed to return the pass to the guard before his patrol duty ended. The poor chap must have been on tenterhooks during the intervening period in case we double-crossed him by keeping his pass. Using the tracing as a guide, a forgery was produced by hand drawing. To my disappointment after so much hard work, that forgery fell into the hands of the abwehr at some stage during the subsequent escape attempt. And it soon became apparent, through our usual feed-back channels, that I had made an unforeseen blunder in producing the forgery.

My forgery would have been geometrically identical to the original pass from which it had been traced, but no two original passes would be identical, with regard to the positions of such individual additions as date stamps and the signature. The abwehr, just by recalling all passes issued to the guards and comparing the positions of stamps and the signature with those on the forgery, were able to match the forgery back to the original pass from which it had been traced. The unfortunate guard who had been persuaded to loan us his pass eventually received a considerable prison sentence. Subsequently, we made sure that the positions of stamps and the signature on a forgery were different from their position on the original document.

Back of monthly gate passBack of Monthly Gate Pass

The abwehr, probably surprised that we could even obtain, let alone forge such a difficult and strategically useful item, responded in their usual way by having an intricate design printed on the back of the pass. I never attempted to draw this design by hand, looking at it, you can probably appreciate why.



hiding place in book

Having produced a forgery, it needed to be securely hidden until the time of use. This photograph shows one method of hiding documents. It is a book opened near its centre, the page binding cut through and the laminations of a cover board largely slit apart. For illustration, the cover laminations here are being forcibly held apart. A forgery could be inserted in this gap between the boards of the cover, the edges of the cover resealed and finally the back edge of the pages glued together.


gate pass pink


A continual problem with forging lay in finding paper to make a reasonable match to the genuine document. With this forgery of another type of gate pass, it was impossible to find red paper of a shade near enough to the genuine article. Because of that problem, I eventually had to draw the pass on white paper and then colour it by spraying with water-colour paint using an improvised sprayer.


perforated gate passEnlarged View of Perforations on Gate Pass

The perforations for the counterfoil at the bottom of the pass were knocked out one at a time. To meet the requirements of an escape attempt that might be arranged at short notice, we tried to keep a stock of the most useful forgeries. With stock documents, such as this gate pass, Serial numbers were left off the forgery to start with: we could then insert a serial number near to those current at the time the pass might eventually be used.


Despite the technical progress made in forging gate passes, and although escaping from the camp through the gate was tried on several occasions, it was, after all, a rather limited option. To have a reasonable chance of getting through the gates, in addition to a forgery of the relevant gate pass, it required someone with considerable fluency in German. Most would­be escapers needed a more widely available option, for instance - a tunnel.


Tunnels always seemed to offer the best prospects for getting out of a prisoner-of-war camp, particularly for the escape of a large number of people. During the course of the war at Stalag Luft alone, what now appears to be the surprising figure of about a hundred tunnels were dug or, more usually, partly dug before being discovered by the abwehr.

tunnel digging cartoon

Apart from not requiring fluency in German, tunnels also promised a reasonably safe means of exit from the camp. A successful tunnel was what
most people who wanted 'to have a go' at an escape were waiting for. This cartoon depicts what you might call 'Lines of communication', to warn of approaching Germans when a tunnel was being dug.



Work on tunnel "Harry" at Stalag Luft IIIWork on Tunnel 'Harry'

Work at the face of the most famous tunnel of the war, the 'Great Escape' tunnel 'Harry' at Sagan. This sketch is by F/L Kenyon, DFC, one of those who succeeded in getting out of the camp during the 'Great Escape'.

Perhaps one of the most inconceivable types of tunnel used the technique known as 'Moling'. It is now difficult to believe that this bizarre method was feasible at all, let alone actually tried on several occasions. Definitely not for claustrophobics, the operation' started by digging a hole from a vantage point as near to the outer fence as it was possible to get.  The would be escaper was then actually sealed into the beginning of a tunnel - and this is the almost unbelievable aspect, with only holes made by something like a broom handle pushed up through the surface of the ground to obtain air. The procedure then, was for the tunneller to dig forward, moving the soil behind him all the time and, as necessary, pushing the broom handle up through the surface to obtain air. The soil was light and sandy at both Sagan and Barth, otherwise the procedure must surely have been quite impossible.


fences at Stalag Luft I

To combat tunnelling activities, the abwehr deployed microphonic detectors. Those detectors were buried about four feet deep and spaced about twenty yards apart around the outer fence. They were even placed around the exercise compound shown in this photograph. The detectors proved to be a major problem at Stalag Luft I, mainly because the water table was so near to the surface that it was impossible to dig deep enough to get out of their range. By contrast, the tunnels for the 'Great Escape' at Sagan had gone down 28 feet. However, one rather remarkable coup was pulled off at Stalag Luft I with regard to the tunnel detectors. From right under the noses of the camp guards, POWs were able to dig up one of the detectors. We were then able to examine it at leisure. That quite tricky operation was able to take place due to the following circumstance.


