The True Story of the Wooden Horse

Posted: July 22, 2014 in Books, World War II

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Whilst there have been many accounts from specific escapees who took part in the famed Wooden Horse escape from Stalag Luft III, there have been few objective historical studies of the camp as a whole. Many attempts at escape characterised its history, and the story of its establishment is a fascinating one. Now, historian Robert J. Laplander attempts to provide a comprehensive history of the camp and compound, framed around the ingenious Wooden Horse escape.

The True Story of the Wooden Horse is a great book in many ways, but one of its main strengths is the pure infectious enthusiasm that Laplander brings, dragging you straight in and refusing to let go. The passion that he feels for the subject – shown wonderfully in the excellent opening chapter, where a young Laplander builds himself a tunnel purely so that he can play at escaping from it – is wonderful to read. Here is a man in love with his subject, and you can’t help but love it a little bit too, as a result.

The introduction of the main figures in the story is handled very well: gradually, and with plenty of detail and “character”. There is a nice anecdotal feel to it all, and this also helps to draw you into the subject. As the “adventure” progresses, it starts to feel a little too much like a Commando Comic or Boy’s Own Adventure story. While this fits in very nicely with the author’s enthusiasm…it does seem to be trivialising the reality of the story, somewhat. A little gravitas would have gone a long way.

The photos and illustrations throughout are excellent, and Laplander really went above and beyond the call of duty by building a 1:1 reconstruction of the Wooden Horse, purely for purposes of taking photos for the book – another example of the enthusiasm that pervades the project.

If you’re into The Colditz Story or The Great Escape or anything like that, don’t hesitating in picking this up, as it’s a great, exciting read, and very well presented. If you’re into WWII but not so much the POW camps, this is an excellent starting point.

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