Escaping Has Ceased to be a Sport

Escaping Has Ceased to be a Sport

Frank Unwin MBE
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
“Escaping Has Ceased to be a Sport” by Frank Unwin MBE.

I’ve always been an avid reader, voraciously devouring everything from the back of cereal boxes at breakfast to the latest Stephen King novel. Over the years, I’ve read some absolute stinkers which frankly should’ve been sent directly to Mr Hitler for inclusion on his bonfires. Books that are so mind-numbingly dull and/or ludicrous that you wish the author a lifetime of stepping barefoot onto Lego bricks.

Thankfully, “Escaping Has Ceased to be a Sport” isn’t one of them. The title refers to a sign erected in a POW camp by Mr Unwin’s German captors during World War Two. The jocular title hides a rather brutal warning that escape will be dealt with severely.

The book is a biography of his time in several prison camps after being captured at Tobruk in 1942.

Incarcerated in Italy’s Laterina camp, the Italian guards originally based at the compound were quite friendly and reasonably amiable to the POWs, teaching Mr Unwin how to speak Italian. However, as the Italians changed allegiance, the Germans would later take over and conditions became harsher.

Several escapes were attempted before Mr Unwin finally achieved it in the confusion between the Italian/German handover and he found himself at a rural Italian village, whose inhabitants took him to their hearts and welcomed him as a guest. Food was scarce, but they shared what they had, the villagers taking it in turns to provide his meals. The Italian he’d picked up at Laterina proved invaluable here as he increased his vocabulary and skills tenfold with the villagers.

For months, Frank was sheltered and loved by this small community, but he felt tortured by thoughts of letting down his comrades and extending his family’s misery because they didn’t know whether he was dead or alive. Italians had been killed for sheltering escaped prisoners and this guilt also weighed upon him, particularly as the villagers took many risks to conceal him.

With a heavy heart, he decided to move on and try to link up with his own forces again. It would’ve been easy for him to stay and sit out the rest of the war, but his own sense of commitment and duty forbade it.

The villagers thought it was a terrible idea and held several meetings to dissuade Frank, but he wouldn’t be swayed.

Unfortunately, Frank was indeed recaptured and sent to a camp in Germany, which was at stark contrast to his previous internment and had Mr Unwin fearing for his life.

What never ceases to impress me when reading these accounts from World War Two is how underplayed their experiences are. No histrionics, no wailing, just matter-of-fact reports and a downplaying of the actual experiences which don’t match the absolute horror and fear they must’ve felt at the time.

Sometimes, that stoicism works against them and the reader can be left with a feeling that the events were not as bad as they actually were, particularly in today’s hyperbolic “Look at MEEEE!!!” society.

Such quiet dignity in the face of enormous challenges of body and soul is a forgotten quality nowadays, but it shouldn’t be.

Mr Unwin’s book is easy to read and feels comfortable, like sitting down and having a chat with your grandad. It’s very conversational and it tootles along rapidly enough. It’s interesting and although there is little suspense contained (his escape and recapture are detailed early on), it is still well worth a read and I found myself having a quiet little toast to Frank and those Italian villagers.

5/5 escape tunnels

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