North West Wales

Colditz PoW Maj William Anderson's art sold at castle

Maj William Anderson
Image caption Maj Anderson retired to Blackheath in London and died in 1995 aged 95

A World War II major who was a prisoner at Colditz will be honoured with a series of postcards showing his art.

Copies of 30 paintings by Major William Anderson, from Conwy, will be sold to visitors to the castle, near Leipzig in eastern Germany.

He was also a structural engineer who made the gun used by Airey Neave, the future Conservative MP who was one of the relative few who managed to escape.

Maj Anderson remained at the camp until liberation by the Americans in 1945.

The WWII German authorities considered Colditz the ideal site for a high-security prison for allied officers with a history of trying to escape.

During the war, Maj Anderson used paint and canvas supplied by the Red Cross.

His son, Dr Stuart Anderson, of Kinmel Bay, told BBC Wales: "The family has selected four of them, including the quite iconic one of the courtyard in winter where the prisoners of war were held.

"It was a long time before colour photography and it was a nice way of recording holidays and he took his skills with him wherever he went."

Sadly, many of Maj Anderson's paintings were destroyed at Colditz. He needed the canvas to build the wings of a glider, called Colditz Cock, with a 32ft (9.7m) wingspan, which was intended to help prisoners escape.

It was built in the castle's attic and would have been given the momentum to take off from the roof, via a pulley weighed down with a tin bath full of cement.

"He was a structural engineer and found two key pieces of timber from the far side of the inner courtyard. It transpired that there was only one place where suitable spars could be found that could be used as the main spars for the glider's wings," said Dr Anderson.

Image caption A painting of Maj Anderson, whose art will be sold to Colditz visitors

"Diversionary tactics were needed to distract the guards while the essential operation went on across the courtyard, without which effectively no useful glider could have been assembled."

However, US forces liberated the camp in April 1945 before it could be used.

Recently, though, documentary makers for the Channel 4 programme Escape From Colditz recreated the plan with a replica glider. They concluded that it would have flown long enough to clear the river surrounding Colditz.

"He was a background person, really. He was imprisoned there because he was an awkward customer," Dr Anderson said.

"He took his artistic talents and used them to create a pinhole camera out of a cardboard box and he made some of the props. He was quite a good carpenter actually, so he made the gun that Airey Neave used to escape as a German officer."

Plot

Colditz, built on a rocky outcrop, was meant to be inescapable. POWs who had escaped from other less secure camps were sent there.

But with the help of men like Maj Anderson there were over 50 escape attempts - 20 of which were successful.

However, Maj Anderson himself was deemed far too important in facilitating further escape plots to be allowed to flee himself.

After the war, Maj Anderson was promoted to Brigadier-General and was put in charge of road engineering in India and British Malaya.

He retired to Blackheath in south east London and died in 1999, aged 95.

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