Captured. Probably one of the most dreaded words or events that could befall a World War I soldier or pilot. After all, it meant time away from the war effort, time away from family and the ability to communicate regularly with them, time away from life in general. The waiting and wondering and the petty and overt cruelties suffered by the Allied captured men by the Germans day in and day out, took its tole on the most hardened souls.
The Grand Escape: The greatest prison breakout of the 20th Century by Neal Bascomb describes what life was like for the thousands who were kept behind enemy lines, but he focuses on a few that were kept at a place called Holzminden. This camp was where many of the Allied pilots were housed, and most of them had already tried to escape from other camps. One made it as far as what he thought was neutral Netherlands, only to realize that there was a German town with the same name, just before the border.
At Holzminden, the men were obsessed with escaping. Finally, a group of men decided they were going to try to dig a tunnel out of the camp and get to freedom by walking over 100 miles to the border with the Netherlands. A man named David Gray was the official ring leader and champion of the endeavor. However, much planning and ingenuity went into the effort. Not only did they have to dig a tunnel under the camp commander’s nose, they had to gather provisions, equipment, special clothes, money, information regarding the surrounding countryside, and many other things including speaking a language that most didn’t know to try to escape. The odds were stacked against them.
This is an amazing book about an amazing adventure and because it is a true story, it makes the results all the more astonishing.
Recommended for grades 7 and up.