My grandfather, Major George Drew, described himself as lacking in creativity. A strange and deeply unfounded realisation given that he was the most incredible woodcarver.

The chess piece illustrated on our website links directly to his story told in his own words below:

“As a Prisoner of War in Germany ones thoughts continually and almost continuously were of food, women and escape. Not necessarily in that order but in the absence of Red Cross Parcels and the resulting gnawing hunger, they had a strong similarity to the feelings behind the song “Food” from the musical, “Oliver” and talk was about nothing except a dimly remembered underdone steak or Lobster Thermidor.

Because memory fades as time passes, thoughts about women became inextricably tied up with escape and a return to “Civvie” street. Some people, it was claimed, thought of escape as a means of getting back to fight for King and Country, Glory and Honour. Most, however thoughts about getting back to the little woman, or, for the majority, any little woman.

All this leads to fantasy. The reality in Prison is pretty sordid, so one tries to escape from it. One dreams up various schemes of climbing over the roof, if there was one near the perimeter fence, or of climbing over the wire itself, or under the wire, underground, or walking boldly through the gate dress like the enemy. Failing this an Alice in Wonderland syndrome came into play. 

As is well known, even outside POW camps, alcohol quickly softens reality, or at least it appears to do so, but having no access to supermarkets or pubs, we are forced to produce our own.

So we fermented anything that would ferment and distilled it. It was vicious stuff and as we found it difficult to wait for it to mature, it was drunk within hours of leaving the still, raw and very strong. After a few glasses, it seemed that imps, devils, hobgoblins and gremlins all joined the party and some of the non-drinkers of Colditz, whether from strong moral convictions or out of a feeling of sour grapes, practically accused us of being in league with Satan himself. As I saw it, the devil was there but in the form of the Nazis and I placed my faith in the magic of Merlin and his female counterpart, Hecate.

I can not draw and had never done any woodwork before being taken prisoner, but in 1940, when, in addition, to having practically no food and therefore no energy, we had no reading material, no cards or any other games, no writing material and no form of mental amusement, I was sitting on the ground in the open space where we were counted, feeling to weak to drag up to my room I started whittling a piece of stick with a penknife. To my amazement, a small misshapen figure appeared in my mind and I was hooked. From then on I began to whittle any piece of wood I could find which led me to the outside fringe of the escaping scene, carving German bayonets, Belt Buckles and the like.

There were people in this fringe who gave me their knives when I broke a blade on mine. They also made me some remarkable tools, chisels and gouges out of the most unlikely materials and I had the basis of a wood carving set. In any spare moment, an in-prison most moments were spare and days seemed endless, if I was not involved in some escaping activity, I chipped and whittled.

When I was condemned to Colditz, being a tunneller by trade, I soon found actual escape beyond my limited mentality. I devoted even more time to carving, generally managing to produce a piece every month. With food being above starvation level, thanks to the Red Cross parcels, and escape relegated to dreams, obviously my thoughts centred on women. So most of my efforts turned out to be the female figure and, as I had not mastered how to show drapery, they were all nude. If they were not completely accurate it can only be put down to fading memories. I gave them all away because I never thought the finished article came up to my expectations. In fact, I was never able to say that I liked anything I had done and the sooner they were out of the way the sooner I could start anew.

Towards the end of 1944, I got the idea of making a Chess Set. Not the conventional pattern, nor even a themed set. Just pure fantasy.

I have always been a fan of Lewis Carrol, so a lot of his characters are included, along with several other Magic figures, and most of the imps, devils and gremlins are associated with distilling.”

Drew London are raising funds or donations for the new Chess Club at the Carnegie Community Hub in honour of his legacy. Please give what you can here.

Grandpa was filmed for a Colditz Channel 4 documentary where he relives his experiences. Watch the Channel 4 series here.

Up next...
Web Design Trends in 2022