German Prisoner of War Escapes in Essex


9 December 1914 - Prison Ship Royal Edward Southend on Sea

One prisoner 'went mad' and tried to escape through a porthole and so jump overboard to swim away.

 He was recaptured, restrained and taken to custody at Colchester.

27 May 1917 from Chelmsford Prison

Lt Otto Thelen

In the early hours of Sunday 27 May 1917 two German Officers escaped from detention barracks at Chelmsford Prison.

Lt Otto Thelen aged 32 and Lt Lehmann aged 24 were able to make use of a duplicate key and then had substituted the locks for cardboard copies so that the prison doors could be opened noiselessly.

They then placed dummies in their beds even arranging some hair from the mattresses on the pillow to resemble a human head.

They used the duplicate key to open the guard door which gave them access to the open prison yard through which they made their escape.

They used a moored boat at the Kings Head Meadow to cross the River Chelmer and then under cover of the darkness made their way south through Galleywood.

They avoided the roads and kept travelling South and hid up in the daytime continuing their journey at night reaching Basildon at about 5am on Monday Morning

The 8th Essex Cyclist Battalion had been given the talk of finding the escaped man and had managed to find some tracks eventually catching the two Germans.

The Germans had altered their uniforms to resemble civilian clothes and wore ordinary cloth caps. Their clothes were very dirty and the men were wet up to their waists due to their travels over open country away from roads.

They had no money and a few biscuits, some chocolate and some tinned beef.

A motor car was commandeered and an escort returned the Germans to Chelmsford Prison.

After the escape Lt Thelen was quoted as saying " We were confident that we could get out of the country. Our plan was to hide by day and travel by night. We were making for the sea, and once there we were sure of getting on board ship".

Lt Thelen, who speaks good english, was a serial escaper having escaped from Donnington Hall in February 1915 and only recaptured on a vessels about to sail for the continent. In February 1916 he attempted to escape from a camp at Maidenhead by sawing through the bars and so was moved to Chelmsford as a more secure prison.

After his recapture the was moved to an even more secure camp at Kegworth in Nottingham but on 27 September 1917 he and several other German Officers escaped via a tunnel. Lt Thelen was recaptured close to the camp. He would not escape again during the war.

30 August 1917 - Dunmow

One man ran off when working on a farm. He was recaptured 3 days later at Gt Leighs

2 February 1918 - Dunmow Workhouse

Two of the German Prisoners of War who are in barracks at Dunmow Workhouse to perform agricultural work on the farms at Dunmow. made their escape at night.

The left the camp and made a dash across the fields adjoining the workhouse.

Their escape was spotted and the alarm was raised and a search by officers of the Essex Constabulary began.

The men were recaptured not far from the camp by the police and returned.

15 June 1918 - Stratford

In the summer of 1918 work began on the construction of a tunnel at the POW Camp at Water Lane, Stratford.

A tunnel was dug from under the fence from the the basement of a building into a rockery outside the walls which the POW's were tending.

The tunnel was eighteen inches in diameter and about ten feet deep and dug with kitchen knives. The entry in the basement was cleverly hidden by new wallpaper, covered with towels and then a table loaded with crockery was placed in front of it. The excavated soil was then hidden under the floor boards.

Four Officers and a servant escaped via the tunnel but one officer and the servant were captured nearby soon after the escape.

The other three officers Johann Brane, Hugo Thielman and Edmund Klaiss made their way to the coast but they were spotted by Constable Bird and Special Constable Greenwood at Walton on Naze and arrested.  Klaiss was a U boat Commander which may have helped him in the rather claustrophobic tunnel.

The men were wearing civilian clothes and had with them some tinned beef and bread. Their dirty appearance give rise to the suspicion that they had been sleeping rough and moving at night since their escape.

12 July 1918 - Bulphan

An Army Pay Corps soldier at Warley noticed a man acting unusually in a field. The man was questioned and found to be German POW Paul Fossmitys who had escaped from a working party on a farm at Bulphan. He was returned to the camp.

4 September 1918 - West Mersea

Petty Officers Hans Yost 25 yrs, Franz Zitsel and Airman William Dresler 24 yrs were all detained at the Bishops Stortford Internment Camp.

They escaped from the camp and made their way across Essex to reach Maldon by following the Braintree Branch Railway Line where they stole a rowing boat intending to row across the North Sea to Germany. They rowed their way along the Blackwater to West Mersea where they ran aground when the tide went out and went to sleep in the boat to wait for the tide to refloat them.

They were seen by a local man who had heard of the escape of the three men and so called the military who approached the boat and the men at once surrendered and were returned to custody.

September 1918 - Chigwell Row

Five German prisoners of war escaped from Foxborough Farm, Chigwell Row.

Three were recaptured not far from the farm.

The remaining two German prisoners of war who escaped  made their way to Maldon where they stole a small sail boat in which they set sail for Germany.

They were spotted by an Ipswich Captain of a trading vessel en route from England to France who recognised the boat number 84W as the one stolen from Maldon and so detained the men.

3 November 1918 - Rochford

Frederick William Dresner escaped from the Internment Camp at Rochford and was at large in the Rochford area.

He was recaptured  on 10 November 1918 having been seen in a stable at Rochford Hall and found hiding in a ditch nearby.

After capture he said that he was a rough time hiding in woods and ditches with very little to eat.

21 March 1919 - Saffron Walden

Police Special Constable Ling who farmed at Essex Hall, Ridgewell saw two men sitting around a fire in a wood on his farm.

The ran off when he approached but when he called them they stopped but refused to answer any of his questions.

Suspecting them to be escaped prisoners of war , he detained them and took them to his farm where he locked them up and called Pc Thorogood of Steeple Bumpstead. Together they conveyed the men to Police Cells at Castle Hedingham.

31 July 1919  - Witham

Ludwig Schulz escaped from Witham but was soon recaptured

11 August 1919 - Southminster

Ernest Kottman age 23 and Josy Harnischmacher age 27 both wearing prisoner of war clothing escaped from Southminster. Both men speak good english.