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Flight Lieutenant Dominic Bruce OBE MC AFM (7 June 1915 – 12 February 2000) was a British Royal Air Force officer, known as the "Medium Sized Man."[3][4] He has been described as "the most ingenious escaper" of World War II.[5] During the Second World War he made seventeen attempts at escaping from POW camps, including several attempts to escape from Colditz Castle, a castle that housed prisoners of war deemed incorrigible.

Dominic Bruce
Dominic Bruce
Nickname(s) The "Medium Sized Man"
Born (1915-06-07)7 June 1915[1]
Hebburn, County Durham, England
Died 12 February 2000(2000-02-12) (aged 84)
Richmond, Surrey, England
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Air Force
Years of service 1935–1946
Rank Flight Lieutenant
Service number 45272[2]
Unit No. 9 Squadron
No. 214 Squadron
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Officer of the Order of the British Empire
Military Cross
Air Force Medal
Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great
Other work College Principal

Famed for his time in Colditz, Bruce also escaped from Spangenberg Castle and the Warburg POW camp. In Spangenberg Castle he escaped with the Swiss Red Cross Commission escape, it is also argued he co-innovated the wooden horse escape technique whilst serving time inside Spangenberg. In Warburg he escaped dressed as a British orderly in a fake workers party. Inside Colditz Castle, Bruce authored the Tea Chest Escape and also faced a firing squad for an attempted escape via a sewer tunnel. Whilst held in solitude in Colditz, along with three other prisoners, Bruce became a key witness to the post war Musketoon, commando raid trial.

For his exploits in WWII he was awarded the Military Cross and is the only known person to have received both the Military Cross and the Air Force Medal.

In his later years he received the OBE for his services to education.


Early yearsEdit

Mary McClurry Bruce (Bruce's mother) called 'The Angel of Hebburn' for her charity work amongst young mothers, receives the British Empire Medal from the Lord Lieutenant of Durham, Lord Lawson of Beamish, a former school friend

Bruce was born on 7 June 1915, in Hebburn,[1] County Durham, England. He was the second of the four children of William and Mary Bruce.[1] Mary (née McClurry) Bruce was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1956 for her services to the care of the sick and infirm and was known as the 'Angel of Hebburn'. His older brother was Brother Thomas (William) Bruce FSC, a member of the De La Salle religious congregation or Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. His two younger siblings were Anne Bruce-Kimber and John Bruce. Dominic Bruce's adventures started early in his life when he ran away from home by means of a collier sailing from the Tyne to the Thames. Remarkably on arrival in London he was recognised by a police officer married to his father's sister Anne. He was quickly returned to Shakespeare Avenue in Hebburn. Bruce was educated at and matriculated from St Cuthbert's Grammar School, Newcastle, 1927-1935.[1] He was of an adventurous disposition and as an alternative to his formal education he spent some time as an unauthorised visitor to the Newcastle law courts[note 1] during school time.[7] Bruce doubtlessly would have made a formidable legal adversary in later life should his family had the means for him to pursue a legal career after matriculation.

Bruce married Mary Brigid Lagan on 25 June 1938 at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, Maiden Lane, London, WC2.

Early RAF careerEdit

On joining the Royal Air Force in 1935 he trained as an wireless operator.[8] Later he was posted to No. 9 Squadron and became a navigator. On 25 March 1937 he was involved in the crash of the Handley Page Harrow "K6940" which resulted from a badly judged descent which removed the roof of a train travelling on railway lines adjacent to the Handley Page works airfield at Radlett.[9][10]

Air Force MedalEdit

On 6 October 1938, while with No. 214 Squadron, he survived the crash of Harrow "K6991" at Pontefract, Yorkshire.[11] While acting as a wireless operator for his aircraft he was knocked out by a lightning strike.[12] Once recovered he alerted his base to the fact that the crew were bailing out. Wishing to get out of an escape hatch he found his way blocked by other airmen who were hesitating about throwing themselves out of the aircraft into the howling darkness. He rushed to the other side of the hatch and jumped. His parachute harness caught on projecting clamps and pulled the trapdoor shut above him. Bruce was now suspended under the bomber and unable to escape further. Realising what had happened his fellow crew members were now galvanised into action raised the trapdoor and were shocked to have Bruce shoot back into the aircraft, though not too shocked to eject him again. Bruce was subsequently awarded the Air Force Medal (AFM) on 8 June 1939.[13][note 2] According to Pete Tunstall, Bruce was very proud of being the only man known to have bailed from an aircraft three times and to have landed only twice.[14] After the war he used to entertain his children with the seemingly insoluble riddle: "How is it that I baled out three times, but only landed twice?" Bruce called his AFM medal the 'Away From Mam' medal.[12]


At the outbreak of war, in 1939, Bruce had been trained as a navigator with RAF No.9 Squadron.[12] The mortality risk for RAF Bomber Command aircrew in World War II was significant. His role as a navigator would have involved keeping the aircraft on course at all times.[15] He would have had to have had a high level of concentration as missions could last up to seven hours.[15]

On 20 January 1941 Acting Flight Sergeant Bruce was granted a commission "for the duration of hostilities" as a probationary pilot officer, with seniority from 8 January.[2]

Camaraderie with messmatesEdit

Bruce (far right) with crew about to raid Brest in 1941

Bruce was a notorious prankster. In Pat Reid's book about Colditz he describes how a group of new Navy entrants to the castle were horrified when a uniformed German doctor (in fact, Howard Gee, one of the 'prominente' hostages) insisted that they were lice ridden and must strip naked for their private parts be treated by his medical orderly. This alarming figure in white overalls would approach each man with a lavatory brush dipped in a bucket of evil smelling blue liquid (consisting of lavatory disinfectant and theatrical paint) and dabbed each man's genitals. The new boys would later realise that the evilly grinning orderly was Bruce.[16]

