Philip Newman was a British army surgeon who was captured at Dunkirk, but eventually managed to escape from a German POW camp and make his way to safety across France and into Spain. This memoir tells the entire story, from the phoney war to the final arrival in Britain and everything in between.
The escape itself was very simply - the author simply hid when a camp was being evacuated, waited for the remaining guards to disappear and then walked out. The main interest in this book comes in the section before the author was captured, and the period between his escape and his reaching safety.
We start with good coverage of the military medical service in the days between the start of the German offensive in the west and the evacuation from Dunkirk. This was a period of chaos, and desperate retreats, finishing with a series of attempts to get the wounded evacuated. Eventually the decision had to be made to leave some of the doctors behind to care for those wounded who couldn’t be evacuated, and Newman was one of the men chosen. The section on the arrival of the Germans is fascinating.
This is followed by a brief period in camp, different from many accounts because of the medical element. Next comes the escape, attempted once the author believed his medical services were no longer so urgently needed, and before the camp was evacuated from occupied France to Germany.
The period between the escape from the camp and the safe arrival in Spain is the most interesting. It makes you realise just how much luck was involved in this process, with the key moment being the first contact few contacts with French civilians and the attitude they took. Newman was lucky and soon fell in with the resistance, but even then he had to make his way from occupied France to Vichy France, join up with an escape line, and finally cross the Pyrenees to relative safety in Spain. This section makes you realise just how much risk the French took as they helped escaped POWs and other evaders reach safety, and also how difficult even simple tasks such as providing food could be.
This is a splendid escape story, covering the entire experience, and in particular the difficult task of getting from the outside of the camp to safety in a neutral country, and comes highly recommended.
1 - The Wounded of Dunkirk
2 - A Mother Superior
3 - Try, Try Again
4 - Out and About
5 - Lost in the Snow
6 - The Haven of Rouen
7 - Through France
8 - Marseille
9 - The Pat Line
Author: Philip Newman
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2013 edition of 1983 original