|John Bigelow Dodge|
|Nickname(s)||The Artful Dodger|
|Born||15 May 1894
New York, USA
|Died||2 November 1960 (aged 66)
London, England, United Kingdom
|Service/branch|| Royal Navy
|Years of service||1914 - 1920, 1939 - 1946|
|Unit||Royal Naval Division
Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment
Royal Sussex Regiment
|Commands held||16th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment|
|Awards|| Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Service Cross
William E. Dodge
Major John 'Johnnie' Bigelow Dodge DSO DSC MC (15 May 1894 – 2 November 1960) also known as 'the Artful Dodger' was an American-born British Army officer who fought in both world wars and became a notable prisoner of war during the Second World War and survived The Great Escape.
He became a nephew by marriage to Winston Churchill, who then was First Lord of the Admiralty. Through him, Dodge became commissioned into the Royal Naval Division, arriving in England in August 1914. He became a naturalized British Citizen in 1915.
First World War
Dodge served in the 7th (Hood) Battalion of the Royal Naval Division first at Antwerp, then at Gallipoli. Together with Bernard Freyberg and two other officers, Dodge decided where Rupert Brooke was to be buried, and dug the grave on Skyros, immediately before the Gallipoli assault.
Transferring to the British Army in April 1916 with the rank of captain, to the 10th Battalion Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment (the recently raised 'Battersea Battalion), with whom he served on the Western Front, taking part in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. He was promoted to major on 22 Feb 1918, was wounded on more than one occasion, and ended the war as an acting lieutenant colonel commanding the 16th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment fighting in France and was further decorated with the Distinguished Service Order, this being gazetted on 3 June 1919.
Inter War Years
He made several expeditions through these years, including visits to China and Burma, however on a visit in 1921 to the Caucasus he was arrested by the Russian secret police as a suspected spy. After about two months of dreadful discomfort and narrowly avoiding execution, he was expelled from Russia with an order never to return there again. After this he changed his political view from socialist to conservative.
He served on London County Council as member for Mile End (East London) from 1925-31. He failed in his bids to get into Parliament for its parliamentary constituency in the General Elections of 1924 and 1929, but became a member of the London Stock Exchange and took up the directorship of a New York bank.
Johnnie married Minerva Sherman (née Arrington) in New York about 1929. They had two sons, David born 1930 and Lionel (known as Tony) in 1934, both born in England.
Second World War
While awaiting action during the 'phoney war' stage, Johnnie secured adoption as prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Gillingham for the next general election which was postponed by hostilities.
When the division surrendered at Saint-Valery-en-Caux in June 1940, Dodge attempted to evade capture, and swam out to sea in an attempt to board some ships he could see on the horizon. However the ships moved off before he could reach them, so he returned to land, covering approximately seven miles, before coming ashore. He was then captured by the Germans and became a Prisoner of War.
Prisoner of War
Dodge, with many other POWs from the Allied defeat in France, was forced to march towards Germany. During the march his bare feet became badly cut, and eventually he was put on a barge with other Army prisoners for transport to Germany. While on the River Scheldt he jumped overboard, but was handed over to a Luftwaffe officer by a frightened Dutch civilian. As he had become a captive of the Luftwaffe, he, with all Air Force POWs, was sent to the Dulag Luft reception and transit camp at Oberursel.
At Dulag Luft he met the Senior British Officer, Wing Commander Harry Day, who with the agreement of the Camp Kommandant, Major Rumpel, was made part of the permanent British staff of the camp. Rumpel arranged for the records to show that he had been transferred to the Royal Air Force, and from then on, he remained with the RAF POWs.
It was from here that Dodge made his second escape attempt. A tunnel had been constructed by the permanent British staff, and in June 1941, Dodge, together with Day, Bushell and 14 others made their bid for freedom. None were successful, and all were recaptured. Dodge, and his travelling companion, were recaptured two days later walking along the autobahn a few miles south of Frankfurt. He was given a short period in solitary confinement before being transferred to Stalag Luft I at Barth, with all the other recaptured escapers.
Stalag Luft I
Dodge became good friends with Harry Day who had taken over the role of Senior British Officer, and he helped Day with the running of the camp and with escape matters. He was transferred to Stalag Luft III at Sagan in April 1942.