Bruce in Colditz, seated, fifth from left

In his book 'Colditz: the German Story' (1961, translation by Howard Gee), Reinhold Eggers, the castle's Security Officer, describes how Bruce was fond of sowing confusion amongst the German guards during Appel, or roll call, using the 'rabbit run' prank. Bruce would stand in the ranks, wait until he had been counted, then duck quickly along the line, only to be counted again at the other end. This trick was also used for more serious purposes, to cover up for a missing escapee.[17]

In the IWM interview tapes held in the Imperial War Museum Sound Archive, Bruce tells the tale of a bombing mission over Berlin when he persuaded the pilot to descend to five hundred feet over the city. Bruce climbed down into the now empty bomb bay, hand cranked the doors open; sat on the bomb rack and threw a lit distress flare out of the plane. When asked later why, he answered "Because I've always wanted to see the Unter den Linden lit up at night."[18][19] In the same tapes he tells how he fooled the King's cousin Viscount Lascelles (later the Earl of Harewood, he was being kept in Colditz as a hostage by the SS) into believing that the average or medium size of home sapiens was 5 feet 3 inches (his own height). When Lascelles told his mess mates about this novel theory it did not take them long to discover who had fooled him. That resulted in his nickname, 'the Medium Sized Man'.[18][19] Bruce was also was known as 'Brucie' or 'Bruce.'[14]

During his failed escape under the wire at Colditz he discovered his German nickname, as the guard who fell over him in the dark (and in his fright shot at Bruce, just barely missing his eyebrow) answered the security patrol's question as to who it was by saying 'Der Kleine' ('the little one'). The sentry overcame his shock only to burst out laughing when Bruce shouted "I surrender" in an effort to prevent him shooting again. When he emerged from his six week sentence in solitary confinement he asked another prisoner, Cyril Lewthwaite, who spoke excellent German, if he could explain the guard's odd reaction. Lewthwaite asked Bruce what he had said in German. Bruce obliged, whereupon Lewthwaite pointed out that "Ich ueber gebe mich" does not in fact mean "I surrender" but "I am going to be sick" (taken from a private letter to Peter Tunstall dated 5th September, 1979).[20]

Over 40% of those in the RAF were killed in action in WWII.[21] Bruce and his comrades in RAF Bomber Command would have had to have nerves of steel.[21] Notoriously short tempered (his father 'Billie' Bruce was supposed to be the 'worst tempered man in the North of England') he was described as 'as hard as nails' by his fellow Spangenberg inmate, Squadron Leader Eric Foster, in his autobiography.[22] Foster's autobiography is also an eye witness source for the Swiss Red Cross Commission escape[22] at Spangenberg Castle.

Caterpillar ClubEdit

Bruce (middle, in flying suit and Caterpillar Club tie, glass in hand, aged 80) being interviewed by a SKY TV reporter, after having alighted from a vintage Tiger Moth biplane at RAF Fairford during the RAF 50th Anniversary Victory Airshow in 1995, where he was chosen to represent RAF veterans of 1935.
The Blankenberge grave of Wing Commander Roy George Claringbould Arnold MD who saved the life of Bruce (and four others) by holding the burning Wellington steady so they could bale out.

On 9 June 1941, while navigating a Wellington bomber over the North Sea, his aircraft was shot down. The pilot, Wing Commander Roy Arnold calmly stayed at the controls of the burning Wellington in order to keep it steady and allow the other five crew members to escape. He did this in the certain knowledge that he would die doing so. He was thirty years old and married. Arnold is buried in the CWG cemetery at Blankenberge, Belgium.[23] The story of his heroic act of self-sacrifice did not emerge until after the war when the crew returned from captivity and could tell their squadron commander.

In WW2, the survival rates for bailing out into the sea were not great with roughly one third surviving[24] and despite the fact that he could not swim, Bruce baled out into the sea, hoping to allow the current to wash him south towards France and the resistance life lines that had been established there. However, motor launches were quickly despatched from the port and he was picked by the German Navy in the sea near Zeebrugge. He earned membership of the "Caterpillar Club" as a result of this exit from a "disabled aircraft" as can be seen from his wearing of the Club tie in the photo taken in 1995 at RAF Fairford (left).[note 3]

Spangenberg CastleEdit

The perforated German Government copper identity tag issued to Bruce at Spangenberg (on his death it would have been broken in half); and the compass he used after escaping from Colditz to find his way through Germany to freedom.

Bruce was first held in Oflag IX-A/H, a German prisoner of war camp at Spangenberg Castle. Spangenberg Castle (German: Schloss Spangenberg) is a schloss above the small German town of Spangenberg in the North Hesse county of Schwalm-Eder-Kreis.

Innovator of the wooden horse techniqueEdit

It has been argued that Bruce, Tunstall and Newborn are the original innovators of the wooden horse escape technique. Along with Eustace Newborn and Peter Tunstall, Bruce came up with the escape plan now known as "the Swiss Red Cross Commission." Tunstall, also highlights that in 1941, simultaneously as he, Bruce and Newborn were planning an escape with the famed 'Swiss Red Cross Commission,' he, Bruce, Newborn and a prisoner called Sammy Hoare had been digging a second escape route with a wooden horse tunnel but Hoare, unfortunately, got caught.[14] This wooden horse gym escape was two years prior to the famed Sagan wooden horse escape. Tunstall stated that he would like to think some of the watchers and workers who helped on their original wooden horse escape may have mentioned it from time to time;[14] and would like to think that their idea contributed to the success of the effort at Sagan.[14]

