A PENCIL and watercolour sketch showing men at work on a celebrated escape tunnel was a major attraction in a log or record compiled in 1943-45 by a Scottish P.O.W. sold by Lyon & Turnbull of Edinburgh for £3200 on January 13.
Private William MacDonald's illustrated log concerns the years
he spent in Stalag Luft III, a German prisoner-of-war camp near
what is now the town of Zagan in Poland.
The site, on a sandy subsoil, had been chosen as one that would
deter would-be tunnellers, but it was to be the scene of two of the
more famous escape attempts of the Second World War - escapes from
the North Compound immortalised in print and in the cinema as
The Wooden Horse and The Great Escape.
Assembled from a variety of materials, the log contains verses,
lists of names and addresses of his fellow prisoners, and some 25
photographs, five of them showing life inside the camp, but the
most appealing entries are the 28 pencil and watercolour drawings
contributed by fellow prisoners.
These were mostly British and Commonwealth airmen but also
included Polish, Czech and other displaced European airmen serving
in or attached to the the RAF. Despite what the film-makers would
have us believe, no Americans took part in the Great Escape of
March, 1944, though there was a separate US compound at Stalag Luft
III and one of the pictorial entries in MacDonald's log is indeed
the work of a Lt. D.A. Woods of the USAAF.
The illustrations in MacDonald's log include a number of comic
scenes of camp life, but the most historically appealing is the
double-page sketch of tunnel 'Harry'. As many as 600 prisoners may
have worked on Tom, Dick and Harry, the three tunnels originally
planned, but 'Harry' was the only one to be completed. The verse
that accompanies this drawing by Lindsay Greenaway of the Royal
Australian Air Force, reads: Silently below the surface, Twenty
five feet below the floor, Thus the Goons have cause to curse us,
And remember 104.
The numerical reference is to Hut 104, in which the tunnel
entrance was concealed under a stove, so one must assume that this
drawing was made after the escape attempt. Greenaway has dated his
drawing '44, but, somewhat confusingly, the verse is dated
Another of the drawings, showing MacDonald wearing his tartan
trews and working as a cobbler, was contributed by Flight Lt.
Alexander Cassie, who worked on the huge numbers of forged
documents needed for the escapers. In the film of The Great
Escape, Massie was memorably portrayed by Donald Pleasance,
desperately trying to conceal his failing eyesight in an attempt to
retain his place among those scheduled to attempt the escape.
Research has subsequently revealed that another of those who
provided illustrations, the man whose signature device is a number
4 and a dice, may actually have been one of the escapers - Flight
Lt. Fordyce. Having drawn No. 86, he was one of the last to enter
the tunnel and before he reached the exit, German guards had
discovered the escape attempt. Only a 'kink' in the tunnel saved
him from the rifle fire that the guards were directing along
Newspaper reports managed to confuse the Private MacDonald who
compiled this log with an RAF navigator of the same name, William
'Mac' MacDonald (1920-2008) who was in the camp and worked on the
escape plan. Although Stalag Luft III, as its name proclaims, was
built to contain captured airmen, the William who put together this
log or diary was a soldier who had somehow found himself in that
By Ian McKay