Of all the daring PoW escape stories that have come to light in the last 100 years, the story of J.L. Hardy is one of the most remarkable. A PoW for three-and-a-half years, Hardy made no less than twelve escape attempts while imprisoned by the Germans in the First World War, five of which being briefly successful.
In early 1915 he attempted to escape from Halle Camp, near Leipzig, by breaking through a brick wall into an adjacent ammunition factory. After five-months work the project proved impracticable. In the summer of 1915 he was transferred to Augustabad Camp, near Neu Brandenburg, and after 10 days he managed to slip away from a bathing party outside the camp, together with a Russian officer. After a difficult journey they covered the 50 miles to the Baltic coast. They swam a river, were nearly recaptured once, but eventually reached Stralsund. They almost managed to get the crew of a Swedish schooner there to give them passage, but were arrested at the last moment.
Hardy was returned to Halle and joined an unsuccessful attempt with a group of Russian officers to break down a wall. He then made a solo escape attempt by picking locks and breaking through a skylight before sliding down a rope onto the street. He spoke enough German to make his way by train to Bremen. Here, broken down by cold and hunger, the Germans recaptured him.
He was then transferred to Magdeburg, where he escaped with a Belgian officer using “subterfuge, audacity and good fortune”. They reached Berlin by train, and went on agan to Stralsund. From there they crossed to the island of Rugen, but were arrested before they could find a fishing boat to take them to Sweden. His next prisoner of war camp was Fort Zorndorf, from where escape was virtually impossible. Nevertheless he made several attempts, and one nearly succeeded when, with two others, he almost got out disguised as a German soldier.
Hardy was moved several more times, and made subsequent escape attempts until he finally managed to get away for good in March 1918. Written by Hardy himself, this book reads like a wartime thriller or Hollywood screenplay and his Great War story makes for fascinating reading.
I Escape! The Great War’s Most Remarkable POW
One of the most persistent PoW escapers of all time, the much decorated author, Capt JL Hardy made no fewer than twelve escape attempts from his three and a half years in German captivity in the Great War – five of them being briefly successful, before he made good his final getaway. After the war he had a controversial career in Ireland as a British Auxiliary undercover soldier, allegedly responsible for the deaths of dozens of Irish republicans. On an IRA death list, he managed to escape yet again. His memoirs make enthralling reading, and are a real addition to escape literature.
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