Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Wooden Horse

The Wooden Horse is a 1950 British Second World War war film starring Leo GennAnthony Steel and David Tomlinson and directed by Jack Lee. It is based on the book of the same name by Eric Williams, who also wrote the screenplay.[2]
The film depicts the true events of an escape attempt made by POWs in the German POW camp Stalag Luft III. The wooden horse in the title of the film is a piece of exercise equipment the prisoners used to conceal their escape attempt as well as a reference to the Trojan Horse which was also used to conceal men within.
It was shot in a low-key style, with a limited budget and a cast including many amateur actors.


Selected filmography[edit]


The film was the third most popular film at the British box office in 1950[5] and led to a series of stories about POWS, including Albert R.N. (1953), The Colditz Story (1955), The One That Got Away (1957), The Camp on Blood Island (1958) and Danger Within (1959).


The Wooden Horse plan itself was actually conceived and entirely thought through by Williams and Michael Codner in equal measures. In Oliver Philpot's later book The Stolen Journey the author made it clear that he initially thought the plan was "crackers", telling its inventors "I give it a couple of days!".[6] Nevertheless, Philpot helped with the sand dispersal and later with the actual digging – at which point he was invited to take part in the escape.
The actor Peter Butterworth, who appeared in many of the Carry On films, was one of the vaulters in the real-life escape. He applied for a role in the subsequent film but did not get a part as he was not considered to look convincingly heroic and athletic enough.[7]

Wooden Horse Escape Kit Presented To Imperial War Museum

By Helen Barrett | 14 July 2004

Photograph shows family group holding a jacket.
Oliver Philpot's family examine the new exhibits with Stalag Luft III veteran Aubrey Niner, right. © Imperial War Museum London.
Items from the escape kit belonging to Oliver Philpot, who in WWII tunnelled beneath the wooden vaulting horse to break for freedom from Stalag Luft III, have gone on show at the Imperial War Museum’s Great Escapes exhibition.
The kit – which includes Philpot’s POW identity tag fashioned into a locket, a compass made from a moulded gramophone record, a jacket and an RAF tie adapted to civilian style by the addition of white stitching – was presented to the exhibition by Philpot’s family as the museum announced that Great Escapes will continue until July 2006.
Photograph shows a group of objects including a tie and compass from an escape kit.
L-R RAF tie; compass; pocket knife; RAF officer's gloves; lighter; home-made locket hiding POW identity tag. © Imperial War Museum London.
Philpot’s daughter, Diana Henfrey, told the 24 Hour Museum: “My father kept the kit in the attic – it was just part of our household. He was very modest about it.”
In 1943 Philpot - along with Lieutenant Michael Codner and Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams – used bowls to dig a cramped escape tunnel under the noses of German guards. The men were hidden inside a wooden vaulting horse, which was carried every day for over three months by fellow prisoners to the camp’s exercise area near the perimeter fence.
Whilst prisoners diligently practised gymnastics above ground, the three dug a 100-foot long escape tunnel, which they used to break out on the evening of October 29.
Photograph shows three men in 1943 stood outside a building smiling.
L-R Michael Codner; Eric Williams; Oliver Philpot. © Imperial War Museum London.
Philpot, Codner and Williams then fled across Germany equipped with false civilian identity papers. Philpot – posing as a Norwegian margarine manufacturer – travelled alone by train to Danzig before arriving by ship to neutral Sweden a week later.
His wife, Dr Rosl Philpot, described to museum staff how, as she unpacked Philpot’s jacket for the exhibition, she could still smell petrol fumes from the German railway carriage.
Both Williams and Philpot were later to write books about their escape, and their story was adapted for the 1950 hit film The Wooden Horse.
“My father made the cold-blooded decision that if he were to stay in the camp, he would probably be shot,” said Henfrey. “That was his motive for escape.”
Photograph shows a man with a jacket at the Imperial War Museum.
Stalag Luft III veteran Aubrey Niner with Oliver Philpot's jacket. © Imperial War Museum London.
Attending the presentation was Stalag Luft III veteran Aubrey Niner, who witnessed the wooden horse escape. “The escapers were older than the rest of us,” Niner told the 24 Hour Museum. “Oliver Philpot was about 26. A lot of us younger prisoners were much less self confident.”
“They were imbued with service life. They’d been in Stalag Luft III for a lot longer, which left them with a ‘this can’t go on’ spirit.”
The previous summer, would-be escapees at Stalag Luft III had started around 40 tunnels, but all had been discovered. “The Germans used seismographs to listen for tunnelling,” said Niner. “But the sound of the men jumping over the horse covered the sounds. It was a very useful by-product.”
Photograph shows a prisoner of war camp in Nazi Germany.
Stalag Luft III - Scene of the wooden horse escape © Imperial War Museum London.
Describing camp life, Niner said: “We had been looked after by the Luftwaffe, because they knew there were Luftwaffe prisoners in England. But after they discovered the escape, it was a very tense time. The SS guards arrived. There were three roll calls every day and our shutters were closed all night – and you need air to breathe when you are sleeping ten to a room.”
“But when the news came back to us that they’d succeeded – the first 100% successful escape – it was great.”
Great Escapes had been scheduled to close at the end of July 2005, but has been extended for another year by popular demand. The exhibition highlights the best-known escape stories from the Second World War, including the Great Escape and escape attempts from Colditz.

