Artifacts of the Great War

A collection of World War I objects, from the mundane to the extraordinary

The Red Baron's engine. (Imperial War Museums 2020.165.1)

P.O.W. Escape Package

A week after the Armistice, Captain Jack Shaw received a letter at his prison camp in Holzminden, Germany. Ostensibly a cheery letter from home, it was actually a coded message from a British Intelligence Officer alerting him to the dispatch of secret escape equipment. Reading the second character of every fourth word, it told him to “LOOK OUT FOR ARMOUR TONGUE TINS.” Shaw’s mother had regularly sent him parcels of food, but it was the last one—returned to her because of the suspension of the war—that contained this unusual tin of Armour Tongue. Inside the tin were wire cutters, compasses and thin, rolled maps showing the country between Holzminden and Holland, together with a lead weight to make the unopened tin of “tongue” weigh the same as a real one. A fighter pilot, Shaw had been shot down during the fighting at Messines in 1917. He made his first attempt to escape from Freiburg, and was then sent to the troublemakers’ camp at Holzminden. While incarcerated, he developed his secret code to contact London. A leading figure in Holzminden’s tunnel, through which 29 officers escaped in July 1918, Shaw was waiting to go through when it collapsed. The experiences he and his fellow prisoners had, and the development of covert links with military intelligence in Britain, paved the way for a new generation of even more famous “great escapers” 20 years later. 


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