Friday, November 02, 2007

A wartime German Houdini

Dust cover of the 1956 book 'The one that got away' by Kendal Burt and James Leasor



Recently, whilst reading through wartime editions of the Cumbrian weekly newspaper 'The Whitehaven News' for 1941 I came across an article in the edition dated 6 November about 'Baron' Franz von Werra, the German POW and wartime 'Air Ace'. Franz von Werra was to become known as 'The one that got away'. He had made his first escape attempt from the POW camp at Grizedale Hall in the Lake District in October 1940 and a second attempt later in the year from Camp No 13 (The Hayes) near Swanwick in the English Midlands.

Only after being taken out to Canada in January 1941 did Franz von Werra make his third - and ultimately successful - escape by jumping from a moving train and crossing the border into the U.S.A. which was still a neutral country at that stage of the war. Although he made it back home to Germany, Franz von Werra was to lose life on 25 October 1941 when the plane he was flying crashed into the sea on the Eastern Front. The November article I came across in 'The Whitehaven News' was reporting the statements coming from Berlin about Franz von Werra's disappearance. The newspaper described him as 'A German Houdini'.

In 1956 Kendal Burt and James Leasor wrote a book about Franz von Werra's escape entitled 'The one that got away'. I have a copy of this book and first read it many years ago as a child. The book was subsequently made into a film with the same title.

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Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

From: 'The Whitehaven News', November 6, 1941, page 4:

"A GERMAN HOUDINI

Prisoner who was captured in Lakeland

A German prisoner, who escaped and was recaptured in the Lake District some months ago is again in the news. He is Baron Franz von Werra, the German Air Ace who, according to statements coming from Berlin has been shot down again and "taken prisoner by the British."

Baron von Werra first came into the news in the Battle of Britain last autumn, when in broadcasts in the Reich he claimed victories over British airmen. Last October he became a prisoner of war in England. Twice he escaped, but on each occasion he was recaptured, and was then sent to Canada. There he jumped out of a window of a prison train, and subsequently made his way to the United States.

He was arrested, but he released on a £1250 bond. In April this year he escaped to Peru with a faked passport, and flew to Europe in an Italian plane. Von Werra, known as the "man with no lobes to his ears" was reported three months ago to have been killed on the Russian Front".

(Thanks to 'The Whitehaven News' and the Cumbria County Archives Office, Whitehaven for assistance with this article).

Friday, 02 November, 2007  

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