On 19th January 1945, three German Prisoners of war staged an escape from the Kinnegar P.O.W. Camp near Holywood, Co. Down. By the end of the following day, however, all were returned to captivity.
The tale of the recapture of a pair of German prisoners is well-known among the Gracey family. It is, however, one that most likely remains unknown outside of the circle of family and friends in Co. Down.
William John Thompson “Jack” Gracey served in the Ulster Special Constabulary during the Second World War. He lived in the townland of Ballyrush, Co. Down – a quiet, rural spot. On 20th January 1945, Jack apprehended a pair of young men on Ballygowan Road, only a few hundred yards from the home where he had spent his entire life.
Constable Gracey was unarmed and returning home from duty. He observed the men from a distance before concealing himself by the side of the road. The two young men were German airmen, both aged around 20 years old. Having captured the pair, Jack brought them up the road to the family home where his mother Eliza Jane Gracey and sister Betty Gracey waited.
Betty remembered one of the escapees having an open wound on his hand, perhaps an injury sustained during the escape. He walked over to the fireplace and held his hand over the open flames to cauterise the wound. Having been on the run, the Germans were hungry and soon Eliza Jane began making them an Ulster Fry. Meanwhile, Jack took his bicycle and made off towards nearby Ballygowan.
In Ballygowan, he sought out Joe Gibson. Joe was the Sub-District Commandant of the Ulster Special Constabulary. As well as holding that position, he also owned the only telephone in the area. Jack and Joe alerted the authorities to the whereabouts of the German escapees.
From the comfort of the Gracey household, Jack brought the prisoners to the Post Office in Ballygowan, where Gibson also held the position of Postmaster. There, they awaited the authorities. Soon, members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and military from Saintfield arrived to return the Germans to custody. There was no resistance from the re-captured Germans, one of whom spoke English.
A third member of the escapee party was also returned to the Prisoner of War Camp. An employee of Mr. J.L.O. Andrews – son of former Prime Minister John Miller Andrews – of Ballywilliam House, Comber, Co. Down had found him asleep in a pile of hay in a cattle byre.
The employee had entered the byre at around 0800hrs, causing the young German to sit upright and say ‘Good Morning’ in English. The farm-hand notified the local police, while another made a cup of tea for the shivering prisoner who made no attempt to escape. Constables McKee and Stevenson returned the young German to Kinnegar.
The Gracey family always remembered the two young German airmen. After the Second World War, Jack named a pair of family dogs after the pair.
- Staff Writer (1945) 'Three German Prisoners of War Recaptured in Down', Irish Weekly and Ulster Examiner, 27th January 1945, Available at: [https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0004159/19450127/056/0003], Accessed 8th February 2022.
- Staff Writer (1945) 'Three Men Captured in North Down', Belfast News-Letter, 22nd January 1945, Available at: [https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000038/19450122/148/0005], Accessed 8th February 2022.
- Staff Writer (1945) 'Three Germans Escape in County Down: All Recaptured', Northern Whig, 22nd January 1945, Available at: [https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0001542/19450122/089/0004], Accessed 8th February 2022.
- Adrian Hanna ‘Comber in the 1940s', Comber Historical Society, Available at: [http://www.comberhistory.com/chs%201940s.htm], Accessed 8th February 2022.