It was a story tailor-made for Hollywood–Allied prisoners tunneling out of a prisoner-of-war camp in Sagan, now part of Poland.
As 76 men planned the Great Escape, made famous in the 1963 film starring Steve McQueen, Victoria’s Mac Colquhoun and 10 other PoWs in Sagan hatched a plan that saw them transport men in a wooden gymnastics horse to secretly dig a tunnel. The horse was then used to take away sand dug up by the PoWs.
“It was called the Wooden Horse,” said Colquhoun. “We thought up the idea to build this exercise horse designed especially because we wanted to carry men in it, and sand.”
Colquhoun’s job was to surreptitiously disperse the yellow sand throughout the grounds. He would put it in his pockets and have it trickle down through his pant legs as he walked around the camp.
“There was a hole in the bottom,” he said. “There was a string from that hole. I just reached in my pocket and pulled that string and it would shake out.”
After a few months of digging, three men successfully made their escape.
Colquhoun was not one of them. Instead, he remained in the camp until January 1945 when prisoners were ordered west.
Surviving that brutal trek, it was only another few months before he would make his way to London just in time for VE-Day celebrations.
“I thought how lucky I am to be still living,” he said.
Their escape served as the inspiration for the 1950 film The Wooden Horse.
Seventy years later, his eyesight is fading, but those memories are still sharp.
He recently unveiled a monument at the newly-named Veteran’s Memorial Lodge at Broadmead where he lives. He sees it as a chance to pay tribute.
“I often think about all the people I’ve known and there isn’t one alive,” said the 98-year-old. “There isn’t one. It makes you think how lucky I was.”
-With files from Kylie Stanton