|Lieutenant Harvey, DCM|
On arriving at Gütersloh I was told [by a German officer] that from this camp only one officer, a Russian, had ever succeeded in getting 'away and over.' The prisoners, and especially the Russians, said the interpreter, frequently tried, but were always caught and punished for their foolishness, in addition to getting restrictions put upon the freedom of the camp generally. The Russians were particularly foolish. The French also occasionally so... 'And the English? I inquired. 'Ah, they are good - so - like sheep.'
It would probably have surprised the insolent Hun to learn how at that time certain of the sheep were patiently engaged night after night in driving a tunnel from under their fold, a tunnel which would, when completed, be sufficient to liberate half of the camp. (Harvey, pp. 52-53)
Indeed, the book goes on to describe how the British prisoners were constructing a tunnel of nearly the same calibre of that used during 'the Great Escape' at Stalag Luft III during the next war, all under the guise of being 'sheep' and playing by the German's rules. This included using bed-boards to build tunnel supports, a garden-hose ventilation system for the tunnel, distributing sand with special cloth tubes hidden in one's trousers and casually spilled out on the earth above, stockpiling of civilian clothing, and many other ingenious techniques which would awe the general public when depicted in 'The Great Escape' over half a century later. Unfortunately, the British prisoners were moved to another camp before the tunnel could be completed. Liberation of half of the camp may have been overstatement, but the tunnel certainly would have allowed a large number of prisoners to get away.
This is a lovely example of this British stoicism. While their foreign friends make attempts to escape based upon spur of the moment opportunities, but with little planning, the British 'get on with it' and patiently and methodically work together for the greater good. When the British prisoners were informed that they were to be moved, it was decided after much debate to hand the tunnel over to the Russians who would remain. Many officers argued that after having been perceived as 'sheep' for so long that it would be a blow to national pride not to attempt to use the tunnel in desperate bid for escape, even though its terminating point was only now just outside of the wire and directly in view of the sentries. But again, British stoicism prevailed and after a vote the decision was made to 'lay aside all personal and national ambition for the sake of "the Cause".' (Harvey, p. 135) Upon arriving at their next camp however, the British wasted no time in beginning tunneling operations anew.
This example fits well with the idea that in times of adversity, the British are likely to carry on unperturbed by their hardships, with little outward show of bravado, masking a deeper capability to overcome their troubles with hard work, discipline, and not a little bit of a 'stiff upper lip'.
Source: FW Harvey, Comrades in Captivity: A Record of Life in Seven German Prison Camps, New Edition (Coleford: Douglas McLean Publishing, 2010) [Originally published in 1920 by Sidgwick and Jackson]