The 3 ESCAPE ATTEMPTS of HUBERT BROOKS PUT in PERSPECTIVE
It is not easy for those who have never been a prisoner to understand the problem of escape. People are apt to imagine that when captured a man automatically longs to get away and that it is only the physical difficulties which prevent him. This is not true. Only a small percentage of prisoners of war ever made persistent attempts to escape: sooner or later the majority accepts captivity and try to endure it with as much cheerfulness as possible.
A few rare people, who live for action, are never in any doubt what they should do. For them capture is always unbearable and escape their only interest from the start; but for the great majority the immediate difficulties often seem insuperable and arguments for postponing the attempt overwhelming.
In any war the number of those that who reach home from prison is small; in the Second World War, out of the ten thousand British Air Force prisoners who were in permanent camps in Germany less than thirty ever reached Britain or neutral territory; and that despite the most energetic and highly organized attempts. The proportion of successful attempts among the other Services was no higher.
Fundamentally the reason for this is that in captivity the instinct for survival re-asserts itself with great force. The reason that so few escapes are made has less to do with fear than with inertia.
Except for a few, all airmen who arrived in prison camps had been shot down. In the space of a few hours they had been transferred from the comfort of an Air Force station to the middle of enemy territory. Instead of being supported by the esprit de corps of an operation unit captured en masse they found themselves alone, either being hunted by the enemy or in his hands – no doubt suffering a great deal of nervous strain. Whatever the action in which they had engaged, they had narrowly escaped death from anti–aircraft fire or engine failure and had been compelled to crash or jump by parachute, probably for the first time in their lives.
Once in enemy hands the temptation to relax was almost irresistible. Events had taken charge and the sensible course seemed to be to recuperate and wait until a chance of escape presented itself. Should he, or should he not, try to escape? Ought he to spend his time in what would almost certainly be a fruitless endeavour, or should he use the time to equip himself to be a better citizen later on? The mere fact of being a prisoner offered endless possibilities. A man might dream of reading Shakespeare, of learning languages, of playing the piano, of doing some of the things he had often longed to do but for which he had never found time. There were many who from the start decided on the course of self–improvement. He felt with urgency that this was a far better way of spending his days than thinking of escape which, at best, had such a slender chance of success. From the first moment of captivity, therefore, there began in every prisoner's mind a conflict which lasted often until the day of liberation.
To a large number of thinking men, therefore, the wisdom of spending years in such a hopeless effort as escape must at some time seem questionable and no one blamed those who decided escape was not worth while.
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The Life and Times of Hubert Brooks M.C. C.D.