So much for the numbers! Now back to where I left off with Wednesday's blog, and the distribution of sand pulled out of the tunnels.
The camp officials felt that if this kept the prisoners busy, they would not be thinking of escapes and tunnels. So materials and tools were supplied for the venture.
The Red Cross and others soon got requests for and complied with the supply of all the needs of the orchestra, especially that of the instruments themselves. There would be marching bands and posters displaying the next attraction, coming play or musical including those of Bach, Bethoven and Mozart The POW's could come to be entertained...or on the other hand, use their own talents to do the actual entertaining. One internet story tells that in one of the plays one of the German Guards actually played a part... and in full German uniform. The POW's put on many plays including The Man Who Came to Dinner, Little Women and Arsenic and Old Lace..
Soon word got out that the entertaining was so good that you needed tickets to get in. Tickets that even the Guards wanted to get. And get they got... with a price... of a favor to a POW. Like the supply of some sort of innocent item that could be converted for escape purposes. An example was a camera and film. The POW'S argued that they needed to preserve these memories. The guards loaned a camera...that was ultimately secreted off at different times for the purposes of taking photos of POW's for forged documents to be used in future escape attempts.
The above sketch and photo are obviously of the theater and perhaps a shot off POW's rehearsing a play. Look closely at the back of the rows of seats and see the red cross image on them. The seats were made from wooden Red Cross packages. They were so well made that the backs actually flipped up and they even had arm rests.
These are actual photos of some of the scenes in plays being acted out. Since women were not allowed in the camp... every one of the women depicted is a male POW. One talented actor would later comment that he felt he was "forever in wigs and fallsies."
The prisoners did not have the theatre built. They built it. They designed it and put down the foundation and the walls and roof and the interior. Oh! I almost forgot. When they built the exterior walls, they mysteriously ensured that they did not stop a few feet above the ground like all the other buildings in the compound. They went right down to the ground.
I wonder why?
Perhaps it had something to do with seat # 13. Which, unlike the others, was not fastened down... but on hinges that would flip up and allow access to a trap door and entry beneath the floor. Winter was a coming and the POW's knew that tunnelling would be continuing but disbursement of sand on snow covered ground would not be possible.... unless it was UNDER a building. Not only was this new space used to hold tonnes of sand from the tunnels, an area under the building also became the entrance to yet a fourth tunnel called GEORGE.
In all of these activities, many men with talents were brought into the overall scheme of the Organization X. That of getting hundreds of POW's out of the compound and back into the war. Men like Flt. Lt 's Arthur Creighton, George Harsh, Gordon Kidder, Tony Pengelly, Alfred Thompson, James Wernham, George Wiley and dozens of others. Each helped in his own way, be it the disbursement of sand here and elsewhere or in acting in the plays, managing, directing and producing them, working the lighting and props, arranging and conducting the orchestra and a dozen other jobs connected with this building. A building designed to entertain, amuse, get minds off the war for some, and secretly aid in escape activity as well as distract the GOONS (German Officers and Officers Non-commissioned) from paying closer attention to what was really going on all around them. And if you will pardon the pun... right under their feet. Many of these men also played important roles in other areas of the Organization X work.
Have a long look at these three images. At the bottom right there is a fellow standing way of to the right of the spectators watching the boxing match. Why is he not with the rest? The image above shows five men standing at the garden while others worked. All are looking down... EXCEPT the fellow on the left. He may be dispersing sand. What is he watching? Why is another fellow standing against the building and it appears as though he also is NOT looking down at the gardeners. What is he looking at... or for? Why are most windows up except one? The large image on the left also shows something curious if you study the picture. At the corner of each of the 3 barrack blocks there as at least one if not more POW's. What are they doing?
While the photographer has not left any comments on the issues raised, what you are looking at could well be part of the massive security network that the POW's operated within the compound.
This network involved more than 200 Kriegies. That's a POW in the language of the POW's. In German a POW is called a Kriegiesgefangenen. And thus the term Kriegies. These men acted as stoolies or massive information gatherers for the Organization X. Men would be constantly watching the guards in the towers and on the ground and patrol and by a series of creative means would constantly pass along the movements of all of these men...including any that visited the camp... and for every minute of the day and night.
The above men pointed out could well be part of this team of stoolies. By the raising or lowering of a window, or the placing a book in a window, this would tell someone that a guard is approaching, That someone would pass the message on to another strategically placed, and he to another and another and another until the message finally arrived at the face of each tunnel and the word would then be sent underground to stop all activity till the danger passed. In Harry the signal to shut down was rather crude. It simply involved a string attached to a can with a few pebbles in it. Pull the string and you get a noise that sends the men into immediate ceasing of all underground activity, till the all clear was later sent.
Men would have a book in the window that could be taken away, or be playing chess and a simply move on the board would be a signal, or even the turning of a page of a stoolie's book as he read at his 'station" near the front gate. These were all signals used at Stalag Luft 111. The system was so reliable that it had been said by many that their accountability of all German movement at any time of the day was superior to the German's own accounting of where their men where.
Pilot Officer's Gordon King and George Sweanor, Bomber Pilot Kingsley Brown and Flight Lt.'s George Harsh and George McGill all played supervisory roles in this network of informers. As did perhaps another 200 men.
Much more to come next week.