John Evans: The England cricketer who escaped from two prisoner of war camps

ashes test

In September 1914, only a month after war had been started, British cricketers put their bats and balls aside. A number of approximately 200 had been registered for first-class cricketers who died during the first world war.

John Evans was born in 1889, in Newtown, Hampshire and started his career as a first-class cricketer in 1908. Although his passion for cricket wouldn’t fill him up with the confidence of a good future as a sportsman, he would regularly play when at university.

Evans didn’t step back when he found himself lined up for the second Ashes Test in 1921, his only match ever played for England. He might not have been the best at ‘batting’ around, but he didn’t seem bad either.

He was later turned down, after trying for the second Test match, where he only scored 4 and 14.

Evans recalls his earliest experience as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. A job he found extremely pleasant and satisfying. It was on June 16, 1916, the day he was forced to crash his plane on the landing, The Guardian reports.

He remembers it as flying at about 4,000 feet up in the air when his engine had an organ failure and the plane started to head to the ground. John didn’t hesitate when confronted with the duty to destroy the machine before it would have touched the ground.

He then asked his flying partner and gunner, Long, to find him a box of matches to burn down the plane. Two small details might have stopped Evans when planning his next move: there was no petrol dripping from anywhere and there were no matches in the box.

The two men were arrested by an officer leading a bunch of soldiers, cheekily described by Evans as being “filthy” and their officer had a face he didn’t really like.

They were soon to get embarked on a train to Cambrai with the next stop – Gutersloh Prisoner of War camp.

Even though the British cricketer agreed that “the first month or two was a real rest after the strain and excitement of the Somme,” he was already planning what was going to be his first attempt of escaping the camp.

He even dressed himself as a civilian, made himself a hat and nicked a pair of nail pincers and a compass, all ready for his big moment. For three days he would have been walking by night and hiding in haystacks while sun was up. He was again arrested about 20 yards away from the border.

Freshly arrived to Fort 9 at Ingolstadt in Bavaria, Evans became friends with his ever so excited prison pals, who would always plan on the new escaping theory. He soon learned that from Fort 9 there were only two ways out and he tried them both.

He surely failed when he chose to go across the frozen moat and was quickly caught by two farmhands. Determined to do it again, he set up a partnership with some French and German engineers. They would spend three weeks digging down a tunnel. Evans and his new pals made it a little bit further this time, just to the next village, when they got caught again and sent back.

Sick and tired of his regular attempts to break free, the Germans put Evans on a train to a different camp, at Zorndorf. He didn’t need a better setting for his new adventure. Together with another British officer, Buckley, he jumped out of the train, through the window, and ran away. He started a 200 miles, on foot journey to the Swiss border, with just chocolate and Oxo cubes. 18 days later they would be crossing the border, starved but grateful.

It didn’t take him too long to get back to the camp, this time following his bare footed escape through the desert and ending up in Constantinople.

“I don’t think there is anything I have ever done quite so exciting as escaping from a prison,” he said.

John Evans married Marie Galbraith, an Irish violinist. They had a son together – the actor Michael Evans.

John died in London on September 18, 1960.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE