Werra, Franz Von
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Franz Von Werra
Franz von Werra was born on 13 July 1914, to impoverished Swiss parents in Leuk, a town in the Swiss canton of Valais.
sister were given into the care of an aristocratic German family.
In 1936, von Werra joined the Luftwaffe.
At the beginning of the war, he
served in the French campaign with Jagdgeschwader 3.
An able officer, he became Adjudant of II Gruppe, JG 3, despite his often boisterous 'playboy' behavior and a degree of self-promotion (he was pictured in the German press with his pet lion Simba he kept as the unit mascot at the aerodrome).
also used the title Baron, although he
was not entitled to it.
crash-landed in a field, was captured by the unarmed cook of a nearby army unit and eventually sent to the London District Prisoner of War Cage.
was interrogated for two weeks and four days and eventually sent to POW Camp No.1, at Grizedale Hall in the Furness Fells area of Lancashire between Windermere and Coniston Water.
On 7 October he
tried to escape for the first time, during a daytime walk outside the camp.
At a regular stop, while a fruit cart provided a diversion and other German prisoners covered for him, von Werra slipped over a dry-stone wall into a field.
The guards alerted the local farmers and the Home Guard.
On the evening of 10 October, two Home Guard soldiers found him sheltering from the rain in a hoggarth (a small stone hut used for storing sheep fodder, that are common in the area), but he
quickly escaped and disappeared into the night.
On 12 October, he
was spotted climbing a fell.
The area was surrounded and von Werra was eventually found, almost totally immersed in a muddy depression in the ground.
was sentenced to 21 days of solitary confinement, and subsequently transferred on 3 November to Camp No 10 in Swanwick, Derbyshire.
decided to go it alone.
had taken along his
flying suit and decided to masquerade as Captain Van Lott, a Dutch RAF pilot.
He claimed to a friendly locomotive driver that he was a downed bomber pilot trying to reach his unit, and asked to be taken to the nearest RAF base.
In Codnor Park Station, a local clerk became suspicious, but eventually agreed to arrange his
transportation to the RAF aerodrome at Hucknall, near Nottingham.
The police also questioned him, but von Werra convinced them he
At Hucknall, a Squadron Leader Boniface asked for his
credentials and he
claimed to be based at Dyce near Aberdeen.
While Boniface went to check this, von Werra excused himself and ran to the nearest hangar, trying to tell a mechanic that he
was cleared for a test flight.
Boniface arrived in time to arrest him at gunpoint.
was sent back to Hayes and put under armed guard.
way over the border to Ogdensburg, New York, U.S.A. and turned himself over to the police.
The immigration authorities charged him with entering the country illegally, so von Werra contacted the local German consul.
came to the attention of the press and told them a very embellished version of his
While the US and Canadian authorities were negotiating his
extradition, the German vice-consul helped him over the border to Mexico.
proceeded to Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Rome and finally arrived back in Germany on 18 April 1941.
became a hero.
Hitler granted him the Ritterkreuz, and he
also commented on the conditions in the German prisoner of war camps, comparing them unfavourably to British ones, which may have led to improvements for British POWs.
returned to the Luftwaffe and was initially deployed to the Russian front, but later flew fighter patrols over the North Sea.