Oliver Philpot's Compass

Contributed by Imperial War Museum North

Handmade compass used by Oliver Philpot in the 'Wooden Horse' escape from Stalag Luft III in 1943. ©Imperial War Museum

The compass was made from parts of a gramophone, a razor blade, cardboard and phosphorous from broken watchesThis handmade compass was used by Oliver Philpot during the Wooden Horse escape from Stalag Luft III (the Second World War prisoner of war camp that house air force serviceman). Philpot, together with Eric Williams and Michael Codner, used a wooden vaulting horse positioned close to the perimeter fence as a disguise for a tunnel which they were constructing from underneath the horse. Gradually, he collected together an escape kit, including adapted clothes, forged papers and a compass and maps made in the camp. After escaping through the tunnel on October 29 1943, Philpot travelled by train from Sagan to Danzig where he quickly found a ship to take him to neutral Sweden. He arrived in Stockholm on November 4. The compass was made by Jerry Dawkins, a fellow prisoner, from parts of a gramophone, two halves of a razor blade, cardboard and phosphorous from broken watches.

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  • 1. At 16:59 on 25 November 2010, WoolwichRed wrote:

    As a kid I read this story many times('The Wooden Horse' by Eric Williams - he called himself 'Peter Howard; in the book).

    It took me some considerable time to track down a copy but it was well worth it, the ingenuity and courage of these people inspired me. I would highly recommend it, the insight it gives into the trials and tribulations of life as a POW are well worth it.

    Just as an extra point ? the camp they escaped from was the one in which The Great Escape happened but a different compound.

    My respect to all of those that has the strength and courage to not just accept their captivity but struggled against it to continue something that they believed in


    PS I would also recommend 'The One That Got Away' as a story form the otherside, Franz Von Verra who was shot down over England and escaped from Canada into then Neutral America

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  • 2. At 13:33 on 21 June 2011, Paul wrote:

    "Stolen Journey" by Oliver Philpot is another story of this escape, detailing the compass construction and everything else created for the escape, including the fascinating character of Norwegian Margarine salesman Jon Jorgensen, who Philpott created for his journey across the Reich. It is one of my favourite books from childhood to the present day, and I can't recommend it highly enough. I even called my third child "Oliver" after Oliver Philpott as he was the third man in the wooden horse escape! I read "The one that got away" as well, years ago, and there is also a fantastic story about a German who escaped from Siberia after the war and virtually walked back to Germany via Iran/Iraq.

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