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German PoW’s incredible escape out of Gravesend to be remembered by historian from Northfleet

By Nicola Jordan

The astonishing story of the only German prisoner of war to escape Britain during the First World War has all the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Yet how many are aware that Gravesend played an integral part in Gunther Pluschow’s great escape, which has earned him a place in history?

For days, the intrepid aviator lay low on the banks of the River Thames before he finally managed to scramble aboard a Dutch steamer destined for neutral Holland – and his passage back to the Fatherland.

Gunther Pluschow
Gunther Pluschow

Renowned historian Victor Smith, from Northfleet, is determined to commemorate Pluschow’s incredible adventure with a plaque near the Clarendon Royal Hotel where he slipped out of the country in July 1915.

Mr Smith, 66, is in talks with the German Embassy, Gravesham MP Adam Holloway and history groups to get the memorial installed next year to mark the centenary of Pluschow’s freedom bid.

He is hopeful that a member of the Royal Prussian family and a relative of Pluschow can attend the unveiling ceremony.

Mr Smith’s mission began five years ago after he started to read an article penned by a fellow historian, his wife Lynda, two decades ago.

Historian Victor Smith with Christoph Bull
Historian Victor Smith with Christoph Bull

He said: “I had heard vaguely about Pluschow, but didn’t really take much notice at the time.

“I soon became convinced that something should be done here in Gravesend.”

With some uncertainty he approached authorities in Germany for their thoughts.

He said : “They were delighted with the idea. I was amazed how interested they were. I have so far had no adverse reaction from either side of the Channel.

“Virtally nobody in Gravesend knows about this, but this is a story that needs to be told.”

“I was a little nervous that some people might think that I was trying to glorify the deadly Hun.

“I have researched and Pluschow had no connection to the Nazi movement,

“But we are talking about an amazing, larger-than-life character – a real life Biggles – and a remarkable event in wartime history. Love him or hate him. He would not let any obstacles get in his way, he just steam-rollered through.”

Mr Smith’s project has the backing of Christoph Bull, chairman of Gravesham Town Twinning Association.

He said: “I think it’s extremely exciting. I think it also shows that over the last 30 years people have grown up and there are two sides to every story, especially in the First World War.

“Virtally nobody in Gravesend knows about this, but this is a story that needs to be told.”

Mr Smith, of Stonebridge Road, hopes to find a site between the Three Daws pub and the customs building for the plaque, which will include an information panel.

It is only recently his astonishing story has emerged after British author Anton Rippon who spent seven years researching German archives detailing his escape before publishing his biography, Gunther Pluschow – Airman, Escaper and Explorer.

Mr Rippon said: “Pluschow was an astonishing character, not least because he was the only German PoW to successfully escape from the UK during both world wars.”

All we’re waiting for is the Hollywood movie – and the information board, of course.

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