Most people are aware POWs on both sides will try to escape and return to their own lines. When one is taken prisoner, all you need to give the enemy is your name, rank and serial number.  On both sides interrogators try every trick to learn more and an unfortunate slip can give the enemy a lot of information.

A prisoner will try to escape but even if he is not successful, the opposing side must divert many resources in an attempt to recapture the escapee.  One should never cooperate with the enemy unless the end result is to your advantage and not to theirs.

During WWI and WWII, when a person escaped in an enemy country, it helped if you could blend in with the local population, speak the language, and dress like the locals.  Having forged papers was an asset as well.  In an occupied country, an escapee could often rely on the local population for food and shelter, and many were soon linked up with an escape route.  Many local people were very short of food but did what they could to help.

During those times, the RCAF was not a professional force; most of its people were civilians who enlisted and many men (and women) came from a large cross section of trades and professions.  When these men were put together in a prison camp, their combined skills could produce almost anything.

Over the years, people have made good their escape.  I’ve selected a few examples to show you what they achieved.



W/C T.D. CALNAN ~ There is an old saying, “If you do not at first succeed, then try again.”  That definitely applies to W/C Calnan.  In December 1941, he was tasked to fly a photographic mission in an unarmed Spitfire V.  He was to get pictures following a bombing raid on Brest.  After the raid he went in to take pictures of the damage and his aircraft was hit by anti aircraft fire and he was forced to bail out when his aircraft caught fire.  During the parachute landing, he suffered injury to his foot having previously suffered burns in the aircraft.

W/C Calnan spent a good amount of time in a German hospital and they decided it was time to move him to a POW camp.  Twice he managed to escape from a POW camp and twice he was recaptured.  Each time he learned more about how to stay free.

With the fate of the men from Stalag Lufe III, 50 of whom were shot by the Gestapo, he decided to wait a while before attempting another escape.  With the advance of the Russians, prisoners knew the camp would soon be overrun, so on April 1st, 1945, the German guards left the camp.  The RAF took over running the camp but the Russians arrived and they took over, keeping them all confined.  Calnan and an Australian named Digby made it out of the camp and after many adventures avoiding both the Germans and the Russians, they made it to American lines.  Free at last.

If you’d like to read more, read this account by Calnan himself ~













LT. PAT O’BRIEN, RFC ~ Lt. Pat O’Brien RFC was born in Momence, Illinois, USA and started flying in 1912.  When the USA got into a war with Mexico in 1916, he joined the American Flying Corps. But soon he realized  that the chances of the USA getting into the war in Europe was remote so he resigned and came to Canada to join the RFC.  He was trained in Camp Borden (but doubt he needed much training) and after serving in Borden as an instructor, he was transferred to England.  While flying on a mission from France, he was shot down and taken prisoner.  He decided to make his escape and made his way to Belgium.  After many adventures and assistance from the local population, he made it to neutral Holland.  From there he found his way back to England.  His escape was quite unusual and upon his return to England he had an audience with King George V, who was fascinated by his story.


O’Brien has authored “Outwitting The Hun”:














F/O HARRY SMITH ~ F/O Harry Smith of the RCAF was flying Liberators with 358 Squadron out of Jassore District close to Calcutta, India.  His mission one particular day was to fly to Thailand and drop 4 American Special Operations Agents and then return.

Thailand at the time was occupied by Japanese Forces and the Thai Government on January 25, 1942 declared war on the Allies.  Thus Japan thought they were an ally but beneath the veneer of being friendly to the Japanese, the bulk of the people were, in fact, pro West.

Smith’s flight was very uneventful until they reached Thailand, where they were attacked by 9 Japanese fighters.  He made a forced landing but 3 crew were killed in the attack, along with one on landing and also one of the American agents.

The survivors gathered what they could from the downed aircraft and set off to get as far as they could from the downed aircraft.  Soon they reached a village; the people there gave them rice and they stayed the night in the Chief’s house.  The next morning the police arrived and told them a Japanese patrol was coming to the village; the police would take them to a place where the Japanese would not find them.  Once they were deep in the forest, they rested and later an aircraft with Thai markings landed on a small airstrip; out of the aircraft came the Chief of Police.

The police then led them through the jungle and Smith and Major Gildee (one of the Americans) were taken to a Thai general.  The Thais had told the Japanese 5 had died in the crash and four were detained, so Smith and Gildee had to choose which four would stay.  The general said they would be treated well.  The rest were taken to American HQ of OSS in Thailand, stayed 4 days, then all were given weapons and boarded a bus to a secret airfield.  Three small aircraft picked them up, took them to a larger airfield where a Dakota from 357 Squadron RCAF picked them up.

Three weeks had passed from being shot down and being back in India.  The crew who remained in Thai custody were released after two weeks.

In my next post, I’ll share the stories of three more courageous men.