Those who know Elle, our founder and CEO, wll understand how many fascinating and inspiring stories her grandfather told her.

We thought it’d be a great idea to share some of the stories below, given that they illustrate the Drew values of belief, bravery, brilliance, beauty and beyond.

Elle has written these memories.

Belief.

Grandpa chose to train at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. The fact that he was captured quite so quickly during wartime active service did not sit well with his pride and he felt he’d failed – he was imprisoned within a week of arriving at the front line. A wonderful twist of fate is that Grandpa was captured alongside his lifelong friend Pat Fergusson, who turned out to be a constant support and champion throughout Grandpa’s life.

Fate is a strange thing. During that first week before his capture, for much-needed laughs, Grandpa swapped his gigantic helmet with a fellow soldier who had a much smaller head. That fellow soldier was subsequently killed, resulting in Grandfather’s family being told he’d been killed in action, when he was very much alive, captured and marched off to his first of three POW camps.

Being a POW had a lifelong impact on Grandpa; whilst growing up, he would quite often take my hand, squeeze it hard, look straight into my eyes and insist:

“I spent five years, aged 22 to 27, being imprisoned, against my will, through no fault of my own. You will never have to go through what I went through, and for that reason, you MUST live your life. Live your life to the very very best”.

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Bravery.

There’s no doubt that many of Grandpa’s escapades were extraordinarily brave, given that the risk of facing a firing squad was a constant reality. The very fact that he was eventually liberated and able to travel home was astonishing. Due to his height and slim frame, Grandpa, alongside his friend Pat would often lead a dig in the Bavaria, Warburg and French camp, Eichstatt, where he worked on a highly professional tunnel escape by 65 prisoners.

The tunnels, hidden behind fake walls, were excavated using spoons and utensils, with POWs filling their pockets with soil. Progress was excruciatingly slow. When I was 21, we travelled to Colditz Castle, my grandfather’s third and final prison, where he showed me a tunnel built out from the solitary confinement cell. I was astonished by the size – it was tiny and insanely claustrophobic.

It must have taken incredible bravery to manoeuvre along the tunnels for several pitch-black metres at a time. Grandpa was fearless, and he would do anything to antagonise the guards; for swearing in German, he was thrown into solitary confinement for ten-day stints. Whilst doing his time, he would read Hugo’s Italian in Nine Days, an Italian dictionary and Pinocchio, again and again.

Incredibly, following his liberation, he was posted to Venice and found that he could understand Italian perfectly. His spoken Italian wasn’t so effective!

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Brilliance.

Whilst my Grandfather was outside disposing of the tunnel excavation soil, he sat in the sun, picked up a small stick and started to whittle away with his blunt little knife. The wood turned into a little crouching person. He was amazed; previous to this moment, he never saw himself as remotely artistic, yet here he sat holding a little carving of a soldier.

The carving continued, and throughout his time at Colditz he carved an entire chest set. The guards would often supply him with wood as they felt he had natural, unthreatening talent. He used boot polish to colour the pieces black and whiled away the hours playing chess with his fellow inmates.

One of Grandpa’s favourite books was Alice in Wonderland and many of the chess pieces were characterised from memories of that book. The queen, however, is said to be my lovely grandmother. Luckily we still have the chess set, and each piece gives us enormous joy.

But that’s not all. The unsuspecting guards hadn’t realised that my grandfather was incredibly talented at forging stamps alongside carving chess sets. Now, remember that this would include mirror carving, which was extraordinarily difficult; he would create German stamps for documentation such as passports for the brave escapees.

Using boot polish to mark the documents, you can view more in this video. It’s where the ‘D’ of Drew derived from, a homage to my Grandfathers skill of carving stampsview blog post here

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Beauty.

Grandpa and his dear friend Fergusson dismantled piping in Colditz’ sleeping quarters, liberated plaster of Paris from the sickbay to seal a can and created a still to ferment turnip jam and create what they called ‘moonshine’. With its 100% proof alcohol, it was in effect methylated spirit and could cause temporary blindness. Fortunately, it did not get the better of Grandpa.

But ultimately, liberation was the beauty he most valued. He would recount a wonderful memory from the liberation where they were all nursing a raging moonshine hangover: a bottle was kicked over, a cigarette dropped, and the whole floor transformed into a glowing blue flame. Grandpa said: “It was the most beautiful sight of my entire life”.

In this television series, created in 2000 for Channel 4 series “Escape from Colditz’’, Grandpa is the first to curse and swear – something that he was strangely proud of.

 

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Beyond.

Typically, and to reiterate Grandpa’s wonderful sense of humour as an atheist, he did not believe in an afterlife, but he said that if there were one, he and Fergusson would talk for eternity and try to come home:

“On the past form we will not quite make it.”
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