Eric Williams, escaping, Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, Michael Codner, military museums, Museums, Oliver Philpot, Prisoners of War, RAF, RAF Escape Museum, RAF Escape Society, Royal Air Force, Second World War, The Wooden Horse, World War Two
The story of the “Wooden Horse” escape from Stalag Luft III, during the Second World War, came to my attention via the 1950 film “The Wooden Horse” starring Leo John Genn [who also appeared as Mr. Starbuck in “Moby Dick“, 1956, and in “Green is for Danger“, 1946; two of my favourites] and David Tomlinson.
The film was based on the novel, “The Wooden Horse“, by Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams, RAF, who was one of the three men to escape from Stalag Luft III, a German Prisoner of War camp, located in what was then Lower Silesia, which is now in Poland, with the help of a vaulting horse, constructed by the prisoners of war. As I understand it, Williams, Flight Lieutenant Oliver Philpot MC, DFC, RAF and Second Lieutenant Michael Codner, Royal Artillery, successfully escaped captivity via a tunnel, the entrance to which was concealed beneath the horse. The tunnellers were carried out to the exercise yard hidden within the horse. Cover was then provided by the PoWs vaulting over the horse whilst the tunneller worked beneath them; the vaulting also confused the seismographs used by the camp guards to detect any digging. When the vaulters called it a day they carried the horse back inside, along with the tunneller hidden within it and the soil excavated from the tunnel. Following their escape the three men headed for the Baltic; Williams and Codner, with the help of the Danish Resistance, managed to reach neutral Sweden, whilst Philpot headed for Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland, where he stowed away on board a Swedish merchant vessel.
The Wooden Horse forms part of the RAF Escape Society’s collection, on display at the RAF Escape Museum, in the grounds of the Aviation Heritage Centre.