The Diggers of Colditz
The classic Australian POW story
about escape from the impossible
Jack Champ and Colin Burgess
Simon & Shuster, Sydney 2019
Paperback 307pp RRP $35.00
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, October 2019
First published in 1985 as a co-authored work with the late Jack Champ, Colin Burgess has authored a revision that incorporates an Epilogue that closes the story of all thirteen Australian officers that spent time in Colditz.
Jack Champ served with the 6th Division, arriving in Greece in April 1941 where the Germans overran the Allied forces trying to prevent its capture. After an escape by boat was short-lived, Jack ‘went into the bag’ on 9 May 1941. A couple of months in camps in Greece preceded transfer to prison camps in Germany (Biberach, Warburg and Eichstätt). A dogged determination to limit his time in detention saw Champ make escapes from both Warburg and Eichstätt before being sent to Colditz Castle on 23rd June 1943.
A most readable account concentrates on the activities of the Australians and some others they interacted with. Only one of the Australians was successful in escaping (making it to England, later to lose his life in an air crash eighteen months later). The incredible temptation to lapse into a depressed state was constantly allayed by a humour that pervaded most inmates. Anecdotes of the ‘games’ played on their German captors feature heavily (two officers ‘disappeared’ for ten months before eventually being tracked down). Doors were always closed quietly for fear that stripped building frames would collapse. Champ once acted as a runner for Douglas Bader during a cricket match and witnessed his foibles during hands of Bridge. One prisoner who had not consumed his Red Cross chocolate ration exchanged portion of his ‘stash’ for a small car (on stumps in England) – redeemed after repatriation!
Early in 1945 as the tide turned against Germany, escape was considered by many as too high a risk to take. The remarkable construction of the ‘Colditz glider’, its secretion and eventual fate has been elaborated in full. As the liberating Americans approached Colditz on 16th April, their artillery established the range preparatory to its destruction. Fortunately, a French flag shown through a window was spotted and the bombardment was postponed indefinitely. Jack Champ had by now been in Colditz for 633 days.
The Diggers of Colditz is a very easy and entertaining read filled with a great mixture of facts, anecdotes, humour and photographs. It breaks new ground in Australian involvement in World War II, and is well worth the time to see life as an Aussie POW through Jack Champ’s eyes.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.