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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Colditz Castle, the renowned prison kept by the Germans for special, troublesome prisoners, regular escapees and category nuisance types. My friend, Captain Damiaen van Doorninck of the Dutch Navy was one of these.

I first met him whilst working on the Blue Steel Missile. He was covering the navigation system and I was doing the drawings.

His home was in Boreham Wood and so to be able to live near his work in Cheshire he used a VW caravanette as a mobile home. I arranged for him to park outside my house in Bramhall and in the evening he would come in, click his heels to my wife and spend the evening with us. In the course of the period of our friendship he related the story of his war. He was the Naval Liaison Officer to the General commanding the Dutch Forces when the Germans invaded Holland. He said he could have escaped but decided to stay with the General. However, when the General was settled van Doorninck did escape for the first time but later on he was picked up. After three separate escape episodes, they sent him to Colditz.

Here he managed to collect tools for the purpose of repairing watches but quietly made keys for all the locks in the prison. He even made a key for the German Officer's bathroom which he used on a number of occasions. It amused him to pit his wits against the enemy.

One day when using their bathroom he heard the lock being opened so he slipped behind the door and when the officer moved over to the wash basin he stepped around the door and stood in the doorway and asked politely if he would mind if he used their bathroom. As he predicted, the German objected and told him to go away.

Van, as we called him was highly amused at the reaction.

He showed tenacity of purpose in making all the prison keys, two complete sets in all. He used feelers for probing the locks to get the actual shape and taking measurments while he was on his knees poking around behind a screen of ball players. He explained the locks were copied from the ancient Egyptian wooden lock but these were steel and spring loaded pawls. A sweet little problem. He made two sets and buried one inside the prison so that if he got caught and sent back he could use the hidden set. As luck would have it he didn't need the second set. He disguised himself and was fluent in German. He marched a column of prisoners out through the gates and bluffed the sentry on the outer gate which was the one gate he didn't have a key for.

A large group of prisoners got out of Colditz and Van, with two companions, got to Switzerland. One of them was a pilot and so they stole a plane to transport them to England. There was a snag. They ran out of petrol before they got out of the country.

For this misdemeanor they were sent to prison for two weeks. During this period the Dutch Embassy staff visited them and enquired if there was anything they required and they requested some fruit. They got a few oranges in a basket which was deducted from their pay at a later date.

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