Newport's War Dead
Newport, Monmouthshire, UK
The one or two that
almost got away!
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Following his arrest Oberleutnant Harry Wappler
was sent to the No. 13 PoW camp at the Shap Wells hotel located in the Lake
District, Cumbria between Kendall and Penrith.
On the Sunday 23rd November 1941, a foggy day,
German officers, both pilots hid in a wood pile within the camp until it
was dark and using wooden pliers made by the PoW's, opened the wire
allowing them to reach the nearby railway and stow away on a train heading
for Carlisle which was climbing the 1 in 75 Shap Bank.
These officers were fighter pilot Lt. Heinz
Schnabel and Heinkel pilot Oblt. Harry Wappler that parachuted to safety
over Newport when his aircraft was brought down by a barrage balloon
killing his three crew members and the two children in the house it landed
Heinz-Georg Moellenbrock's sketch of the Shap Wells camp
The pre-planning of the escape included the
preparation and forgery of identification documents that said that both
Schnabel and Wappler were supposedly Dutch airmen and the men wore flying
jackets over their German uniforms.
On reaching the Carlisle area, they went to RAF
Kingstown later known as RAF Carlisle (No. 15 Elementary Flying Training
School) and in an act of sheer bravado, bluffed their way onto the camp
with the help of their forged documents. Alan Gaydon, an air apprentice was completely unaware of their true identity,
entered and started up a Miles Magister RAF aircraft of which there were a
number used for pilot training on the airfield which they then took off in
and headed south.
On the journey south, the aircraft started to run
short of fuel as it had been used the previous day and had been parked
separately from the other aircraft, reason why these men chose it and on finding another RAF airfield landed and
and again bluffed their way into getting the fuel tanks of the aircraft
filled up again.
Mile Magister aircraft
This time they headed for Nazi occupied Holland
and as the journey across the open water of the North Sea continued, they
realised that the Miles Magister did not have the fuel range to get them
to Holland. Reluctantly they knew, for their own safety’s sake that they would
have to turn around and head back to England.
They landed in a field about 5 miles north of
Great Yarmouth and still pretending to be Dutch airmen they were taken to
the RAF Bomber airfield at Horsham St. Faith now Norwich airport in East
Anglia. By this time, news of the theft of the Miles Magister had been
transmitted around the country and the two men were arrested
They were given a punishment of 28 days
solitary confinement for their escapade and then shipped to Canada for the
remainder of their interment.
Some information in this article
contributed by Steve Simpson, manager of the Shap Wells Hotel
Shaun McGuire 2008