Swiss Red Cross Commission escapeEdit

Spangenberg Castle in 2010

The 'Swiss Red Cross Commission' has been described as the most audacious escape of World War Two. His MC citation described it as a very clever escape. Using uniforms found in the castle and suits made from uniforms, the three POWs simply walked out of the camp posing as a German officer (Tunstall) and two members (Bruce and Newborn) of a Swiss Red Cross inspection team. They passed through the castle gate, and then, wearing faked Luftwaffe uniforms which they were wearing under their disguises, headed to an airfield near Kassel intending to steal a Junkers Ju 52, which Newborn had flown before the war, and fly home. They penetrated the aerodrome, but were discovered trying to start a Luftwaffe aircraft,[12] so they decided to find another aerodrome that was less heavily guarded. After some days on the road, they were challenged by a soldier who had previously worked as a guard at Spangenberg and who recognised Tunstall. Bruce, Tunstall and Newborn were interrogated by the gestapo and sent back to Spangenberg.[26] Returned to Spangenberg, the three were each held to a long period in solitary confinement.[27] Bruce received 53 days in solitude for the Spangenberg Castle escape.[12] In Spangenberg they were not sentenced for their escape but held in preventative arrest.[28] The Senior British Officer also complained that according to the Geneva convention guidelines, the exercise yard in Spangenberg was too small, and they needed to be moved to another camp.[28]

Defying solitude

In solitary confinement, Bruce, Newborn and Tunstall were placed in three separate cells in front of, and high above, the moat they had previously escaped from. Whilst they were held in confinement, they even managed to defy solitude after Bruce picked the lock on his, Newborn's and Tunstall's cell doors in order that they might join him in his cell to play poker with a set of home made cards a previous occupant had left behind.[28] For the breaking of the solitude, Bruce was eventually court-martialled on the serious military charge of breaking free from arrest, the other two eventually got 5 extra days solitude. Tunstall explained he thought Bruce eventually got away with it by Bruce explaining escaping was not a court-martial offence for a POW, according to the Geneva Convention.[28] After nearly eight weeks, the whole camp was made to move; Bruce, Tunstall and Newborn were rumoured to be, and expected to be, sent straight to the Colditz Straflager(punishment camp), instead, they were sent to Warburg.[29] This immediate move was a hindrance to Bruce and Tunstall as they had been formulating two more escape plans.[29] Tunstall mentions that on the journey to Warburg there was a flurry of train jumpers.[29]

Warburg prisoner of war campEdit

After his Spangenberg Castle escape, Bruce was eventually sent to Oflag VI-B, then in the village of Dössel (now in Warburg).[12] The Warburg camp has been described as soulless, bleak and unfinished. It roughly housed 3000 prisoners.[30]

Worker party escapeEdit

Upon arrival Bruce and Tunstall immediately cased the joint and formulated escape plans.[31] They noticed the secondary gate was used occasionally to march out guarded working parties of orderlies and that the security here was lax, when compared to Spangenberg.[31] Bruce and Tunstall then created their first plan. The plan involved walking out of the camp dressed as guards. Bruce and Tunstall, then registered their new plan of escape with the Warburg escape committee. They then got working on German army uniforms to walk out through the lax security.[32] They soon faced two problems. The first problem being being they were immediately put back into solitary; and the next problem being, the escape committee changed their plans.

Their previous preventative arrest in Spangenberg amounted to almost two months, and despite the fact they had been promised that their arrest time in Spangenberg would count against any sentence in Warburg, a Major called Rademacher announced to Bruce, Tunstall and Newborn that they each would be serving 28 days in solitary.[33] This was the first immediate blow to Bruce's and Tunstall's first escape plan. The second blow occurred when the escape committee decided on adjusting their plan; they wanted their escape plan to accommodate more prisoners.[34] The escape committee new plan was to use the uniforms and the forged papers and then march out a big bogus working party.[35] Bruce and Tunstall were to be orderlies in the plan and the uniforms were to be worn by two fluent German speakers called Stevens and Lance Pope who would act as the guards of the orderlies.[36] Tunstall explains he and Bruce, accepted the change selflessly but were worried that the change in plan was too ambitious and would complicate things.[35] Still the escape committee worked on the uniforms, dummy rifles and the forged documents which were forged by John Mansel. Mansel who Tunstall described as the master forger of WWII.[34]

The first two times the worker party escape was tried it was held back at the gates via faults in the documentation. In January 1942,[12] the third time they attempted the bogus worker party, they forged the signature of the guard Feldwebel Braun.[37] This opened the gate. Though this escape was immediately hindered by the guardsman noticing Feldwebel Braun could not have signed the papers as he was on compassionate leave.[37] The guards then started firing, and the bogus workers party dispersed.[37] According to Tunstall, not one of the escape party was caught and the German uniforms, the dummy rifles and forged papers where quickly stowed away in the hides at emergency speed.[38] The German search party, though, did find a piece of green cloth which was used to make the German uniform, on the camps belongings. Bruce and Tunstall were blamed for this by Major Rademacher.[39] For this action Bruce received more time in solitary confinement.[12]

Escaping from solitudeEdit

Bruce and Tunstall were sent to solitude for the attempted escape with a workers party and they were given three months. They felt persecuted by Rademacher as they perceived the Major was always putting them into confinement for baseless reasons. Whilst in solitary though they still constructed more escape plans.[40] In this specific stretch of confinement, they worked out one more plan, and this set up involved an actual escape from inside the solitary confinement.[40] They wanted to break out of the camp and follow a previous route to France which was attempted by a former prisoner who had jumped on a goods train in Dössel and had evaded capture for five days. They also noted the cell block was made of a heavy timber, and that to escape from the camp with this type of timber it required adequate tools.[41] Knowing this escape needed tools, they then made a selection of hand made tools and wrapped them up. Bruce eventually hid the tools in the wood shavings in his mattress.[42]

Knowing the tools were now safe and they could pick their moment, on the morning of their planned escape, they noticed more snow had fell. They observed that this was not escaping weather and because of the conditions they had no option but to wait.[42] This wait, sadly for Bruce and Tunstall, prolonged. Whilst waiting for the weather conditions to improve, Bruce and Tunstall were ordered to pack their belongings... and they were then sent to Colditz.[42] A year later, inside Colditz, former Warburg prisoner Douglas Bader, explained the escape tools they left inside Warburg had been successfully used by another prisoner.[43]