tunnel detectors

As the war progressed, the Germans needed to enlarge POW camps. That was usually achieved by adding three sides of a new compound directly onto the previous perimeter. In one such instance, the original detectors, which as a result of the procedure were then inside the new compound, were not immediately removed by the abwehr. The escape organisation promptly made plans to try to retrieve a detector to see if there might be any way of combating them. The detectors were inside a new compound for American prisoners and, with their co-operation, a mock auction was held to attract a large number of people to screen the operation from the guards in the overlooking watch towers. A few POWs went feverishly to work and dug up one of the tunnel detectors and, as the exceptional crowd was bound to arouse some suspicion, hurriedly smuggled it away, just before a guard arrived on the scene.  

tunnel detectorTunnel Detector

This drawing of the tunnel detector was made at the time to provide a technical record, as we expected intensive searches by the abwehr to recover their hijacked property. We might also assume that someone in the abwehr department had his wrist slapped over that surprising oversight of not removing the detectors prior to letting prisoners into the compound.


entrance to tunnel Harry at Stalag Luft IIIEntrance Shaft to 'Harry'

When tunnels were being dug, the escape organisation sometimes made a levy on bed boards to shore-up the roof of the tunnel. This photograph, taken by the Germans, shows the entrance shaft for the 'Great Escape' tunnel Harry at Stalag Luft III, in this instance, completely lined with bed boards.


cartoon ups and downs

When tunnels using bed boards were discovered, the camp administration would sometimes retaliate, by making their own levy, to bring the prisoners' bed boards down to what they thought would be a very uncomfortable minimum. Most people eventually became extremely low on bed boards and the escape committee was not always looked upon too kindly.

Leaving tunnels for the time being, there were other ways of trying to get out of a POW camp of course. Hiding amongst the piles of rubbish in refuse carts was one useful, if smelly idea; that is, until the Guards routinely prodded the contents of the carts with bayonets as they went out through the gates of the camp. Not surprisingly, that method lost its attraction. Once outside the wire, by whatever means, it was essential that an escaper's papers were appropriate to the disguise and nationality adopted, and the escape organisation took every opportunity to acquire genuine documents that could be copied for use in future escape attempts. A forgery of one such document, a Polish identity card, is shown in the next illustration.

Polish identity cardPolish Identity Card

Although other European nationals brought into the camp were always escorted by a German guard, it was sometimes possible for a POW who spoke the necessary language to make contact with the person being escorted. Contact was made by entertaining or bribing the guard sufficiently to temper his enthusiasm for duty. 'Entertainment' could be just an invitation for the guard to come into a hut and partake of a mug of real coffee, from Red Cross food parcels, and virtually unobtainable in wartime Germany. Meanwhile, the guards charge was being contacted by a POW. There were quite a number of Polish nationals in the RAF, several eventually becoming POWs: enabling us to make contact in this instance. This forgery was copied from a genuine Polish pass obtained by methods similar to those described.



inside polish passInside of the Polish Pass

The inside of the Polish identity card, directly hand drawn except for the stamp, which was added by our duplicating process.


inside polish passEnlarged view of stamp on the pass

The duplicated stamp. We had acquired a simple duplicator quite early on but, being bulky, it was difficult to hide and was found by the abwehr during one of their searches. In that type of duplicator a special ink was used to draw the image to be duplicated. Fortunately, the special inks vital to the process were not found by the abwehr during their search and, after some experiment, the rather unlikely substance of ordinary table jelly was used as the ink transfer medium in an improvised duplicator. The jelly was set to a stiff consistency in a shallow tray, and came from special Red Cross food parcels intended for use in the camp's sick bay.

duplicating documents

Jelly duplicatin
g was also of service in imitating duplicated or even typewritten documents. To forge such documents, the typewriter characters were imitated with a pen. Ten or even twenty copies could be taken, partly dependent upon how well the jelly surface stood up to the wear involved. These two documents are travel permits, they are not very good examples of that type of work, but are the only copies that have survived.  



Snap searches of the barrack huts by the abwehr were a regular feature of POW life. Until we gathered experience, several items of contraband were lost during such searches, including some of my forgeries that I had hidden in tins buried underneath the huts. It became a continual game of 'cat and mouse' between the abwehr and the undercover organisations. Members of the abwehr staff, known by the POWs as Ferrets, were also continually on the prowl, looking for any signs of tunnel digging or other illegal activities. What the abwehr was really after in the artistic line of course, was evidence of forging.


duplicated stampsDuplicated Stamps

The duplicating process had finally given us an authentic looking rendition of rubber stamps, and it proved to be quite a step forward in the forgery business. The stamp was drawn on paper, using the duplicating ink, then added to a forgery by jelly transfer. These two stamps were on the back of a pass that became one of our stock items.


