Giles Romilly

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Giles Samuel Bertram Romilly, (September 19, 1916 – August 2, 1967), was a journalist, Nazi POW, brother of Esmond Romilly and nephew of Winston Churchill. He was educated at Wellington College and Oxford, and then served as a war correspondent in both the Spanish Civil War and in World War II. He was captured in May 1940[1] in the Norwegian town of Narvik while reporting for the Daily Express.

Romilly was the first German prisoner to be classified as Prominente, prisoners regarded by Adolf Hitler to be of great value due to their relationships to prominent Allied political figures. Because of his importance to Hitler, Romilly was imprisoned in Oflag IV-C (Colditz Castle), from where escape was perceived to be almost impossible. Whilst at Colditz, Romilly lived in relative luxury with the other Prominente who would later join him, although they were all watched 24 hours a day in case they should attempt to escape.

Romilly used this position to his advantage and caused trouble by issuing complaints at every conceivable annoyance. Amongst the list, he took offence to the noise created by the boots of his guard outside his door, preventing him from sleeping. Following a visit from the Red Cross, a red carpet was placed outside his door to dull the sound.

Romilly did successfully escape however, whilst the Prominente were staying at "Oflag VII-D" Tittmoning Castle. The camp was home to some Dutch officers amongst whom was captain Machiel van den Heuvel, "Vandy". Romilly and Vandy knew each other from their Colditz time where Vandy was the Dutch escape officer. Vandy was transferred to Tittmoning because of his leading role as escape officer and the Germans thought he could do no more harm in Tittmoning where most prisoners were older officers of general rank. Vandy however had his next escape plan ready and together with two Dutch officers, Romilly abseiled down the castle walls. The remainder of the Prominente hid in the castle in hopes of conveying the impression that they had all escaped. After four days they were all discovered. Romilly, in spite of the 3,000 men that were searching for him, succeeded in reaching the Allied lines.

This was due mainly to the gallant action of lieutenant Andre Tieleman, a Dutch officer who was fluent in German and French. With their false identity papers identifying them as French (forced) labourers they managed to escape. When interrogated by German officials, Lt Tieleman did the talking while Romilly pretended to be deaf and dumb. In this way they managed to escape into freedom.

After the war Romilly returned to journalism. In 1952 he wrote the memoir The Privileged Nightmare, later reissued as Hostages at Colditz, with fellow Prominente Michael Alexander, who had earned the status by falsely claiming to be a relative of Field Marshal Harold Alexander. He died in Berkeley, California in 1967 of a tranquilliser overdose. He was in the process of researching a book on the American novel at the time.

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References[edit]

  • Romilly, Giles and Michael Alexander (1954). The Privileged Nightmare. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  • Romilly, Giles and Michael Alexander (1973). Hostages at Colditz. London, Sphere, ISBN 0-7221-7463-2.
  • Reid, P.R. (1984). Colditz: The Full Story. London, Pan Books, ISBN 0-330-49000-1