Prisoner at ColditzEdit

Colditz Castle as seen in 2011

Bruce arrived in Colditz Castle, known as officer prisoner-of-war camp Oflag IV-C, on 16 March 1942. Colditz was near Leipzig in the State of Saxony.[44] It was intended to contain Allied officers who had escaped many times from other prisoner-of-war camps and were deemed incorrigible.[44] It was the only POW camp with more guards than prisoners. The Nazis regarded it as the most escape proof prison in Germany.[44] Colditz, because of the escapee prisoners it housed, eventually become thought of as an international escape academy.[45] Heavily guarded Colditz, still managed more home runs than anywhere else.[46]

Arrival and processingEdit

Prisoners yard as seen in 2011.

On the train journey to Colditz, they had been escorted to Colditz by three privates and one NCO.[47] These guards were in turn briefed about Bruce's and Tunstall's propensity for escaping; the guards were under a threat of severe retribution if they ever escaped.[47] The guards called Colditz Sonderlager (Special Camp) and the prisoners called Colditz Straflager (Punishmant Camp).[47] When Bruce arrived at Colditz late at night and, for the first time, entered the deserted, flood lit exercise yard, on his way to the upper cells, Tunstall recollects that Bruce's first words were, "We'll get out of this bloody place too." To which Tunstall recalls he replied, "You bet."[48]

After recapture from his Spangenberg and Warburg escapes, Bruce, now in Colditz, was put in a cell whilst waiting for trial. He was charged with breaking and entering for picking a lock in a walled off part of the Spangenberg Castle; and theft of the uniform he found in the walled off room inside Spangenberg Castle. He was put into a cell and in his cell, documents show, Bruce kicked the door down. This action added a very serious charge of sabotage of state property. This was a charge that carried a very long prison sentence in solitary. To defend himself, Bruce choose a fellow Colditz prisoner, Lieutenant Alan Campbell, a trained lawyer, to advocate for him. Campbell (subsequently Baron Campbell of Alloway ERD QC (24 May 1917 – 30 June 2013)) argued that, according to King's Regulations, Bruce had a duty to escape; and using a precedent, cited a case of a German fighter pilot called Franz von Werra who had escaped, who was famed for getting the German High Command to change its policy with regards to POW's; and highlighted the fact that Bruce had never used violence. After the trial, Bruce received a moderate sentence of three months in solitary.[49]

On 21 April 1942 Bruce's commission was confirmed and he was promoted to the war substantive rank of flying officer.[50]

Tea chest escapeEdit

Photo of the bed sheet rope used in the 'tea chest' escape from Colditz by Dominic Bruce.
The tea chest used by Bruce to escape from Colditz

Bruce was the author of the famed "Tea Chest Escape" which was featured in the Imperial War Museum's 'Great Escapes' exhibition in 2004,[51] where the museum built a fascimile of the tea chest and invited children to see if they could 'escape from Colditz'. He made use of a silk map.[4] The silk escaping map Bruce used in the escape to guide him to Danzig (now Gdansk) which was sent to him by his wife concealed in a brass button of a uniform, at the behest of MI9, can be seen in the IX Squadron archive museum at RAF Marham,[52] donated to the Squadron in a handover ceremony by the Bruce family. Because of his very small stature Bruce was known ironically as the "medium-sized man"[3][4] (see camaraderie with messmates section for the origin). When a new Commandant arrived at Colditz in the summer of 1942 he enforced rules restricting prisoners' personal belongings. On 8 September 1942 POWs were told to pack up all their excess belongings and an assortment of boxes were delivered to carry them into store. Bruce immediately seized his chance and was packed inside a Red Cross packing case, three foot square, with just a file and a 40-foot (12 m) length of rope made from bed sheets. Bruce was taken to a storeroom on the third floor of the German Kommandantur and that night made his escape.[53] The next morning the castle was visited by General Wolff, officer in charge of POW army district 4.[16] He inspected the camp and found everything to his satisfaction.[16] Fortunately for the camp commandant, as Wolff was driven away, his back was turned to the southern face of the castle. If he had turned his head he would have seen a length of blue and white checked (bedsack) rope dangling from a remote window.[16] It was, however, eventually noticed by a hausfrau (housewife) in the town, who quickly reported it to the duty officer.[16][54] When the German guards entered the storeroom they found the empty box on which Bruce had, in yet another of his pranks, inscribed in chalk:

Translated this means: "The air in Colditz no longer agrees with me. See you later!"[4] Pat Reid explained it was almost tempting providence of Bruce to write Auf Wiedersehen on the box instead of writing good bye.[4] Bruce travelled 400 miles to Danzig; the furthest distance he ever made in all his escapes.[55] To get to Danzig, he slept rough,[12] and he travelled by bicycles which he stole from outside village churches during Mass. Whilst travelling to Danzig, Bruce was temporarily recaptured in Frankfurt-on-Oder, but escaped prior to interrogation.[12] In Danzig, one week later, he was eventually caught trying to stow away on a Swedish Freighter.[55] When he returned to Colditz, Bruce received more time in solitary.[12]

Triple identity ploy
The forged papers in the name of Joe Soap used by Bruce in the Tea Chest escape

