Sunday Pictorial - 26 March 1944


Here they are as they looked two days after their escape from Germany.

[Kelleher-far left, Campbell-far right]

The Greatest Escape Story of The War


Kelleher and Campbell...two British naval officers whose courage and iron nerves brought them from a German prison camp, through an amazing series of adventures, home to England.

For three days they travelled through Germany, two hunted men on a desperate break for freedom. For three days they walked, caught trains, drank beer, talked to German policemen - two gallant Englishmen outwitting the Nazis, leaving the barbed wire of the prisoner of war camp ever further behind.

And they did all this - and got away - without any disguise at all. Two British naval officers, wearing blue naval Burberrys over their uniforms, strolling through Germany unchallenged and unsuspected! Its the greatest escape story of the war.

Lieutenant Denis Kelleher RNVR, aged 25, and Lieutenant Stewart Campbell, aged 22, a Fleet Air Arm pilot, walked out of the camp where they had been prisoners. And twenty-two days later they walked into their parents homes in England and said, "Hullo folks. How's the war?"

With nerves strained to breaking point, with practically no sleep and not enough food, they had to suspect everyone they met without showing that they were suspicious; they had to walk past policemen, storm-troopers and Gestapo thugs without giving way to the impulse to run as fast as their sea legs would carry them.

They had begun making their plans to escape as soon as they reached the German camp.

At the camp they were known as the 'Long and Short of It'. Kelleher is short, stocky, looking like the star international amateur football player he is - he has been thrice capped by Ireland. Campbell is over 6ft tall, slim, looking like a shy boy from college - in fact he left college at the outbreak of war to join the Fleet Air Arm.

Every waking hour was devoted to perfecting their plans. Drafts were made and scrapped. But finally they concocted a fool-proof method.

For six weeks the two friends went back to 'school' and swotted up German.

Then the day came. They unobtrusively left the camp just as dark was falling. The blue mists of twilight swallowed them up.

Along the thirty-mile road to Bremen Kelleher and Campbell set off, posing as Merchant Service officers. They met nobody for hours. Then they came across an old woman. Here was a chance to test their skill.

They spoke to her, asked if they were on the right road to Bremen. She wasn't suspicious - just scared to meet two tough men on a lonely road in the dark. But she told them the way, and that was all they wanted.


In the early hours of the morning they limped, dusty, tired and parched with thirst into Bremen. It was too early for there to be many folk around.

The streets of Bremen were not badly battle-scarred. Shops, flats, offices, looked pretty normal. They were making for the blessed anonymity of a great railway station.

Visions of steaming cups of coffee rose before their minds' eye. Their dry mouths longed for it. But they had a shock. They found out that even a cup of ersatz coffee is rationed in Germany and the one thing they didn't have was food coupons.

So they bought tickets to their planned destinations they asked for them at the grille with bated breath. But the tickets came and the booking-clerk didn't bat an eyelid.

As their train steamed out of the station they relaxed. Their first great obstacle had been overcome.

They had to stand in the corridor of the train, which was crowded with troops. Along came the Gestapo man that all German trains now carry. He asked for their papers. It seemed to them he took an eternity to satisfy himself. He passed. Nearby was a German soldier inoffensively going on leave. Suddenly there was a shout. Their hearts missed a couple of hundred beats. Was this the end?

It was nearly - but for the German soldier, not for them. There was some minor irregularity in his papers, and the Gestapo man gave him a thorough Teutonic dressing down. The two phony seamen listened - and shook with silent laughter.

Their journey involved a number of changes of trains and some more walking. I can't tell you the route for the Nazis would like to know that.

Once they got lost and had to ask a policeman the way. He couldn't understand what they said, but was most anxious to please! He insisted on calling a colleague who spoke Dutch!

It was an awkward moment. They murmured something, assured the cop he needn't trouble and walked away.



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