]Visitors can now see Philpot’s kit alongside Williams’ forged identity documents and a replica wooden vaulting horse, then climb inside a scale model to experience Philpot’s hiding place.


Niner, who was freed from Stalag Luft III by Allied forces in 1945, seized the opportunity to look around. “It’s very good,” he joked. “I’ve even crawled through the tunnel
The somewhat fictionalised version of the true story is set in Stalag Luft III — the same POW camp where the real events depicted in the film The Great Escape took place, albeit from a different compound – and involved Williams,Michael Codner and Oliver Philpot, all inmates of the camp. In the book and film, the escapees are renamed "Flight Lieutenant Peter Howard", "Captain John Clinton" and "Philip Rowe".
The prisoners are faced with the problem of digging an escape tunnel despite the accommodation huts, within which the tunnel entrance could be concealed, being a considerable distance from the perimeter fence. They came up with an ingenious way of digging the tunnel with its entrance located in the middle of an open area relatively near the perimeter fence and using avaulting horse (constructed largely from plywood from Canadian Red Crossparcels) to cover the entrance.
Recruiting fellow-prisoners to form a team of vaulters, each day they carry the horse out to the same spot, with a man hidden inside. The prisoners begin a gymnastic exercise using the vaulting horse, while the concealed man digs down below the horse. At the finish of the exercises, the digger places wooden boards, cut to fit the aperture, in the hole, and fills the space with sandbags and dry sand kept for the purpose – wet sand taken from below the surface would be darker and hence give away the activities.
Eventually, as the tunnel lengthens, two men are hidden inside the horse while a larger group of men exercised, the two men continuing the tunnel digging. At the end of the day, they again conceal the tunnel entrance and hide inside the horse while it is carried back to their hut. They also devise a method of disposing of the earth coming out of the tunnel. They recruit a third man, Phil, to assist them, with the promise that he will join the escape.
At the final break-out, Howard hides in the tunnel during an Appell (roll call), before three men are carried over in the horse: the third to replace the tunnel trap.
Howard and Clinton travel by train to the Baltic port of Lübeck; (in fact, they travelled via Frankfurt to Stettin). Phil elects to travel alone, posing as a Norwegian margarine manufacturer and travelling by train via Danzig (now Gdańsk). He was the first to make it to neutral territory.
Howard and Clinton contact French workers and through them meet 'Sigmund', a Danish resistance worker who smuggles them onto a Danish ship. They then have to transfer to a fishing boat and arrive in Copenhagen, before being shipped to neutral Sweden. There they meet Phil, who arrived earlier.
Some details from Williams' book were not used in the film, e.g. the escaped POWs discussing the possibility of visiting potentially neutral brothels in Germany, an idea that was abandoned because of fear that it might be a trap.

The Wooden Horse
The Wooden Horse FilmPoster.jpeg
DVD cover
Directed byJack Lee
Produced byIan Dalrymple
Written byEric Williams
StarringLeo Genn
Anthony Steel
David Tomlinson
Music byClifton Parker
CinematographyC.M. Pennington-Richards
Edited byPeter Seabourne
John Seabourne
Distributed byBritish Lion Film Corporation
Release dates
  • 16 October 1950
Running time
101 mins
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£266,545 (UK)[1]

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