Pass for a French POW Pass for a French POW

This illustration shows the front of that forgery, and it is the last of our hand-drawn forgeries to be described. As a number of POWs could speak some French, this was one of the more-useful items. The forgery was copied from a pass borrowed from a French soldier who had been taken as a prisoner-of-war and then forced to work in Germany. The Frenchman had been escorted into the camp by a guard and, in the usual way, a prisoner fluent in French was able to make contact and persuaded the Frenchman to loan us his pass.



close up of Pass for a French POW Enlarged View of Above Pass

Much of the lettering on this pass was very small, and trying to copy it in the time available was made more difficult by having to break off work several times during the day when our lookouts deemed that a German was getting too close to the scene of operations. Fortunately, a reasonable copy was produced by the time the original pass had to be returned to its owner.



Secret camera at Stalag Luft I used for forgery purposes

Acquiring this camera by means of the personal parcels route, as described earlier, was of considerable help in the forgery business. Not only did it enable a record of an original document to be made in a relatively short time, it was an essential for producing acceptable identity photographs for inclusion in forgeries of identity cards.

Camera set up
To use the camera to full advantage, various pieces of ancillary equipment were constructed. This photograph shows the camera when adapted to copy documents. The arrangement included an extension bellows made from brown paper; we could then photograph an original document at any size we wished up to full size. To vary the reproduction size, the camera was moved along wooden rails. There was also a sliding copyboard to facilitate positioning of the original document; and for illumination, a lamp in a reflector made from a dried-milk tin. Using this relatively elaborate set-up, with the ever-present possibility of the abwehr rushing in was, to say the least, rather an anxious business.


back of monthly gate passBack of Monthly Gate Pass

To indicate how useful the camera arrangement just described could be, this illustration shows a print made from a negative that I produced at Stalag Luft I in 1944, when the escape committee obtained another example of the monthly gate pass.

Previously, the only method of making a record of this pattern would have been to try to copy it by hand tracing.


Forged pass by photographyForged Pass by Photography

In one instance the camera was used to produce a fake pass, saving many hours of drawing with a brush. That ausweis, shown here, is also an example of a document that was just invented to suit a particular escape attempt.

The wording was devised by a POW fluent in German. To make up the pass, the individual words were cut from a German magazine and pasted-up to give the required format. The paste-up was then photographed with the camera arrangement just described. The authorising stamps were added to the final photographic print by jelly transfer.



Camera set up
Camera Set-up

This photographic set-up was made so that it could be easily dismantled. Many of the individual pieces then gave no indication of their ultimate purpose and could be left in view with little danger of being confiscated. That situation was aided by the fact that many POWs made weird and wonderful gadgets from any odd pieces of wood or metal that they could find. 

Camera in it's hiding place

Camera in brick

Across the middle of the barrack hut there was a brick fire-wall, a brick was removed from the fire wall in the loft area where it was quite dark and a wooden box was constructed to the same size as the brick; that box was just large enough to take the folded camera. The box was fitted back into the fire wall and a slice of brick was fixed to each end of the box to match the rest of the wall. One of the slices of brick was removable, being fixed with-counter-sunk screws. The top of the screw holes were then filled with a paste, made of chewed, German 'black' bread, that made a reasonably­ good match to the texture of the brickwork, and it could easily be removed and replaced whenever the camera was to be used. That hiding place was almost impossible for the abwehr to discover. Nevertheless, had we been caught in a snap search raid while the camera set-up was actually in use, we would probably have been in considerable trouble. As it was, the camera served us well until the end of the war.


Leaving photographic work, we come to our last major area of undercover activity. The subject of the next illustration, apart from providing a lead-in to the story, has quite a dramatic relevance a little later on.

June 7, 1944 German newspaperThe 7th of June 1944 and one of the few occasions when a German newspaper was eagerly received by POWs. The Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung announcing the Allied invasion of Europe. Actually, we sometimes knew more about what was going on than the German public, and that remark heralds a return to the 'Z' section, and the story of the Stalag Luft I radio.


The radio was constructed by one of my room-mates, W/O Leslie Hurrell. Although the major components would have been acquired in the usual way by bribing or blackmailing guards, building a working radio under the conditions that appertained in a POW camp would have required considerable improvisation and ingenuity. Finding our radio ultimately became one of the prime objectives of abwehr searches. As the radio was relatively bulky, hiding it securely whilst still being able to use it easily, had presented some major problems. The eventual solution is described with reference to the following few photographs.


two valve radioThe Radio

This illustration shows a board pried from the inner wall of the hut with the radio fixed to the back of the board. As can be seen from the photograph the radio was a two valve job.



