Colditz pris­oner be­came a top lawyer

The Timaru Herald - - FEATURES -

ALAN CAMP­BELL en­joyed a dis­tin­guished le­gal ca­reer which be­gan in­for­mally but in deadly earnest when he was im­pris­oned in Colditz Cas­tle for much of the war af­ter hav­ing tried to es­cape sev­eral times from other pris­oner-of-war camps.

Dur­ing his in­car­cer­a­tion, he used his newly ac­quired knowl­edge of the law to re­mark­able ef­fect in pro­vid­ing bril­liant de­fence ar­gu­ments for many of his fel­low pris­on­ers who were tried on var­i­ous se­ri­ous charges.

He had been called to the Bar in May 1939, but left Lon­don im­me­di­ately to be­gin his train­ing as a Sup­ple­men­tary Re­serve sur­vey of­fi­cer with the Royal Ar­tillery. He went to France with the Bri­tish Ex­pe­di­tionary Force in Septem­ber 1939 and, af­ter the onset of the Ger­man of­fen­sive in May 1940, was taken pris­oner on the road be­tween Bethune and St-Pol-sur-Ter­noise.

A gru­elling march to Trier was the first leg of the jour­ney to Oflag VIIC at Laufen on the Aus­trian bor­der, from where he made his first es­cape at­tempt by crawl­ing boldly un­der the wire be­tween two Span­dau ma­chine­gun posts while a friend chat­ted to the sen­tries.

A chance ap­pear­ance of an­other Ger­man guard re­sulted in re­cap­ture so, af­ter sev­eral fur­ther at­tempts, he was des­ig­nated ‘‘deutschfeindlich’’ (hos­tile to the Ger­mans) and sent to Oflag IVC, Colditz Cas­tle in Sax­ony, in 1941.

With a small group of other Bri­tish pris­on­ers, he was later moved to Span­gen­berg near Kas­sel. This was also a cas­tle, but the draw­bridge over the moat ap­peared to of­fer an es­cape route.

Cap­tain Jimmy Yule and Camp­bell chose a wild and blus­tery evening to cross the moat by way of the drain cas­ing along the draw­bridge. A fall­ing stone at­tracted a sen­try’s at­ten­tion and sev­eral bursts of au­to­matic fire. When the fir­ing stopped, they dropped into the dry moat and sur­ren­dered. Both men were re­turned to Colditz, where they were to spend the rest of the war.

While Yule turned his at­ten­tion to tak­ing watch on the pris­on­ers’ se­cret ra­dio, Camp­bell put his le­gal train­ing to use in ad­vis­ing those fac­ing se­vere pun­ish­ments un­der the Ger­man mil­i­tary pe­nal code. He was un­able to rep­re­sent those ar­raigned of­fi­cially, as it was the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the pro­tect­ing power, Switzer­land, to ap­point a Ger­man lawyer to act in their de­fence, but he could ad­vise each ac­cused of his rights un­der in­ter­na­tional law, re­spected by the Ger­man au­thor­i­ties in th­ese cases, and the tac­tics for the con­duct of his de­fence.

He pro­duced guide­lines, writ­ten in minute script, for each ac­cused to fol­low when deal­ing with his de­fence lawyer, in par­tic­u­lar keep­ing de­fence wit­nesses to a min­i­mum and al­low­ing no ir­rel­e­vant diver­sions.

In all, he was as­so­ci­ated with the de­fence of 42 ac­cused pris­on­ers, some fac­ing the death penalty if found guilty. An early case was that of Flight Lieu­tenant Dominic Bruce, who had es­caped from Span­gen­berg by pick­ing a lock into a walled-off part of the cas­tle, where he found a Ger­man of­fi­cer’s uni­form.

His sub­se­quent es­cape at­tempt failed and, when put in a cell af­ter re­cap­ture, he kicked down the door.

Bruce was charged with break­ing and en­ter­ing, theft (of the uni­form) and sab­o­tage of state prop­erty (the cell door). The sab­o­tage charge was es­pe­cially se­ri­ous, car­ry­ing a long prison sen­tence.

Camp­bell con­structed an ar­gu­ment for the de­fence that the acts com­mit­ted by Bruce were solely in the ex­e­cu­tion of his duty to es­cape – an ar­gu­ment the Ger­mans ac­cepted un­der in­ter­na­tional law – and, as he had used no per­sonal vi­o­lence, he was not sub­ject to charge un­der the mil­i­tary pe­nal code.

He also cited the case of the Ger­man fighter pilot Haupt­mann Franz von Werra, who had es­caped in Canada by jumping from a train near the St Lawrence river, steal­ing a boat and even­tu­ally reached the Ger­man con­sulate in New York in then neu­tral United States. Bruce re­ceived a mod­er­ate sen­tence of three months in the Colditz cells.

Much more threat­en­ing were the cases of 13 Czech air­crew of the RAF who had been shot down and taken pris­oner.