He is thought to be the inventor of the 'triple identity' ploy for use when captured, which he explains in the Imperial War Museum Sound Archive tapes.[18][19][note 4] The triple identity meant that he had three personae; his real identity as himself, the identity shown on his false ID papers; and another identity that he would only reveal under pressure. When he was captured, he was disguised as a Belgian Gastarbeiter or 'guest worker' named Josef Savon (his false ID is still in the possession of the Bruce family) another example of Bruce's fondness of disguises. In his autobiographical book, 'The Tunnellers of Sandborstal' (Robert Hale, 1959), Lieutenant Commander John 'Bosun' Chrisp MBE RN said that "Bruce's adventures in various corners of occupied Europe read like John Buchan (author of 'The Thirty Nine steps') at his most melodramatic" and that Bruce "can claim to be the most ingenious and unlucky escaper of the war."[5] The use of the Josef Savon disguise is also another example of Bruce's predilection for pranks, as Josef Savon translates into 'Joe Soap'. In 1944, Joe Soap was RAF slang for a legendary airman who carried the can.[note 5]

When captured he pretended to break down and admitted he was in fact Flight Sergeant Joseph Lagan. Lagan was his brother in law and so Bruce could answer detailed questions about his service record etc. Initially the delighted Germans believed him and were ready to send him to a Stalag or 'other ranks' camp.[18][19] Under the Geneva Convention, other ranks (unlike officers) could be made to work; and were often taken outside camps on working parties; from which it was easy to escape. His story when captured was that he had jumped from a British plane over Bremen and arrived in Danzig on a stolen bicycle;[4] his bicycle, unbeknown to Bruce, had a local number on it.[4] Bruce was then sent to the RAF camp at Dulag Luft near Oberursel.[4] Whilst at the camp, the Germans had already requested a specialist Gestapo interrogator to come from Berlin, who was to recognise Bruce.[4][18][19] When he arrived he took one look at the supposed Flight Sergeant Lagan and said "Ah, Captain Bruce, how nice to see you again". This was the second time he had interrogated Bruce (whom the Germans habitually addressed as 'Captain'). Under heavy guard, Bruce was taken by train back to Colditz. On the overheated train, the guard detail fell asleep and Bruce tried to escape once again, but was prevented by a watchful officer.[18][19]

Aiding an escape from solitudeEdit

The German Kommandantur in 2011.

The 'Tea Chest Escape' made Bruce the first escapee to escape from both Spangenberg Castle and Colditz Castle. He was soon to be joined by Howard 'Hank' Wardle MC[57] who would soon escape from Colditz with Captain Pat Reid, Major Ronald B. Littledale, and Lieutenant Commander L. W. Stephens. Wardle had also escaped from Spangenberg Castle.[58][note 6] This escape by Wardle, Reid, Littledale and Stephens was aided by reconnaissance from Bruce. Pat Reid explained that whilst Bruce was in solitude, he got a message smuggled to Bruce, via his food. Reid wanted Bruce to give him some detail about the German Kommandantur of the castle.[59] In due course Reid received a return message from Bruce.[59] This message gave him information about the specific unused staircase, the top floors, and importantly, how the door to this staircase was in full view of the Kommandantur sentries, and how this door was put into shadow by the flood lights.[59] On 14 October 1942, in the Kommandantur cellar escape, they all used Bruce's information and tried to get the staircase door open with a dummy key. Unfortunately the dummy key failed. This worked out though; as with their contingency plan, using the shadow, they slowly worked their way to the Kommandantur cellar to which they where to escape from.[60]

Musketoon witnessEdit

In October 1942 seven captured commandos were processed inside Colditz and sent to solitary confinement. These commandos had previously been involved in the Operation Musketoon raid. Inside the cells Peter Storie-Pugh, Dick Howe and Bruce had managed to have conversations with them.[61]

On 13 October 1942 the commandos were removed from Colditz and taken to the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RHSA) headquarters in Berlin, where they were interrogated one by one by Obergruppenführer Heinrich Müller.[62] They remained in Berlin until 22 October, when they were taken to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. On the next day, 23 October, they were all shot in the back of the neck and their bodies cremated.[63] These commandos were the first to fall victim to Adolf Hitler's Kommandobefehl (Commando Order) issued on 18 October 1942, which called for the execution of all commandos after capture.

In 1964 Stephen Schofield interviewed Bruce for his book 'Musketoon: commando raid, Glomfjord, 1942' (University of Michigan), revealing that while in the solitary confinement cells, Bruce managed to make contact with Captain Black DSO, leader of Operation Musketoon, the Anglo-Norwegian commando raid mounted against the German-held Glomfjord power plant in Norway. Bruce was the last British person to speak to Black before he (and six comrades) was murdered in Sachsenhausen concentration camp.[61] The official German story given to the Red Cross was that the seven men had escaped and not been recaptured, and Colditz Oflag IVC were instructed to return any letters to their senders marked Geflohen (escaped),[61] but Bruce's testimony was sent from Colditz to MI5 in London and ensured that the British authorities knew the truth.[64]

Bruce was promoted again, to flight lieutenant, on 20 January 1943.[65]

Faced by a firing squadEdit

Contrary to the Geneva convention the use of force had been debated inside the German mess for years. Oberstleutnant Prawitt, the Kommandant and Staff Paymaster Heinze were keen on using it on repeat offenders,[66] such as Bruce. As was the Major Amthor, the new second in command, who had joined the mess in May 1943. Amthor was a young keen Nazi and had constantly tried to influence for the use rough measures.[66] Amthor and Prawit were hated by the prisoners that when ever they entered the court yard they were whistled and howled at.[66] In late March 1944, Hitler had disregarded the Geneva Convention with regards to POW's. The punishment for escape now carried a punitive risk of execution.[note 7] Bruce made two further escape attempts in 1944; on 19 April and on the 16 June.

