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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Eric Williams

Born in London on 13 July 1911, Eric Williams joined the R.A.F. on the outbreak of war and served in Bomber Command. In December 1942 he was shot down over Germany and was eventually imprisoned in Stalag-Luft III from which he made his successful escape. He was awarded the Military Cross.

After escaping from Poland, Williams returned to England via Sweden and Williams was posted to the Philippines for the remainder of the war. It was on the voyage home after the Allied victory that he wrote a short book based on the escape entitled Goon in the Block (1945).

A few years later he wrote a fictionalised (third-person) account as The Wooden Horse, calling himself Peter Howard, which sold over a million and a quarter copies by 1955. It was originally published in 1949 and filmed in 1950 with Leo Genn, Anthony Steel and David Tomlinson as the three escapees; Williams' comrades were actually Michael Codner ("John Clinton"), who was killed on active service in Malaya in 1952, and Oliver Philpot ("Philip Rowe"), who later wrote his own account of the escape under the title Stolen Journey. Both also received the M.C. for their exploits.

Williams amassed a collection of escape literature and edited The Escapers (1953), a collection of firsthand stories of escape from the 16th century to modern times, and a sequel, More Escapers (1968).

Williams lived in a stone-and-wood house he built on the cliffs of Start Bay in Devon, where he continued to write. He died on 24 December 1983.

The Wooden Horse (London, Collins, 1949)
Fontana Books 2, 1953, 256pp. Cover by John Rose?
----, 2nd imp., 1955.
----, 3rd imp., Feb 1956.
----, 4th imp., 1956, 256pp, 3/-. [same cover as above]
The story of the Wooden Horse that two British officers built in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1943 is likely to become as immortal a legend as that of the mythological device on which it was modelled, the Trojan Horse. The latter was designed as a means of entering a beleaguered city, while its 20th century counterpart was built as a means of escape from what the Germans believed to be an escape-proof camp.
__How the wooden vaulting horse was used to conceal an escape tunnel, and how Eric Williams (the 'Peter' of the story) and his companion made their hazardous way across war-time Germany to freedom, must always rank as one of the masterpieces of escape literature.
The Tunnel (London, Collins, 1951)
Fontana Books 62, 1955, 251pp, 2/-. Cover by John Rose
Eric Williams' account of his escape from a German prisoner-of-war camp by means of a wooden horse will surely become as immortal as the device on which it was modelled. In The Wooden Horse he confined himself to the story of that successful escape; he omitted his earlier adventures and the abortive attempts. Now in The Tunnel, still calling himself Peter Howard, he tells how he was shot down while on a bombing mission over Germany; how he managed to get within a stone's throw of the Dutch frontier but was caught by a search party of foresters; how he escaped from his captors and this time succeeded in reaching Holland only to be captured again.
__Readers of The Tunnel will feel the shock of prison camp life with its perpetual hunger, lack of privacy, and isolation from normal existence; will watch the reaction of different temperaments to the inactivity and monotony; will be excited by the brief moments of drama, and warmed by the growing spirit of comradeship and determination which paved the way for later success.

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