Located on the Lower Level
Research Centre, Reading Room
During the First World War more than 4,000 Australians became prisoners of war. In the Second World War that number was over 30,000. Prisoners often suffered from ill-treatment, hunger, and sickness during their captivity.
A small number of prisoners spent months planning and preparing escape attempts. The issue was not only how they would escape from captivity, but how they were going to travel through enemy territory to safety. Very few attempts were completely successful. Recapture would result in punishment, often for the entire camp.
Each escape attempt was a learning experience, and subsequent attempts would increase in sophistication. Luck played an important role in many escapes. The chance to steal tools to cut through wire or distraction of the guards provided the opportunity to escape. Tunnels offered the chance for mass escapes but required skills to successfully excavate and construct the tunnel and to engineer systems for lighting and air flow. Stories of daring mass escapes from the First World War, such as from Holzminden camp in 1918, inspired similar escape attempts throughout the Second World War.
These maps, documents, and photographs illustrate just a few stories of escapes attempted during the First and Second World Wars.