On his 19 April escape he cut through bars on north side of the castle and reached the wire fence before being detected.[68]

On 16 June escape, Bruce, Major R. Lorraine and John "Bosun" Chrisp tunnelled through sewers into an old well in the German yard that had a pipe that lead into the river, but were again detected.[69] The sewage escape route that lead to the manhole covered well, was found via the help of earlier tunnelling and reconnaissance by the Poles, along with the help of Jack Best (also of the Colditz Cock fame) and Mike Harvey.[70] Best and Harvey had frequented with the Poles in their time as ghost prisoners and had participated in their tunnel digging.[70] Best hated the tunnel in his days as a ghost prisoner, claiming your arse always got wet with cold waste water.[70] Though Best noted the Poles were very proud of their dangerous tunnel.[70] One prisoner claimed the tunnel even had a 'terrifying' electrical cable that ran inside the damp conditions.[71] Sometime after 1941, the Poles had dug a key hole through a rock that itself lead onto the main sewer system. In 1944, Bruce, Chrisp and Lorraine, surveyed the tunnel, whilst Dick Howe ensured the kitchen, showers and toilets were off limits to other POW's.[71] When they entered that hole they found the main sewage system lead to the well;[72] the well they were soon to be captured in. When Bruce, Lorraine and Chrisp were caught, according to Chrisp, Bruce, became spokesman for the three in the interrogation.[69] As spokesman he declined to answer to Eggers, on three separate times, as to where the entrance to their escape tunnel was. For this the three men where placed in front of a wall and faced by a firing squad; though Eggers did not give an order to fire.[69] Eventually, orders came (via MI9 and the Senior British Officer) that all escapes were forbidden and so Bruce and his comrades had to sit out the war until the liberation came in April 1945.

Liberated from ColdtizEdit

Dominic Bruce's unique medal group, now owned by Lord Ashcroft
The German Army issue pistol used by Bruce in a failed attempt to liberate a chicken from Hitler's tyranny

Bruce was eventually liberated on 16 April 1945 by the US Army.[12] In the IWM tapes Bruce describes the scene. The first GI through the castle gates heard a voice from a second floor window. "Take that man's sidearm" the voice ordered. The GI duly disarmed a German guard. "Tie it onto this piece of string" the voice said. The GI complied. The pistol (which is still in the possession of the Bruce family) was hauled up the castle wall and disappeared into the window. Bruce (who, like the other prisoners and Germans alike, had been at near starvation levels during the last months of the war) went directly to the castle kitchens and put the gun to the head of a German cook and demanded a chicken. Sadly, there were none to be had. Bruce was flown to England to meet the two small boys (and the wife) he had not seen since 1941 outside Victoria railway station in London.[18][19]

Military CrossEdit

In October 1946 he was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for his escape attempts,[73][74] making him the only person ever to be awarded both the Military Cross and the Air Force Medal.[75][note 8]

'"Flight Lieutenant Bruce was shot down over Zeebrugge in June, 1941, and picked up by a German vessel. After an unsuccessful tunnel attempt in July, 1942, Flight Lieutenant Bruce and two companions made a very clever escape from Spangenburg in September, 1942, disguised as a German civilian commission and officer escort. They reached Cassel aerodrome hoping to find a Junkers 52 - the only German aircraft they knew how to fly - and, finding none of this type on the field, they decided to make for France but were caught several days later near Frankenberg. After this attempt, Flight Lieutenant Bruce was transferred to Warburg. From there he made several attempts to escape, the most successful being in January, 1942, when three men masqueraded as a German guard escorting a party of British orderlies. For this, Flight Lieutenant Bruce received three months in cells from which he attempted to escape with the aid of a dummy key, but was prevented by the bad weather. In September, 1942, he escaped from Colditz in an empty crate and made for Danzig. He was captured ten days later at Frankfurt-on-Oder, but escaped while awaiting interrogation. He reached Danzig and was arrested trying to board a troop ship. Flight Lieutenant Bruce continued to try every possible means of escape, with varying degrees of success, throughout his captivity making about seventeen attempts in all. He was liberated from Colditz in April 1945.'

London Gazette[73]

Later lifeEdit

Personal lifeEdit

After the war, Bruce and his wife Mary, settled in Sunbury-on-Thames in Surrey.[12] They brought up nine children, six boys and three girls.[55] One of his sons, Brendan,[18] is a communications executive. His nickname in the Bruce family (which was given to him by his Italian son-in-law), was 'Il Cavaliere' ('the knight') due to his Papal knighthood.[citation needed]


Dominic Bruce (middle in white blazer) as cox of the Corpus Christi, Oxford, rowing eight, 1948

In 1946 Bruce became a student at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, reading Modern History, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949.[1] He completed what was known as War Degree (7 terms) and was awarded a Master of Arts degree in 1953.

Bruce served as an Adult Education Tutor at Bristol University, 1949–50. He was Assistant Secretary of the University Committee, Adult Education HM Forces, 1950–53; Further Education Officer, Surrey County Council, 1953–59; Principal, Richmond Technical Institute, 1959–62. Bruce became the Founding Principal of Kingston College of Further Education, 1962–1980.[77] There was significant interest at the time for this important new position and the short list consisted of Bruce, a distinguished Royal Navy Captain and an Army Brigadier (i.e. a 'one star' general). Bruce's quick wit was responsible for his appointment. When he entered the interview room, the Chairman of the Panel was reading his CV and looked up at him in astonishment saying "it says here that you have nine children. Are they all yours?" (thinking that some were perhaps stepchildren). "So my wife assures me" came Bruce's imperturbable reply.

Executive and advisory roles and honoursEdit

In civic and charitable bodies Bruce also acted as:

  • Chairman of the Further and Higher Education Committee of the Archdiocese of Westminster
    • Schools Officer, Archdiocese of Westminster, 1978–80.
  • Committee member of the Association of Principals of Colleges and member of its Regional Advisory Council
  • Chairman of the General Commissioners of Income Tax, Spelthorne Division
  • Education Advisor to the RAF Benevolent Fund.
Bruce receives the OBE from HM Queen Elizabeth II

Bruce was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 1989 for his services to Education.[12] He was also awarded the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great (Latin: Ordo Sancti Gregorii Magni) by Pope John Paul II.

