compass, as used by Oliver Philpot during his escape from Stalag Luft III

Catalogue number
  • EPH 6366
Department
Exhibits
Materials
  • whole: metal
  • whole: plastic
  • whole: glass
  • whole: card
Dimensions
  • whole: 7.5 x 2.5 cm
Alternative names
  • full name: compass, as used by Oliver Philpot during his escape from Stalag Luft III
  • simple name: CLA
Category
Equipment

© IWM (EPH 6366)

Purchase & License
Label

Oliver Philpot (1913-1993), Canadian by birth, first came to the UK to study at Oxford. He joined the RAFVR, and was a pilot in 42 Torpedo/Bomber Squadron. He was assigned to RAF Coastal Command in 1940. He was shot down off the coast of Norway in 1941, and taken prisoner. He was subsequently imprisoned in prisoner of war camps in both Germany and Poland, before his involvement in the wooden horse escape from Stalag Luft III. Along with Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams, Lieutenant Michael Codner (an officer in the Royal Artillery who was mistaken for an Air Force prisoner and sent to Stalag Luft III) and Philpot made their escape after 114 days of digging on 29 October 1943 concealed by using a hollow wooden vaulting horse inspired by the story of the 'Trojan Horse'. Williams and Codner travelled together to Stettin and, after considerable difficulties in finding a ship, finally embarked for Sweden via Denmark on 6 November. They arrived in Stockholm six days later. Philpot, travelling alone, reached Danzig within 24 hours and stowed away on a Swedish ship on 1 November. He arrived in Stockholm three days later, only a week after leaving Sagan. This compass was made for Oliver Philpot by Jerry Dawkins, RAF pilot from Coventry, who took two days to make it in Stalag Luft III. It was used during Philpot's escape, while in Frankfurt-am-Oder. Philpot wrote: 'I needed a compass. I did not want one of the tiny ones which were difficult to see, although I proposed to take my original stud compass which I had kept ever since taking off from Leuchars. Jerry, the pilot from Coventry, used some of the craft and cunning for which his city is famous and produced the best kriegie compass which I had ever seen. The bowl was a moulded gramophone record and it had a glass top measuring three inches across, and in the bowl stood an inverted gramophone needle. Two pieces of a razor blade had been magnetised by the camp electric light circuit, and had been pasted on to the under-side of a circular cardboard compass card. The card had, in the middle, a press-stud from an officer's uniform into which the gramophone needle fitted neatly, enabling the card to swing freely under the glass. The card markings were large and clear, with phosphorus added from old and broken watch-faces. The great advantage which this instrument possessed was its quick readability. It settled reasonably quickly, and was big enough to give a clear guide. I thought it would be useful generally, especially if I had to take to the woods near Sagan.' (Stolen Journey, pp. 284-5) His memoir, 'Stolen Journey' (1953) along with Eric Williams' 'The Wooden Horse' (1949) are held in the Department of Printed Books. Both escapers' papers are held in the Department of Documents.

Physical description

compass (7.5 x 2.5cm), handmade; bowl from a gramophone disc, needle from a gramophone needle (which fits into the press stud of an RAF officer's uniform), cardboard compass card, magnetisation from two halves of a razor blade affixed to the underside of the card, phosphorous from broken watches, and blackened with soot

History note

Compass made for Oliver Philpot by Jerry Dawkins, RAF Manchester bomber pilot from Coventry, who took two days to make it in Stalag Luft III. It was used during Philpot's escape, while in Frankfurt-am-Oder. Oliver Philpot, Canadian by birth, first came to the UK to study at Oxford. He joined the RAFVR, and was a pilot in 42 Torpedo/Bomber Squadron. He was assigned to RAF Coastal Command in 1940. He was shot down off the coast of Norway in 1941, and taken prisoner. He was subsequently imprisoned in prisoner of war camps in both Germany and Poland, before his involvement in the wooden horse escape from Stalag Luft III allowed him to escape to Sweden and Scotland. His memoir, 'Stolen Journey', was published in 1953.

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