I Escape!

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
I Escape! (1927)
I Escape! (1927) frontispiece

I Escape! is a book written by Jocelyn L. Hardy published in 1927 by John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd. and including an introduction written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The true story of Hardy's escapes from German camps where he was prisoner during WWI.


There are some wild birds who settle down in captivity. There are others who alternate between brooding on their perch and dashing themselves against the bars. Of the latter breed is Captain Hardy, once of the Connaught Rangers. Many times he dashed himself against the bars, and then at last on one glorious day he slipped between the bars and was free once more.

I can say for him what he would be the last to say for himself, that a more gallant and chivalrous gentleman never stepped. One would have thought that in the drab life of a German prison his one yearning would be for the joys of London or the peace of home. Not a bit of it. His dream of dreams was to be back in a front trench once more and at close grips with the men who had held him in bondage. So it was with many of his fellows in misfortune. When he describes how they worked at a very dangerous tunnel he adds: "Realize that they loved it and that they thought it well worth while because it might be the means of getting one or two men back to the war."

Like many men of action, Captain Hardy writes excellent English. Beau Brummell used to say that the really well-dressed man is the man whose dress, while absolutely adequate, calls for no attention at all. The same applies, I think, to style. A stylist is usually a writer who is affected and obscure. The man of action is clear and direct. You never observe that he has a style, but he gets his effects in a way that is clear to all, and that is the highest aim of literature. In this simple narrative, for example, one notes such little word pictures as that of the endless train of German munition waggons with giant horses and men seen in the gloom, or the picture of the Courteous Commandant, tall, thin and pale, who gave sympathy where abuse had been expected. “Many Germans I have met,” says Hardy, “whom I could respect because they were brave or because they were patriotic, but this, I think, is the only German I have ever met of whom it could be said that he was a very perfect gentleman.” It is a hard saying, and many of us have been more fortunate, but certainly the writer’s record justifies his remark. In England the attempted escape of an officer would always have been regarded as a sporting effort, both by civilians and officials. In Germany it was greeted with insult and execration.

Many harsh things were said by us during the war about the German treatment of prisoners. Some I said myself. With fuller information we must modify our views. The officer class was seldom ill treated when once the prison was reached. Between the place of capture and the prison, especially in the early days, the conditions were barbarous and abominable, the civilian population showing greater brutality than the military guards. The civilian camps, such as Ruhleben, were not ill managed. On the other hand, the private soldier fared well or ill according to the luck of his camp or employer. On the whole we were too much inclined to accept the occasional abominations as being universal types. Now that well-informed Germans know the treatment which their own men received in England they must feel a sense of shame at the contrast. I can recollect myself acting as sentinel over a working party of German prisoners at Lewes, and noting their ruddy rounded cheeks and well-filled jackets, at a time when our own civilian population was on a diet considerably lower than that which was given to the prisoners. Chivalry could not go further than that. The British always looked upon a war prisoner as a brave man in distress. The Germans too often regarded him as one who had deserved punishment.

Captain Hardy had fulfilment of his dream. He escaped in company with a splendid officer, with whose family I have personal ties, Captain Willie Loder-Symonds. Both men on their return at once volunteered for the front. Loder-Symonds was killed in an aeroplane smash. Hardy got back to his job, was twice wounded, got his promotion, his D.S.O. and his Military Cross with bar. The second wound involved the loss of his leg and he is now on the retired list, but a man with such inventive power and desperate energy will surely make his mark in peace as well as in war.

Arthur Conan Doyle
October 7th, 1927