Stalag Luft III (East Compound)
Here Dodge again acted as deputy to Day. In November 1942, he was transferred again, this time to Oflag XXI-B at Schubin in occupied Poland. En route to that camp, he escaped from the train, but was immediately seen, shot at and quickly recaptured.
Here Dodge escaped with 34 others (including Harry Day) through a tunnel on 5 March 1943. Again recaptured and after spending time in solitary, he was returned to Stalag Luft III in April 1943.
Stalag Luft III (North Compound)
Dodge became involved with the organisation of what became known as The Great Escape. Partly due to his large size, he did not help build the tunnels, but instead helped create diversions such as choir singing to help disguise the noise of the digging.
Dodge was given a place in tunnel 'Harry' and escaped at approximately 0100 on 25 March 1944 as part of The Great Escape. He travelled with Flight Lieutenant James Wernham RCAF towards Czechoslovakia. They were caught during the afternoon of the same day at Hirschberg main railway station. Taken to the Kriminalpolizei at Hirschberg they met other recaptured escapers, including Bertram 'Jimmy' James.
Dodge was the first to be removed from Hirschberg, and was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he was later joined by Jimmy James, Harry Day and Flight Lieutenant Sydney Dowse. James Wernham, together with 49 other recaptured escapers, was murdered under Hitler's orders.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
The 'Great Escapers' were placed in Sonderlager A (Special Camp A) within the main camp. Here were housed a handful of other 'political' prisoners, including SOE agent Peter Churchill, two Russian generals, various other Russians, Poles, Italians and four British soldiers of Irish origin. Later they were joined by British Commando Jack Churchill. Dowse and James almost immediately began another tunnel, which was kept secret from all non-British personnel. This was completed and used on the night of 23 September 1944, when Dodge, James, Day, Dowse and Jack Churchill escaped. Dodge, who travelled alone, was on the run for over a month, and after receiving help from some French slave labourers, was arrested by a German farmer and returned to Sachsenhausen.
He, with the other four, who had also been recaptured, was placed in solitary confinement and chained to the floor in the death cells at the camp. Mainly through Harry Day's efforts all were spared execution.
In February 1945 he was released from solitary, and taken to Berlin where he was asked, by two senior German officials, to act as a peace envoy to the British government, with an offer of German surrender to the British and Americans, but not to the Russians. Dodge was asked to undertake this task because of his relationship to Winston Churchill
He returned to Britain, after traveling to Dresden, where he survived the RAF Air Raid on 14 February, then Munich before crossing the border into Switzerland. He arrived in Britain in May 1945 and met Churchill and the US ambassador to Britain, John Gilbert Winant on the 6 May 1945. He explained his adventures and the German peace proposal. History records the offer was not accepted.
- 'The Great Escape' by Paul Brickhill page 5
- 'Wings Day' by Sydney Smith page 57
- Carroll, Tim (2013). The Dodger, The Extraordinary Story of Churchill's Cousin and the Great Escape. Mainstream Publishing. pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-1-780-57606-0.
- The Dodger. pp. 110–112.
- The Dodger. p. 114.
- Carroll, Tim. The Dodger. p. 128.
- 'Wings Day' by Sydney Smith page 58
- WO208/3269 - Official Camp History - Dulag Luft (Oberersul) page 18
- 'Wings Day' by Sydney Smith page 121
- 'The Great Escape' by Paul Brickhill page 18
- 'Stolen Journey' by Oliver Philpot page 165
- 'Under the Wire' by William Ash page 246
- 'The Great Escape' by Tim Carroll page 107
- AIR40/2645 Official Camp History - Stalag Luft III (Section III North Compound)
- 'Moonless Night' by Bertram James page 107
- 'Wings Day' by Sydney Smith page 193
- 'Wings Day' by Sydney Smith page 210
- 'The Great Escape' by Paul Brickhill page 236
- 'The Great Escape' by Paul Brickhill page 240-243
- 'The Great Escape' by Paul Brickhill page 243
- The Dodger,. pp. 252–253. ISBN 978-1-780-57606-0.
- The Dodger. pp. 268–269.