The Wooden Horse is one of the most famous escape stories of the Second World War. Three British POWs dug a tunnel from the middle of an exposed part of their compound, hiding the entrance under a home-made wooden horse and the noise of digging under the noise of the gymnasts using the horse. This shortened the distance they needed to dig, and allowed them to make a successful break from their camp.
The story is told in a semi-fictionalise format. This was chosen because the author was writing late in the Second World War and while still a serving officer and bound by the Official Secrets Act. This is a slightly modified edition, in which the author removed a fictional incident that he later regretted have added. Most of the story closely followed real events, and the three main characters are close to the real escapers. Most importantly the book gives an accurate impression of the tone of life in a POW camp, the dangers of being on the run after the escape and the stress and strain of the eventual escape. The section on life in the camps shows a group of active, confined and rather rowdy men going slowly mad but hiding it between endless banter, hobbies and the hope of escape.
The author goes beyond the famous part of the story to include the full tale of his escape to neutral Sweden. This part of the story is far less familiar and includes many novel elements, including a great deal of material on the world of the conscripted French worker in Germany, and some tense scenes as the author attempted to sneak onto the docks to reach a neutral ship. This is perhaps the most valuable part of the story, taking us into a world that is rarely glimpsed in British works on the Second World War.
This may be a familiar story, but it is very well told, and goes well beyond the famous part of the escape to paint a vivid picture of life in and out of the POW camps.
Author: Eric Williams
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2013 edition of 1949 original