Under the auspices of the most senior British Officer at the camp, an organization called Organization X had as many POW's... and more. And all these men were working on numerous other activities in the aid of planned escapes.
One of the arms of this organization consisted of what was fondly called the scroungers, those that could use their creativity to get anything that could aid in their goals to get back into the war. These men were always on the lookout for anything that could be used to get out, perhaps in a way unintended, for the greater cause.
One of the sources of these "tools" would be the very Red Cross packages that arrived for each POW held in the camp. These would contain the basics for daily living, but not escape. Unless you looked at the parcel with the later in mind. To begin, with rationing, some of the contents of each could be removed and pooled for special events like an Xmas party, Easter etc. Some goods could be put aside to build up a supply that would carry over a new arrival until such time as his own parcels started to arrive. Some goods could be stashed as emergency supplies to carry if you were lucky enough to escape. When POW's are caught doing bad things, sometimes the Red Cross rations were only dispersed by the guards as half rations. Anything earlier stored by the POW committees could then be relied on till full rations were again being distributed.
Coffee and chocolates were a favourite for the POW's. And so too for the German guards who rarely had this luxury. Having the brew on while the guard was wandering through the hut was a way to eventually invite him in for a drink or piece of chocolate.
This might sound strange, but in this camp, things were not like most POW camps. It was just for officers, and air force ones at that.. And it was run by older, or wounded German air force officers who tended to treat their enemy officers almost like brothers.. not nearly as nasty as what would be found in other camps. Thus, an easier task to invite the enemy in for a drink or candy. Better yet, by befriending the guard, it would only be a matter of time before you could offer a whole chocolate bar or can of coffee for him to take home to the family when he got a leave.
Having cultivated the guard with these little gifts, it would simply be a matter of time before the POW would ask for something seemingly innocent, in return. Some pens and paper to write home... that could be used in forgery efforts. Some buttons, thread and needle to help repair his torn uniform that could be used to tailor uniforms for an escape. All things that could be put to creative use by the POW. A few hours on the net and you would be surprised with what can be discovered about the amount of goodies the men obtained through this form of scrounging.
And should the guard be reluctant, perhaps a suggestion that the bosses would be most upset to hear of the bartering going on and would be very harsh on the guard... perhaps enough to send him back to the front lines.
The Red Cross boxes were tools in themselves. They were made of wood that, as previously noted, were used to build the seats in the theatre. They were also used to haul out sand from the tunnels and even in some cases for the storage of the sand itself, throughout the camp.
Perhaps some of the most useful "tools" were the very cans in these boxes. With the tops chopped off, they could be used as cooking and eating utensils, holders for make-shift candles in the tunnels so the men could see what they were doing and of course digging instruments. Since each can was soldered together, a little heat application got you some solder to be used later to fasten many cans together after being cut and shaped. Things like weapons, tools, and believe it or not, furniture and even brief cases as you shall soon see.
The Borden Company was around for a long time. Back in Civil War days it supplied milk to the troops. Here is an image of MILK spelt backwards... that came in the Red Cross packages. The cute note under the key to open the cans tells the holder that the key must be saved, as DEMANDED, by the government for the use of making war weapons. There seemed to be no requirement to save the tin cans though. Just as well because the POW's had their own need for these cans as you shall soon see.
The image in the right appears to be some of the Organization X Red Cross committee members sitting around a table and going through the Red Cross parcels to pull out stuff they want to store for future use.
Here it looks like a POW is standing in the beginning of a hole and dumping sand out of a tin.
An earlier blog noted that three tunnels were being dug by the Organization X and that they totalled several hundred feet in length. As the men got further and further along, the air became so stale that another plan had to be developed. Part of this plan called for the creation of a ventilating system to be built underground that would not only force air into the tunnel but give it an ever expanding venting system that would continue to grow with the tunnel as it got longer an longer. And that's where the KLIM cans came into play. With tops and bottoms removed, they were pressed together to form a very long tube into which the air could be forced through.
The centre image shows some of these being put together. The right image shows the tube installed in one of the tunnels... probably HARRY.
One of the guards had been very suspicious of POW activity and finally the day came when he saw one of the men in the act of dumping sand on the ground. Guards moved in and started poking all over the place with long medal rods hoping to find the tunnel. Without success they turned their attention to the inside of all the huts. In one of these, the guard accidently dropped his rod, it hit the corner of a concrete slab, and upon further investigation they found that it was the trap door into the tunnel called TOM.
Ultimately lots of POW's went to the cooler and the Germans blew up the tunnel... taking with it part of the roof of the building it started in. But before doing so the Germans were so impressed with the POW ingenuity at work that the higher commands sent teams out to inspect what was being done at Stalag lll. The above pictures have one of the guards working the ventilator... or bellows... created by the POW's. It was simply two kit bags sewn together and designed in such a way that it moved backward and forward and with each stroke, man made of course, the kit bags would suck air into the bag... and also push air out of the other end...and inside all those tin cans to the face of the tunnel where the digging was going on.
Some of the POW's from the "manufacturing" section of the Organization used their talents to make maps to be used when escaping. They even made their own mimeograph machine of sorts.
Remember the days of school children who would turn a picture face down and lay it across a bowl of jelly and rub it lightly. Some of the ink would then sink into the jelly, and in so doing would replicate the image from the page above.
Remove the page and then place a clear sheet of paper down and give this a light rub and some of the ink will now come off, and onto your clear page... and thus... you now have a map. The POW's discovered they could make 20 or 30 maps from one original. And Organization X made OVER A THOUSAND during their days at Stalag Luft lll
But what good is a map without a compass. So they made them too!
Canada's Prime Minister one year at Xmas sent Canadian POW's at Luft lll some 78 RPM gramophone records. I guess the songs were not all that great and so many of these were melted down and some of the goop produced was pushed into a mold and allowed to harden. This became the case for the compass. They would then take some razor blades and rub them about 50 times in the same direction over a horseshoe which would magnetize them. They would then slice up the razors to get a compass arm. Mount it on a thin piece of paper or cardboard, and perch it on top of an old record needle. The face was mounted over it using glass from bombed out windows. The end product was a perfectly functioning compass.
Both of the above compasses were made at Stalag Luft lll, the first for the story in these blogs. The one of the right was from another escape at the camp earlier. More on this 2nd compass in a future blog.
Many dozens of men played important, and some, less important roles in the above events. Without men like Flight Officer Johnny Colwell, Pilot Officer Barry Davidson, Lieutenant Officer Alfred Ogilvie and Sergeant Red Noble, much of the above would not have been possible.
On another note, today is my 250th blog. Please take some time to send me some comments on these efforts over the past 15 months.
With Friday and Monday Easter celebrations, the next blog will be a week from today.
Cheers till then.