Escaping via Tilbury Docks - The story of Gunther Pluschow, the only First World War POW to escape Britain.


  Information revised and up-dated by Lucy Rivers, Volunteer at Thurrock Museum
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‘…Dutch steamer…departure…Tilbury…’ These are three words that may not sound particularly significant. However, for Gunther Pluschow, nothing could have given him more hope when he overheard a conversation between two businessmen on a London bus.

Pluschow never planned on going to Thurrock. It all started when the German-controlled city of Kiaochow in China had come under siege by strong British and Japanese forces shortly after war had broken out in August 1914. As a First Naval Flying Officer, Pluschow had managed to get away by aircraft in November. He landed in San Francisco and travelled to New York whilst disguised as a Swiss locksmith. By January 1915, Pluschow decided to begin his journey home to Germany and boarded an Italian steamer. However, the unscheduled stop at Gibraltar culminated in his recognition by the British authorities and his arrest. He was shipped to England and sent to Donington Hall internment camp near Derby.

For months, Pluschow schemed and waited for the right opportunity to escape. This moment came on the night of 4th July 1915 when he scaled the barbed wire fence surrounding the prison camp. Having successfully escaped Donington Hall, Pluschow boarded a train to London. It was in this city whilst travelling on a bus that the revelation of Tilbury Docks became apparent.
 

To a passer-by, someone laying in the long grass by the riverside at Tilbury in July would not necessarily be unusual; many were convinced of the health benefits of the sun during this period. This is certainly what Pluschow hoped as he was in fact looking out for the Dutch vessel. As expected, the Dutch steamer did appear, with the name of ‘Mecklenberg’, which, coincidentally, had the same name as his home province in Germany. However, it seemed that it was not meant to be. Whilst making his way over, the ground below him suddenly gave way and he sank into a squelchy mass of swamp ground. If it were not for a plank that lay nearby, it is almost certain that Pluschow would have been consumed by the swamp.

Despite the exhaustion from his struggle with slime, as well as having had no food or drink for several days, Pluschow’s determination continued. When ‘Princess Juliana’, a Dutch steamer, was moored to a buoy, Pluschow succeeded in his escape.

Only nine days after climbing the barbed wire of Donington Hall, Pluschow was back on German soil by 13th July. His remarkable escape from England had already come to the attention of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the flamboyant ruler of Germany. Wilhelm loved a brave deed above everything else, and he was very impressed. The reward he gave Pluschow for his escape was the Iron Cross, First Class - the most coveted award for valour and enterprise his country could offer.
 

Find the full story in Fact File 21 at Thurrock Museum. (Thanks to Valina Bowman Burns, acting Heritage Officer for Thurrock)

For more about the Thurrock Heritage Plaque to Gunther Plushow and other plaques, take a look at our Thurrock Heritage web ap

 

Return to top This page last updated on 14/04/2020