Incredible Escapes: How WWII Prisoners Discovered a Ray of Hope


During World War II, many individuals were imprisoned, including service personnel captured in conflict and civilians confined in internment camps perceived as threats to the state. While stories of physical escapes are often highlighted, there are also tales of individuals who found mental escapes. These stories are part of an exhibition at the National Archives in Kew.

One such individual was Ronald Searle, best known for his comic strip St Trinian’s. As a prisoner of war (POW) in Japan, Searle used drawing as a form of mental escape, despite the risk of being killed if his work was discovered. He returned to the UK with about 300 drawings.

Nine-year-old Olga Morris and her family were interned in Changi camp after failing to escape Malaya by ship. Despite harsh conditions, a Girl Guide group was formed within the camp, providing a form of escape for the girls involved.

Guy “Griff” Griffiths, a Royal Marine pilot and POW, used his artistic skills to feed misleading intelligence to German authorities. He also forged false paperwork for other POWs and drew fake Allied aircraft to confuse the guards.

Frank Williams, a leading aircraftman, found companionship with Judy, a Royal Naval ship’s dog in an Indonesian camp. Judy became the only animal to be officially recognized as a POW.

Margaret Dryburgh, a missionary and teacher captured when Singapore fell, set up a vocal orchestra in a Japanese internment camp at Sumatra. The Captives Hymn, composed by Dryburgh, was sung every Sunday in the camp and is now sung worldwide.

The exhibition is free to visit and runs until 21 July.

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