Death and legacyEdit

The grave of Dominic Bruce OBE MC AFM KSG MA RAF and his wife of 62 years Mary Lagan Bruce

Dominic Bruce died on 12 February 2000 in Richmond, Surrey, England. He was survived by Mary Brigid Bruce (died 15 June 2000) and his six sons and three daughters.[55]

In 2015 his medal group (unique in that he is the only person in British military history to be awarded both the Military Cross and the Air Force Medal) was donated by his family to the Ashcroft Trust for the benefit of the RAF Benevolent Fund and the British Red Cross, the latter having kept him alive in Colditz by the sending of regular food parcels.

Portrayals in film and televisionEdit

In the BBC TV series Colditz (1972–74), which chronicled the lives of the Allied prisoners of war held in the castle, one of the characters portrayed was Flight Lieutenant Simon Carter (played by David McCallum) - Carter was a young, upstart, hot-headed RAF officer who enjoys goon-baiting and is very impatient to escape. The fictional Carter closely resembles Bruce.[78] In the episode, from series one, 'Gone Away, part 1', first shown 18 January 1973, the 'Tea Chest Escape' was re-enacted.[12]

This BBC series was such a success that it was quickly repeated. In order to make up the episodes to a sixty minute slot (the BBC had hoped to sell the series to the USA, hence the use of Robert Wagner, so they had to be only fifty minutes in length to include commercials) a select group of six Colditz escapers were interviewed individually by the famous war correspondent Frank Gillard and shown immediately after the repeat programmes were broadcast. Bruce was one of the interviewees. The documentary series was called Six from Colditz, and Bruce's interview was listed in 1973, and also on 17 January 1974 in the Radio Times.[79][note 9]

Colditz, a 2005 British two-part television miniseries produced by Granada Television for ITV, written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stuart Orme, features a fictionalised account of an actual event when three inmates; Dick Lorraine, John 'Bosun' Chrisp, and the 'Medium Sized Man', Dominic Bruce attempted to escape using the castle sewers. In reality the escape team were discovered when they attempted to exit a manhole. The Germans threatened to throw grenades down into the sewer chamber and, as the escapers could not reverse back up the sewer pipe, they were forced to surrender. They were immediately put in front of a firing squad, but unlike the fictional TV account, the guards did not fire. Just before the order was to be given, Bruce lost his temper and approached the officer in charge, Eggers, saying "you can shoot us, but after the War we'll hang you". Eggers stood the squad down.


  1. ^ The Newcastle law courts are now on the Quayside. The courts Bruce would have frequented in his youth would have been the city's Moot Hall courthouse. The Moot Hall operated as law courts from 1812 to 1998.[6]
  2. ^ Prior to the war, in 1938 when the incident took place, Bruce, new to his career, was only a Leading Aircraftman (LAC); therefore he received the Air Force Medal, rather than the Air Force Cross (AFC) which was given only to officers. This is explained in Pete Tunstall's book, 'The Last Escaper.' In the book Tunstall argues this was needless discrimination against lower ranks.[14]
  3. ^ The Caterpillar Club is an informal association. The only requirement to join is that you have survived by using a parachute when jumping from a stricken aircraft.[25] In his career, documents show Bruce qualified not just in 1941, but in 1938.
  4. ^ Bruce was captured in 1941. The allies did not start survival training until 1943.[24] This highlights that Bruce was using an initiative, without any official training, with regards to the triple identity ploy. This can also give plausibility to the understanding that Bruce, if found not to be the first, was one of the first few, captured airmen, to ever use the 'triple identity ploy' technique.
  5. ^ For the WW2 definition the etymologist Michael Quinion quoted the Royal Air Force Quarterly: "Joe Soap was the legendary airman who carried the original can. He became a synonym for anyone who had the misfortune to be assigned an unwelcome duty in the presence of his fellows, or to be temporarily misemployed in a status lower than his own. “I’m Joe Soap,” he would say lugubriously, and I’m carrying the something can.” Royal Air Force Quarterly, 1944." Quinion then explains, "“Something” may be read as a polite substitute for a more forceful epithet."[56]
  6. ^ Bruce and Wardle are thought to be the only two documented prisoners who have escaped from Spangenberg Castle and Colditz Castle.
  7. ^ On 25 March 1944, going against objections of many senior officers, Hitler ordered the execution of 50 allied troops who had escaped from Stalag Luft III.[67] This highlighted Hitler was no longer following the Geneva Convention with regards to POW's. This precedent meant escaping from any POW camp, after 24 March 1944, carried a significant risk of execution.
  8. ^ In 1993 the Air Force Medal was discontinued and replaced by the Air Force Cross(AFC) medal.[76] This means Bruce will be continuously unique in that he will be the only man to have received the Military Cross and the Air Force Medal combination.
  9. ^ Pre 1980 the BBC had a practice of wiping. This interview may be lost.


