Jack Calder - Attempted escape and torture

Running time
7 min 9 sec
Date made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


In Benghazi, they had a very large camp. Consisted of prisoners of war from every country that was part of the then British Empire. At one stage, a ship arrived. The New Zealanders and the Australians into an area of their own. As a sergeant it was my duty to have a group of 50 men under my control. The idea of that was, that when they brought the rations around of a night time in half a 44 gallon drum. Consisted of rice and tomato puree, perhaps a bit of horse meat or something like that. The idea was to issue out that food to the 50 men. It was done with an old one pint mug. You dip it in, pull it out, scrape all the pieces of rice off the outside, and give it to the fellow concerned. If he had something to put it in, he did, if he didn't, he would gulp it all down there and then, lick all the bits of rice off and give me back the mug.

Now of that 50 men, there were a fellow from New Zealand of the name of Jack Woight. W O I G H T. He was actually an Australian, but he had joined the New Zealand army because he was in New Zealand at the time. He and I got together, and we decided that we'd try and get half a dozen fellows that were capable of holding their tongues and capable of doing a little bit of hard work. We did that. We picked them from New Zealanders and Australians.

All around this big, large camp was what they called 12 holes. That was for people to relieve themselves. Just a box that high. It was six holes there. They'd dig a big pit, and when that was full, they'd transfer that box somewhere else. There was about 40 of those around the camp. You can imagine the smell, but beside the point. We'd thought that we would be able to get a hold of one of those boxes, which we eventually did and we got 12 fellows to continually sit on them as though they were using their bowels, which they weren't. We were underneath digging a tunnel. We went down about, I think it was about eight feet and we went right through under the barbed wire and up about, I think it was around about 60 or 70 yards out from where the box was.

We didn't break the last post until the time that we decided that we would go. Was lot more to it than that. We had to have torches, we had to have air, we had to have all those sort of things. Most of that was procured from the South African Division who had capitulated in Tobruk at the same time. The Germans didn't take anything off them at all. They'd left everything with them. Eventually one night we got into this tunnel and we said, "This is it, we're off." We're just about to break it out and, "All right, all right, all right! I'll come out, you've got me!". An Italian carabinieri had been advised somewhere along the line that it was on. So they'd taken the box up, and out you come.

A New Zealand fellow, Tasmanian fellow, and myself were kept. We were put into solitary. The rest of them was put on a boat the next day and set a course to Italy. Us three were kept in solitary. The Carabinieri's decided that it has got to get out of this hell. We got the implements to dig the tunnel and all the rest of it. To do so, they hit us across the back of the neck with rifles. They hit us across the chest with rifle butts. They put our thumbs into vices and screwed it up. What happened after that I don't know because I went out. The same with the New Zealand fellow who said he went out. I believe the Tasmanian fellow went out. That my dear girls is one instance.

Was this page helpful?
We can't respond to comments or queries via this form. Please contact us with your query instead.