Un­der a Ger­man law, en­acted af­ter the takeover of Cze­choslo­vakia in March 1939 that made all sub­jects of the coun­try ‘‘pro­tected cit­i­zens’’, they were charged with trea­son for bear­ing arms against the Re­ich.

Camp­bell based their de­fence on a seven-point re­but­tal of the trea­son charge: all were Czech by birth; they left Cze­choslo­vakia im­me­di­ately af­ter the oc­cu­pa­tion; the Prague Par­lia­ment was not con­sulted be­fore Pres­i­dent Hacha in­vited Hitler to take over; Cze­choslo­vakia was con­sti­tuted as an in­de­pen­dent state in 1918; and hence the va­lid­ity of the Ger­man ‘‘pro­tected cit­i­zens’’ law was ques­tion­able un­der both con­sti­tu­tional and in­ter­na­tional law; con­se­quently the air­men could not be ar­raigned on a crim­i­nal charge un­der that law; and fi­nally the air­men were wear­ing Bri­tish uni­forms when cap­tured and so had the rights of Bri­tish cit­i­zens.

The Ger­man court ruled that the hear­ing of the cases should be post­poned un­til af­ter the end of hos­til­i­ties.

Also un­der threat of a death sen­tence was Lieu­tenant-Colonel WH Schae­fer, of the US Army, who had been the se­nior of­fi­cer in Sta­lag XXB at Schu­bin, in oc­cu­pied Poland. There he had sup­ported an Amer­i­can ju­nior of­fi­cer who had stood in the way of a Ger­man NCO post­ing up a no­tice an­nounc­ing ‘‘Es­cap­ing is no longer a game’’. Un­der Ger­man mil­i­tary law, any pris­oner in­ter­fer­ing with a Ger­man sol­dier car­ry­ing out his or­ders could be sub­ject to court mar­tial and sen­tenced to death if found guilty.

Schae­fer was moved to Colditz to await trial and, hav­ing met Camp­bell there, ap­plied for his trial to be held in Sax­ony. This re­quest was re­fused but, just be­fore he left for a court mar­tial else­where on De­cem­ber 27, 1944, Camp­bell was able to brief him on how he should con­duct his de­fence.

Schae­fer han­dled his de­fence well, but was nev­er­the­less sen­tenced to death and re­turned to Colditz. Camp­bell pre­pared an ap­peal and again was able to pro­long the le­gal ar­gu­ment un­til Schae­fer was saved by the end of the war.

Camp­bell re­sumed his le­gal ca­reer soon af­ter lib­er­a­tion in 1945. He took silk in 1965 and was con­sul­tant to the le­gal com­mit­tee of the Coun­cil of Europe on In­dus­trial Es­pi­onage, 1965-74, chair­man of the le­gal re­search com­mit­tee of the So­ci­ety of Con­ser­va­tive Lawyers, 1968-80, and a recorder of the Crown Court, 1976-89. He was cre­ated a life peer in 1981 and served on the House of Lords se­lect com­mit­tee on mur­der and life im­pris­on­ment, 1988-89, and was a mem­ber of the law ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee of the Bri­tish Coun­cil, 1974-82.

In 1998, he be­came in­volved in the cases of two Scots guards­men, Jim Fisher and Mark Wright, who had been con­victed of mur­der af­ter an in­ci­dent in­volv­ing their patrol in Belfast in 1992, in which Peter McBride was shot and sub­se­quently died.

Af­ter the guards­men’s re­lease from prison, he gave much time in ad­vis­ing on the prepa­ra­tion of their sub­mis­sion to the Crim­i­nal Cases Re­view Com­mis­sion, with a view to gain­ing leave to ap­peal against their orig­i­nal con­vic­tion.

Both guards­men were re­leased un­der li­cence in 1998 in ac­cor­dance with the Good Fri­day Agree­ment and the Army Board de­cided to re­tain their ser­vices be­cause of the ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances. In recog­ni­tion of his work in their cause, Camp­bell was elected to the Scots Guards Din­ing Club as a ‘‘peren­nial guest’’.

Alan Robert­son Camp­bell was the son of J Ken­neth Camp­bell. He was ed­u­cated at Alden­ham, L’Ecole des Sciences Poli­tiques, Paris, and Trin­ity Hall, Cam­bridge. His first mar­riage, to Diana Wat­son-Smyth, was dis­solved in 1953.

His sec­ond wife, Vivien, the younger daugh­ter of Com­man­der AH de Krant­zow, DSO, RN, died in 2010.

In 2011, he mar­ried Dorothea, daugh­ter of the late Colonel Ed­ward and Lady El­iz­a­beth Ber­wick. He is sur­vived by his third wife and a daugh­ter from his first mar­riage.


Rem­i­nisc­ing: Three of the 33 for­mer pris­on­ers of Colditz Cas­tle, Ger­many, dur­ing a re­union at the Pathfinder Club, Mount St, Lon­don. From left, Ma­jor Pat Reid, author of the book on which the film The Colditz Story is based; Lieu­tenant Alan Camp­bell,...

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