July, 1918. Holzminden was the most heavily guarded and escape-proof POW camp in the world. Surrounded by steel palisades and barbed wire fences, and patrolled by ferocious attack dogs and armed guards with orders to shoot to kill, it was a brutal punishment camp, housing 700 prisoners of all nations. It would take nerves of steel and boundless ingenuity to escape.
Many tried. Prisoners used sardine tin openers to pick locks, forged documents, sent messages using milk as an invisible ink and created fake uniforms and elaborate disguises – one even impersonated the notorious camp commandant. Every attempt failed, leading only to an even-tighter strengthening of the defences.
But on the night of 23rd July 1918, twenty-nine undaunted allied prisoners achieved the impossible. They had spent nine months using knives and spoons to move tonnes of earth, clay and stone, and dig a tunnel over 150ft long, through the foundations of the barracks and under the walls, barbed wire fences and the farmland beyond.
This is the fascinating story of how they did it – and of the many who failed before them. Neil Hanson provides a rare insight into the minds of these prisoners of war, their resourcefulness, courage and persistence – and inexhaustible good humour.