P. R. Reid

... The bars on the courtyard windows saved them from breakage by wide flung balls during the more hectic moments of stoolball, but the Gothic chapel windows were only protected by wire netting which was not tough enough for the job. They were consequently often broken. The Germans did nothing about it, preferring to replace the broken panes on rare occasions rather than go to the expense of stronger screens. One day, shortly after the French farewell international stoolball match, the courtyard gate opened to allow the entry of a little man in grey overalls, known as Willie, carry- ing a long ladder and accompanied by the usual sentry to look after him. Peter Tunstall happened to be ambling across the court- yard at the time. He was rather at a loss to know what to do with himself since the Franz Josepf escape attempt in which he had been one of the participants. The weather was fine and warm. Spring had turned to summer and some prisoners had even started sunbathing in the square of sun- light that carpeted the yard at noon. Pete's normal relaxation, 'Goon baiting,' also seemed to have 'hit a low' since the climax of the water bombing. He was on the verge of one of those vacuums in a prisoner's life when several months may pass in a procession of painfully slow days, at the end of which the prisoner, waking up, can- not account for the passage of time. There are no signposts and he appears to have been dreaming through a long, fitful slumber. Pete sat down absent-mindedly on the stone steps near the canteen and idly watched Willie, an ordinary little workman, carrying a wooden rule, who now slowly climbed his long ladder which he had leant against the wall beside one of the chapel windows. Absent-mindedly Pete's gaze- turned to the sentry who stood nearby. "They're all alike," he muttered to himself, "can't pick out one in a hundred——wonder who thought of the name 'Goons'——just what they are." Little Willie took measurements, climbed slowly down the ladder again, spoke to the sentry, and walked off towards the courtyard gate. Peter saw him disappear, wondering vaguely why he had gone away. 'Suppose he's gone to fetch the glass.' Then his eye roamed once more towards the sentry. The latter was standing stolidly on guard five yards from the ladder and facing the courtyard. The reaction of a well-trained 'Kriegie' was instan- taneous. Peter rose; the vacuum had filled. There was a glint in his eye. He returned hurriedly to the British quar- ters and buttonholed the Weasel (Don Donaldson), who in turn shouted towards a far corner of the almost empty room. "Heh!——come over here, you browned-off eagle-I want to talk to you——quick." Bag Dickenson yawned and slowly rose from a bed in the corner. "Are you addressing me?" he queried, tucking his shirt into his trousers as he walked over. He sat on a bed opposite the other two. "You've upset my sleep quota, you rocky mountain buzzard." ...[sic] A few minutes later they descended together to the courtyard where they separated. Don sat down on the cobbles. There was nothing unusual about that. He sat near the sentry, upright, against the wall and facing him. He started playing with his hands. Looking wide eyed into the sky, he made his hands climb Jacob's ladders; he played churches and people and the preacher in the pulpit; he made his hands into mice which chased each other all over his body, behind his back, round his neck, under his shirt and up his trouser legs; he counted his

Peter Tunstall and Bag Dickenson remove the ladder.

fingers and started all over again. He not only attracted the gaze of the sentry but that of a small group of mildly amused spectators whom he had to motion away so the Goon's view was not obstructed. In the meantime, Peter Tunstall and Bag Dickenson re- moved the ladder which they carried into the porch at the bottom of the British staircase, behind the sentry's back. They started to climb the spiral steps but found that the twenty-five foot ladder would not circumvent the curves. It became securely wedged. There was only one solution which did not require much thought. While the browned- off eagle fetched a saw (made out of gramophone spring) from his tool kit, which was the best in Colditz, Pete re- turned to the courtyard and signalled the Weasel to carry on. This was asking for something because Don was not pre- pared for a long solo act. Pete could see his mind turning over as his eyeballs rolled, following the juggling motion of his hands. He left him to it and went back to the stair- case, where Bag and he were soon engaged in an argument as to how much of the ladder should be sawn off. Bag was playing for safety while Pete insisted on running it close. They compromised at five feet from one end. It took ten minutes to saw through both legs of the lad- der, which they did to the accompaniment of generally encouraging, but sometimes very rude, remarks from passers-by navigating the obstruction on the stairs. Pete was wondering what the Weasel was doing and how soon Willie might return. He was delighted to see, when he descended to the courtyard with a five-foot length of ladder under his arm, that the little fellow had not yet come back and that the Weasel's knot of spectators had grown. Don was finding great difficulty in clearing a view for the sentry who was genuinely intrigued by his efforts to scratch his left ear with his right foot. Pete leaned the five foot length of ladder where the twenty-five foot one had previously reposed and retired to a distance to view the effect. At that moment little Willie was let into the courtyard again, carrying a large square pane of glass carefully in his arms. Don, seeing that his act was no longer required, stood up with a final handspring and walked hurriedly to the French quarters. The knot of idlers was dispersing when the new focus of attention presented itself. The sentry and little Willie stood, side by side, gazing incredulously, with jaws dropped, at a trans- formation of which Lewis Carrol might have been proud. The prisoners started to laugh. The sentry shook his head slowly from side to side and Willie looked up and down the chapel wall. They faced each other and Willie asked, "Was ist geschehen?" A crowd was gathering and the laughter was growing. The sentry answered, shrugging his shoulders and looking frightened as if he had seen a ghost. "Ich weiss nicht. Sie war bestimmt hier. Ist da veilleicht ein Poltergeist?" Little Willie laid the pane of glass against the wall, took out a large handkerchief, mopped his brow and blew his nose to recover his composure. It was not easy. There were faces now at almost every window, and laughter was echo- ing round the courtyard. He and the sentry were the only figures on the stage, playing before a large audience. He approached the five-foot ladder, picked it up, turned it over and adjusted it under his arm. The sentry, crest- fallen, picked up the glass, fell in behind him and, in single file, they marched forlornly across the courtyard through a gangway formed between cheering prisoners.

This is from Escape from Colditz by P.R. Reid. It is a novel about British prisoners of war in Germany, during World War Two. This story can be found on page 439 of the hardback version. It was published in 1953.
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