"The Wire Job"

One of the most ingenious escape attempts of the Second World War.

On Tuesday, 29th September, 2015, David Trowbridge, a former member, returned as our speaker and his subject was “The Wire Job” which intrigued us all.   David went on to explain that The Wire Job was one of the most ingenious escape attempts of the Second World War resulting in 32 British and Commonwealth offices climbing the seemingly impenetrable wire that surrounded Oflag V1-B near Warburg in eastern North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.    The idea for an escape over the wire came from 37 year old Major Tom Stallard, captured at Dunkirk, who had already escaped once from the camp by cutting through the wires but he was recaptured after ten days on the run.   He was then planning for a mass escape but the problems were formidable.  Two eight foot barbed wire perimeter fences enclosed the camp placed six feet apart.   The six foot void was filled with a four foot high tangled mass of coiled barbed wire.  Every twenty five yards was a lamppost clearly illuminating the fence at night and at the top of the fence was a wire apron about a foot high facing inwards to deter scaling attempts.  At night sentries patrolled outside the perimeter fence between the guard towers.    The problem of crossing the wire was solved by a young Scottish lieutenant, Jock Hamilton-Baillie who came up with the idea of the folding ladders to scale the twin eight foot high perimeter fences six feet apart.   Captain Searle, professionally interested in all things electrical, worked out a way of fusing the camp lights and Major Arkwright worked out a way of diverting the attention of the patrolling guards for about ten minutes, long enough for the actual escape to get 40 men over the wire and racing for freedom.   The plans were approved by late May 1942 for an escape in early September when the weather was still warm and there would be plenty of fruit in the orchards and vegetables that could be foraged.   The escapees would Boy Scout to the frontiers of their choice carrying rations so avoiding the local population.   The actual escape was a great success with only 8 men of the original 40 failing to cross due to a broken ladder.   Many were captured during the next few days but three reached the Dutch border after 16 days and were soon taken under the wing of the friendly Dutch being passed onto the underground in Belgium and France until safely delivered to Gibraltar.   Sadly Tom Stallard was caught yet again a few miles from the Dutch border and ended up in Colditz where he was active in many escapes there but was to remain in captivity until liberation.     David was thanked for his talk by Rtn. Stephen Brindley.   Last year, a new Book,’ Zero Night’, about the escape by well known Essex historian Mark Feldon was published.