Actual photo of secret radio hiding place

The wallboard with the radio on the back has been put in place, pictures and maps from German newspapers have been pasted over the joins of the wallboards, my bunk-bed has been pushed back into position against the wall and a book-shelf fixed over the critical position. To make contact with the radio, wires were pushed through holes in the wall boards. Those holes were positioned as inconspicuously as possible and normally filled with plugs made to match the rest of the wall. This photograph shows the radio ready to be used. The batteries to operate the radio are on top of the books on the bookshelf, the earphones are resting on the blanket of my bunk-bed.


secret radio revealedTo tune-in the radio stations it was necessary to adjust the two variable capacitors in the radio by means of screwdrivers also pushed through holes in the wallboard. Unavoidably, those holes were in a more-exposed position and, to camouflage them, the holes were bored through one of the newspaper maps that had been suitably positioned on the wall.



screwdrivers used to tune radioPlugs for those holes were then disguised to look like the towns that were genuinely part of the map. Those plugs could be removed with a pin when the radio was to be used. For security, we chose a map of a remote geographical area.  On the left of this map of Burma, screwdrivers can be seen inserted through our two fictitious town. Even the most observant guards were unlikely to have noticed anything strange about our alteration to the topography of such a remote and little-known area.


 Drawing of secret radio hiding place

The location of the hidden radio in relation to the bunk bed. Although the system worked well, we didn't get away with it quite that easily. The abwehr knew or suspected that we had a radio, and on the night of the 6th June 1944 our luck finally ran out.

The 6th of June was the day of the Allied invasion of Europe, and the abwehr had no doubt assumed, correctly of course, that the prisoners-of-­war would be avid for news of that long-awaited operation and must have thought that it would be an ideal time to pounce and perhaps catch the radio operators in action. And indeed, while the BBC midnight news, 1 am our time, was being taken down from the radio, we were caught in a snap search raid! Obviously timed to coincide with the most likely BBC news broadcast, the abwehr mounted their largest night-time raid.

Choosing the critical moment, twenty or so abwehr men rushed into the hut, several of them entering each room almost simultaneously. Although we had the usual duty lookout, there was only a few seconds warning. Frantically, the wires were removed and plugs reinserted in the wall. But there was no time to put the batteries and earphones into their normal secure hiding places, they were just pushed under a bed, Virtually as the guards burst into the room. As it was my bed, it was my turn to be on tenterhooks. In fact, I found the strain so great as the abwehr started their search that I walked out into the corridor, waiting for the shout of triumph as the seemingly inevitable discovery was made.

To my surprise, and utter relief, nothing happened! Apparently, my bed was the only one in the room that the guards had not looked under! I can only assume that, in the general confusion, each of the guards must have thought that one of his partners had checked that particular bed. After that almost unbelievable escape from disaster, the radio survived safely until the end of the war, undetected in many future searches.

 Lou Trouve

Under more-normal conditions, the BBC midnight news was taken down on most
nights by Lieutenant Lou Trouve, a POW from the American Army Airforce who was proficient in shorthand, The notes were transcribed the next morning and then read out in each hut. The written transcript was then destroyed. This photograph of Lou Trouve was taken in 1946 after he had returned to his profession as a journalist in New York.


Lou Trouve


American POWs inside barracks at Stalag Luft I

Lou Trouve also played a part in another aspect of the undercover radio work at Stalag Luft I. The radio program 'The Voice of America' often included coded messages for American prisoners-of-war, some of whom are seen here at Stalag Luft I. Again, those programs had to be monitored in the middle of the night and taken down verbatim in shorthand. The shorthand notes were transcribed the next day to see if there were any messages relevant to Stalag Luft I.

As the radio was hidden in the wall at the foot of my bunk-bed, receiving the 'The Voice of America' program at 2 am in the morning in addition to the BBC news at 1 am, meant that I lost quite a lot of sleep during the last year or so of the war.


To bring the radio story to a close, during the latter part of the war, and again thanks to the personal parcels route for contraband, an American combined radio transmitter and receiver was safely obtained at Stalag Luft I.  To smuggle an item of that size and weight through the German security was quite a feat.  Although the radio was not necessary for our already established news service, it did give the American contingent the opportunity to set up a radio new service of their own.  The transceiver also offered a possible emergency link to the relieving forces in the very uncertain and probably dangerous weeks expected at the end of the war.

 The radio operations are the last of the undercover activities to be described in this record of secret work at Stalag Luft I, and to round-off the overall picture, part 3 continues the narrative with a few aspects of the camp's eventual liberation, ending with an epilogue of half a century later.

Go to Part 3



This site created and maintained by Mary Smith and Barbara Freer, daughters of Dick Williams, Jr.