Title: The Wooden Horse
Author: Eric Williams
Major Themes: Escapes, Germany, RAF, World War II
Synopsis: British airmen imprisoned in a German prisoner-of-war camp come up with an ingenious plan for escape.
A couple of years ago, I ran across an old copy of The Wooden Horse at a book fair. I picked it up after awhile to read it—and found it so interesting that I told my boys about it. They were very intrigued with what I told them, but at the time none of them was at a stage to read it themselves. Recently, when one of them was supposed to choose a new read-aloud story, he chose it.
Eric Williams wrote this book as a novelization of his own escape attempt from a German Prisoner of War camp during World War II. According to what I have read, it is pretty close to the facts, although in the edition we have he changed the ending to make it more dramatic.
This story is told in two phases. The first phase describes how a couple of prisoners came up with a plan for escape. They decided to dig a tunnel, with the opening hidden with a vaulting horse. A lot of ingenuity went into designing and building the horse, as well as keeping the tunnel safe and hidden from the guards. Sometimes, we were shivering with claustrophobia at the descriptions! Some of the things the prisoners did to keep themselves sane were funny. One man had an elaborate imaginary farm; he was quite disappointed when it rained the day he planned to harvest his wheat!
Once the tunnel was finally completed, phase two began. Three men crawled out of the camp through the tunnel and began the long journey across Germany to Danzig, from which they hoped to reach Sweden. How could they escape detection and find the people they needed to help them to freedom, so they could reach England and rejoin the war? Your hopes for them will rise and fall with theirs!
My boys were nearly on the edge of their seats as they listened to me read this book. They were fascinated with the story. It was a hard one to read, though, because of the language. There was also, of course, a fair amount of lying, and in one scene near the end one of the men killed a German guard. This was added in for drama, though (it didn’t really happen, we were glad to find out), and I believe it may have been edited out in a more recent edition. If you enjoy war stories, and stories about escapes, this is a good one to look for.
WARNING: Cursing is mentioned, the word blast, “noisy devil,” sunbathing in the nude, things are called infernal, “God” is used as an exclamation, “darned,” “hell,” “too much in the lap of the gods,” “you ass,” “damned,” a woman smiling an invitation in a pub, wanting to murder a man, “goddam,” killing a sentry. As I said, I believe some things have been edited, but I would recommend parents reading the book before giving it to their children. I censored on the fly as I read. Also, I read the edition for young readers, published in 1949, so I can’t vouch for the adult edition.
Read Aloud—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 13
Reading Independently—Ages 10 – 12, 12 – 15