LAST August I talked about the Great Escape from Stalag Luft III and the film (‘Hollywood fact or fiction?’). I’ve since found another ‘Great Escape’ which I thought I might share with you. It’s mentioned in the Book of Heroic Failures under ‘The Worst Prison Guards’.
The escape of 124 prisoners from the Alcoentre maximum security prison near Lisbon in Portugal took place in July 1978. This was half the prison’s population and a record for the largest number of convicts to escape simultaneously from a prison (only 70 from Stalag Luft III but they were not, of course, convicts but POWs). If you read my August post on the Stalag Luft III escape you will recall the remarkable list of missing items undetected by the Germans. The Alcoentre list was nothing like as impressive but it did include 220 knives, a large quantity of electric cable, spades, chisels, water hoses and electric drills. A guard explained, “Yes, we were planning to look for them but never got around to it.”
Estabelecimento Prisional de Alcoentre (the prison)
What else the guards had not noticed were gaping holes in the wall which had been covered over with posters (reminiscent of the The Shawshank Redemption?). The night before the breakout one guard realised that only 13 of his 36 prisoners in his block were present. He said that was normal because inmates sometimes missed roll-call or hid but usually came back in the morning. (That’s very good of them).
Poster covering hole in wall in The Shawshank Redemption – nothing new with that
A warder then announced, “We only found out about the escape at 6.30 the next morning when one of the prisoners told us.” (I’m surprised there was one left to tell anyone). Then the warder added, “The searchlights were our worst enemy because they had been directed at the guards’ faces and dazzled them making it impossible to see anything around the prison wall.” Easy mistake to make.
What escaping prisoners?
By way of explanation, the Portuguese Justice Minister, Dr Santos Pais, claimed that the escape was ‘normal’ and part of the “legitimate desire of the prisoner to regain his liberty.” Oh, that’s all right then.
Then there was the most unsuccessful escape. In Northern Mexico, 75 prisoners carefully planned an escape from Satillo Prison. In the November of 1975 they began digging a secret tunnel designed to bring them up on the other side of the prison wall. 5 months later, and guided by sheer genius, they emerged in the nearby courtroom where most of them had been sentenced. The surprised judge returned them all to their confinement.
We’re free …..Oh
Artemus Smith’s Notebooks
I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is an extract:
Three of us were chatting about funerals and one of my companions asked,”When you are in your casket and friends and family are talking about you, what would you like them to say?
I said, “I would like to hear that I was a great and enterprising archaeologist with outstanding knowledge.”
My first colleague said, “I would like to hear them say that I was a a wonderful lecturer who made a huge difference to the students of my time.”
My other colleague said, “I would like to hear them say … ‘Look, he’s breathing!'”