  1. ^ a b c d e Hunt (1988), p. 443.
  2. ^ a b Air Ministry (1941), p. 1371: 'Acting Flight Sergeant. 2oth Jan. 1941. (Seniority 8th Jan. 1941.) 522098 Dominic BRUCE, A.F.M. (45272).'...
  3. ^ a b Kerr (2011), Colditz Castle: 'Dominic Bruce, a British officer, known as 'Medium-sized Man'...
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Reid (2015), p. 150.
  5. ^ a b Chrisp MBE RN (1959):'can claim to be the most ingenious and unlucky escaper of the war.'
  6. ^ Chronicle Crown Court Staff (2018):'Newcastle’s Moot Hall previously heard all cases before Newcastle Crown Court was built.'...
  7. ^ Bruce (1999), Visits to law courts.
  8. ^ Tunstall (2014), Location:2863.
  9. ^ Moss (1975), p. 320.
  10. ^ BAAA (1937).
  11. ^ BAAA (1938).
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Battle (2018).
  13. ^ Air Ministry (1939), p. 3874: 'Air Force Medal...; 522098 Leading Aircraftman Dominic BRUCE.'...
  14. ^ a b c d e f Tunstall (2014), Chapter 8 - "Whats the plan?".
  15. ^ a b Mason (2018), Navigator.
  16. ^ a b c d e Reid (2015), p. 149.
  17. ^ Eggers (R). Gee (H) (Author) (1961).
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h Bruce (1999).
  19. ^ a b c d e f g Windle (2006).
  20. ^ Bruce (1979).
  21. ^ a b Veterans SA (2016).
  22. ^ a b Foster (1992).
  23. ^ CWGC (1941):'Roy George Claringbould... Service Number 29198...'
  24. ^ a b RAF St Mawgan (2015).
  25. ^ Irvin (2018).
  26. ^ Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The ony remedy, escape!: Location 3344.
  27. ^ Tunstall (2014).
  28. ^ a b c d Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape.
  29. ^ a b c Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape!: Location 3488.
  30. ^ Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape!: Location 3494.
  31. ^ a b Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape!: Location 3501.
  32. ^ Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape!: Location 3507.
  33. ^ Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape!: Location 3528.
  34. ^ a b Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape!: Location 3535.
  35. ^ a b Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape!: Location 3541.
  36. ^ Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The ony remedy, escape!: Location 3554 - 3561.
  37. ^ a b c Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape!: Location 3595.
  38. ^ Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape!: Location 3610.
  39. ^ Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape!: Location 3616.
  40. ^ a b Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape!: Location 3704.
  41. ^ Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape!: Location 3714.
  42. ^ a b c Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape!: Location 3732.
  43. ^ Tunstall (2014), Chapter Nine - The only remedy, escape!: Location 3742.
  44. ^ a b c Tyson (2001).
  45. ^ Reid (2015), p. 345.
  46. ^ Tunstall (2014), Chapter Ten - Colditz: Location 3993.
  47. ^ a b c Tunstall (2014), Chapter Ten - Colditz: Location 3756.
  48. ^ Tunstall (2014), Chapter Ten - Colditz: Location 3793.
  49. ^ The Timaru Herald Staff (2013).
  50. ^ Air Ministry (1942), p. 1753: 'and to be Fig. Offs...; D. BRUCE, A.F.M. (45272). 2oth Jan. 1942. (Seny. 8th Jan. 1942.)'...
  51. ^ IWM Great Escapes Exhibition (2004).
  52. ^ RAF Marham Museum (2018).
  53. ^ a b Chancellor (2001).
  54. ^ Kemble, Mike. "Colditz Castle". Second World Archived from the original on 27 December 2012. Retrieved 27 November 2017. 
  55. ^ a b c d Honan (2000).
  56. ^ Quinion (2007): '...Royal Air Force Quarterly, 1944. “Something” may be read as a polite substitute for a more forceful epithet.'
  57. ^ Reid (2015), p. 161.
  58. ^ Reid (2015), p. 21.
  59. ^ a b c Reid (2015), p. 158.
  60. ^ Reid (2015), pp. 158-161.
  61. ^ a b c Reid (2015), p. 154.
  62. ^ Schofield (1964), p. 141.
  63. ^ Schofield (1964), p. 143.
  64. ^ Schofield (1964), p. 135.
  65. ^ Air Ministry (1943), p. 1744: 'Flight Lieutenants...; D. BRUCE, A.F.M. (45272). 2oth Jan. 1943. (Seny. 8th Jan. 1943.)'...
  66. ^ a b c Chancellor (2001), p. 301.
  67. ^ Klein (2014).
  68. ^ Chancellor (2001), p. 403.
  69. ^ a b c Chancellor (2001), p. 300.
  70. ^ a b c d Chancellor (2001), p. 298.
  71. ^ a b Chancellor (2001), pp. 298-301.
  72. ^ Chancellor (2001), p. 299.
  73. ^ a b Air Ministry (1946), p. 4991: 'Military Cross...; Flight Lieutenant Dominic BRUCE, A.F.M. (45272). Royal Air Force, No. 9 Squadron. Flight Lieutenant Bruce...'...
  74. ^ TOW (2018), Military Cross (MC): '"Flight Lieutenant Bruce was shot down over Zeebrugge in June, 1941, and picked up by a German vessel. After an unsuccessful tunnel attempt in July, 1942, Flight Lieutenant Bruce and two companions made a very clever escape from Spangenburg in September, 1942, disguised as a German civilian commission and officer escort. They reached Cassel aerodrome hoping to find a Junkers 52 - the only German aircraft they knew how to fly - and, finding none of this type on the field, they decided to make for France but were caught several days later near Frankenberg. After this attempt, Flight Lieutenant Bruce was transferred to Warburg. From there he made several attempts to escape, the most successful being in January, 1942, when three men masqueraded as a German guard escorting a party of British orderlies. For this, Flight Lieutenant Bruce received three months in cells from which he attempted to escape with the aid of a dummy key, but was prevented by the bad weather. In September, 1942, he escaped from Colditz in an empty crate and made for Danzig. He was captured ten days later at Frankfurt-on-Oder, but escaped while awaiting interrogation. He reached Danzig and was arrested trying to board a troop ship. Flight Lieutenant Bruce continued to try every possible means of escape, with varying degrees of success, throughout his captivity making about seventeen attempts in all. He was liberated from Colditz in April 1945.'
  75. ^ Battle (2018), Paragraph two: 'the only airman ever to have been awarded both the Air Force Medal (AFM) and the Military Cross (MC).'...
  76. ^ GM-L (2018): 'the Air Force Medal (AFM),... were also discontinued from September 1993...'
  77. ^ Bradshaw, Benjamin & Cotterell (1999).
  78. ^ "Theme Time: Robert Farnon - Colditz". So It Goes... 23 October 2017. Retrieved 27 November 2017. 
  79. ^ Radio Times (1974).


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Museum artefacts