During World War II, the prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III near the Polish town of Zagan was considered by the Germans to be escape proof. But they didn’t count on the indomitable, never say die spirit of the British and Allied Servicemen inside the wire and the power of the humble spoon.
This spoon was one of the implements used, over many months, to dig three escape tunnels – codenamed ‘Tom’, ‘Dick’ and ‘Harry’.
Teams of men scratched and scraped away at the earth under their huts, burrowing hundreds of feet under the perimiter of the camp. Famously shedding the earth down their trouser legs under the noses of the unsuspecting guards.
Finally on 24th March 1944, a moonless night, 76 men and managed to escape before the alarm was raised.
Harry Rickwood, one of the diggers couldn’t bear to leave his trusty spoon behind, so he tucked it in his pocket and carried it all the way through occupied Germany, France into Spain and then home to Blighty. He presented it to a grateful nation and it now resides in the Imperial War Museum’s collection.
The incident was deeply embarrassing for Hitler, who went completely Tonto but, in 1972, the German government dropped the theft charges against Harry as a condition of the UK’s entry into the Common Market.
The spoon’s part in the historic escape has remained little known. Until now. So the next time you stir your tea, pause a while and remember the spoon that got away.