History | June 4, 2021 12:11 pm

How Do You Escape a Wartime POW Camp? Sometimes, a Ouija Board Helps.

A detailed and multi-layered plan

Ouija board
Surprisingly useful for wartime escapes.
Josh Olade/Unsplash

The history of war abounds with examples of daring escapes made from POW camps. The methods by which soldiers have extracted themselves from their predicament — and then faced hostile terrain as they sought to make it to safety — have been the subject of a host of gripping books, documentaries and more over the years. But there’s one escape carried out by a pair of British soldiers during World War I that stands out in particular. Why? Because it may well be the only POW camp escape where a Ouija board played a crucial role.

Recently, CrimeReads published an excerpt from Margalit Fox’s book The Confidence Men: How Two Prisoners of War Engineered the Most Remarkable Escape in History. Fox’s book focused on two British officers, Harry Jones and Cedric Hill, who were imprisoned in Turkey — and their unorthodox method of finding their way towards freedom.

The pair of officers took their cues from Jones’s aunt, who suggested that they focus on spiritualism as a way to distract themselves from their circumstances, and offered tips on how to create a very precise Ouija board. It turns out that both took to it very well — and in doing so, captivated both their fellow prisoners and the soldiers who were holding them captive.

Fox’s account of this history notes that one guard hoped to tap into the duo’s supposed occult knowledge to learn about his romantic prospects. (This was around the heyday of spiritualism, so it’s not as strange as it might seem.) Their charisma, combined with some carefully coded messages sent from back home, provided the groundwork for the proverbial battle of wits — and helped to set the stage for the escape attempt to come.