An outstanding story of the aerial war and a daring escape from captivity
For the uninitiated this book’s original title, ‘My Escape from Donnington Hall,’ gave few clues as to the astonishing and unique nature of its contents. Its author was a young German, Gunther Plüschow. As an airman in German service at the outbreak of the First World War he was, unusually, serving in China flying a Rumpler-Taube aircraft from the East Asia naval station at Tsingtau that became besieged by joint Japanese and British forces. Plüschow’s attempt to fly to safety, as it became obvious the position would fall, ended in a crash in rice paddies. He set out to walk back to Germany and the many adventures that followed would alone would qualify his story as a remarkable one. However, he was eventually captured and became a prisoner of war. Stories of wartime escape abound, but those who have been incarcerated in England have always been confounded by the difficulties of quitting an island.’ In Plüschow’s case this was exacerbated since in the east he had acquired a distinctive dragon tattoo; yet Plüschow he succeeded and is the only prisoner of war to escape from Britain and make the ‘home run.’ His remarkable narrative of his wartime adventures makes absolutely essential reading and is certainly beyond compare.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
“Hallo, Tommy!” I began suddenly. “I was talking yesterday with a brother officer. I swore that Derby lies to the north of us, and he insists that it is to the south. If I win, you will get a good big jug of beer.”<br>
My friend’s eyes glistened joyously, and he assured me on his sacred oath that I had won, and that Derby most certainly lay to the north of Donington Hall.<br>
Now I knew.<br>
And then and there I resolved to make common cause with a Naval-officer, Oberleutnant Trefftz, who knew England and spoke English remarkably well.<br>
The 4th of July 1915 had been chosen for our escape. We had rehearsed it in every detail and made all our preparations.<br>
On the 4th of July, in the morning, we reported ourselves sick.<br>
At the morning roll-call, at ten o’clock, our names were entered on the sick-list, and on its completion the orderly sergeant came to our room and found us ill in bed.<br>
Everything was working well.<br>
With the afternoon came the decision.<br>
About 4 p.m. I dressed, collected all that I considered necessary for my flight, ate several substantial buttered rolls, and bade farewell to my comrades, especially to my faithful friend Siebel, who, unfortunately, I could not take with me as he was no sailor and did not speak English.<br>
A heavy storm was in progress, and rain poured in torrents from grey skies. The sentries stood wet and shivering in their sentry-boxes, and therefore nobody paid any attention when two officers decided to walk about in the park, in spite of the rain. The park contained a grotto, surrounded by shrubs, from which one could overlook its whole expanse and the barbed wire, without oneself being seen.
This is where Trefftz and I crept in. We took a hurried leave of Siebel, who covered us with garden chairs, and we were alone. From now onwards we were in the hands of Providence, and it was to be hoped that Fortune would not forsake us.<br>
We waited in breathless suspense. Minutes seemed like centuries, but slowly and surely one hour passed after another, until the turret-clock struck six in loud, clear chimes. Our hearts thumped in unison. We heard the bell ring for roll-call, the command “Attention,” and then the noisy closing of the day-boundary. We hardly dared to breathe, expecting at any moment to hear our names called out. It was 6.30 and nothing had happened. A weight slipped from our shoulders.<br>
Thank God, the first act was a success. For during roll-call our names had again been reported on the sick-list and, as soon as the officers were allowed to fall out, two of our comrades raced back as swiftly as they could through the back entrance and occupied Trefftz’s bed and mine. Therefore, when the sergeant arrived he was able to account satisfactorily for the two invalids. As everything was now in order, the night-boundary was closed, as every night, and even the sentries withdrawn from the day-boundary. Thus we were left to our own devices. The exceptionally heavy rain proved a boon to us, for the English soldiers generally indulged in all kinds of frolic in the evenings, and we might have easily been discovered.<br>
The hours followed each other. We lay in silence; sometimes we nudged each other and nodded our heads joyfully at the thought that up to now all had gone so smoothly.<br>
At 10.30 p.m. our excitement came to a head. We had to pass our second test. We clearly heard the signal “Stand to,” and from the open window of my former room “The Watch on the Rhine” rang out sonorously. It was the concerted signal that all were on the alert.<br>
The orderly officer, accompanied by a sergeant, walked through all the rooms and satisfied himself that no one was missing. By observations carried on for weeks I had made sure that the orderly officers always chose the same route in order to return to their quarters, after their rounds, by the shortest way. So it was tonight. The round began with the room from which Trefftz was missing. Of course his bed was already occupied by someone.<br>
“All right! Goodnight, gentlemen.”<br>
And so forth. As soon as the orderly officer had turned the corner, two other comrades ran in the opposite direction and into my room, so that here also all could be reported “present.”<br>
It is difficult to conceive our excitement and nervous tension whilst this was in progress. We followed all the proceedings in our minds, and when suddenly silence supervened for an unconscionably lengthy period we feared the worst. With ice-cold hands, ears on the alert for the slightest sound, we lay, hardly daring to breathe.<br>
At last, at 11 p.m., a lusty cheer broke the stillness. It was our concerted signal that all was clear!