WINSTON CHURCHILL ~ During the Boer War, Winston Churchill was a war correspondent; he was captured by the Boers in November of 1899. He was armed and thus considered a belligerent so was imprisoned with British officers in a converted school in Pretoria. On December 12, 1899, he vaulted over the wall and made his escape. He followed the railway, walking at night and sleeping during the day.
He made it to the Mozambique border (then a Portuguese colony) and reported to the British Consul in Lourenco Marques. He then took a boat to Durban in South Africa and joined a South African Military Unit, but did return to England several months later; he eventually ran for Parliament.
FRANZ VON WERRA ~ On September 5th, 1940, Werra’s plane was shot down over Kent. He crash-landed in a field and captured by an unarmed cook of a nearby army unit. Initially held in Maidstone’s barracks, he attempted his first escape. He had been put to work digging and was faced down by Private Denis Rickwood in a small truncheon. He was interrogated for 18 days and eventually sent to the London District Prisoner of War ‘cage’ and then to POW Camp No. 1.
On October 7th, he tried to escape once again, this time during a daytime walk outside the camp. He slipped over a wall into a field; guards alerted the local farmers and the Home Guard. On October 10th, two Home Guard soldiers found him sheltering from the rain in a hoggarth, but he quickly escaped and disappeared into the night. On the evening of October 12th, he was spotted climbing a fell. The area was quickly surrounded and Werra was found, almost totally immersed in a muddy depression in the ground. He was sentenced to 21 days of solitary confinement; on November 3rd, he was transferred to Camp No. 13. Here he joined a group who were digging an escape tunnel. Under cover of anti-aircraft fire and the singing of the camp choir, Werra and four others slipped out of the tunnel on December 20th. Though the others were recaptured quickly, Werra proceeded alone.
He had taken his flying suit and masqueraded as a Dutch Royal Netherlands Air Force pilot. He told a friendly locomotive driver that he was a downed bomber pilot trying to reach his unit, and asked to be taken to the nearest RAF base. At Codnor Park railway station, a clerk was suspicious, but eventually arranged transportation to the aerodrome at RAF Hucknall, near Nottingham. Though the police questioned him, Werra convinced them he was harmless. At Hucknall, he was asked for his credentials and while the officer went to check his story, Werra excused himself and ran to the nearest hangar, telling a mechanic that he was cleared for a test flight. The officer arrived in time to arrest Werra at gunpoint as he sat in the cockpit, trying to learn the controls. Werra was sent back to Camp No. 13.
In January of 1941, Werra was sent to Canada, along with many other German prisoners. His group was to be taken to a camp on the shore of Lake Superior, so he planned his escape to the United States, which was still neutral at the time. On the 21st, while on a prison train that had left Montreal, he jumped out of a window, again with the help of other prisoners and ended up 30 miles from the St. Lawrence River. Though seven other prisoners who had tried to escape form the same train were recaptured, Werra’s absence wasn’t noticed till the following day.
After crossing the St. Lawrence River, Werra made his way to New York and turned himself over to the police. He was charged with entering the country illegally. Werra contacted the local German consul, who paid his bail. While authorities were negotiating his extradition, the German vice-consul helped him over the border to Mexico. Werra, in stages, proceeded to Rio do Janeiro, Brazil, Barcelona, Spain, Rome, Italy. He finally arrived back in Germany on April 18th, 1941.
A CHINESE-CANADIAN IN WWII: LCOL KAM LEN DOUGLAS SAM ~ A great deal has been written about ethnic groups who took part in WWII. In Canada, little has been said about the role of Canada’s Chinese population. Many tried to enlist but were rejected. In 1940 the Cabinet War Committee made a decision not to enlist Asians for military service. One man in particular didn’t give up. This was Lieutenant Colonel Kam Len Douglas Sam, born in Victoria to parents who came from Yin Ping, near Canton.
Sam, like many young men in Canada, wanted to fly, so in 1938 he went to England to join the RAF. Once again, his ethnic background barred him from flying, although he could possibly be ground crew. Disillusioned, he returned to Canada in 1941 where he applied to the RCAF and was again rejected. However, from October 1942, the regulations changed and he was recalled to take the tests to become air crew.
Sam became a Lancaster pilot and flew 28 missions, but on June 28, 1944, he was shot down. Evading capture, he managed to contact the Resistance and, at the request of MI9, pretended to be an Indochinese student stranded by the war. He acted as a liaison between the groups of Resistance fighters to set up arms and other equipment dropped by RAF aircraft. He worked with the Resistance until October 1944; the French awarded him the Croix de Guerre with a Silver Star.
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