Prichard: Sieges, Escapes & Internment

A recent donation tells the incredible story of Lt Col Jack Prichard DSO MC whose career included having seventeen tanks shot from underneath him, a prison break, and a military cross.

The extensive donation included photographs, Prichard’s false identification from his escape, his tank mascot, and the sweetheart brooch worn by his wife.

Early Career

Jack Prichard joined the Royal Tank corps in 1931. By 1935 he was attached to the 7th Light Tank Company. After a brief spell to 4th Battalion, he was transferred to the Westminster Dragoons after the British declaration of war on Germany. After the fall of France, 4 RTR were reconstituted as a Matilda II regiment that was shipped to Egypt. Whilst in the Western Desert, Prichard allegedly had 17 tanks shot out from underneath him and by the Siege of Tobruk in June 1942, he was an acting major in command of C Squadron.

The regiment was captured at Tobruk. Prichard was rounded up by a German officer who recognised him after having spent a number of evenings drinking together in a pub in Maidenhead and gave Prichard and his comrades food and water. After being subsequently handed over to the Italians, Prichard was not impressed by the idea of them walking out under armed guard. So, he arranged for them to march out with their heads held high.

Black and white photograph of a man in a black beret
A young Prichard.

Major Prichard was awarded a Military Cross for his actions during the defence of the city.

The Escape

As a prisoner of war, Prichard was held at Camp 29 (Veano), for over a year until news of the Italian surrender came through in 1943. The camp commander encouraged the men to escape to stop them falling into German hands. His break-out group consisted of three other men: Major RE Frye, Major RM Cole, and Trooper Kemsley, all from 4RTR.

Cream old ID document with a black and white photograph on it
Prichard's fake identification document.

The tank men initially went south to link up with advancing allied forces, but food became an issue. The area was crawling with Germans trying to round up the escapees, so the party relocated to the woods.

The luck of the group seemed to have turned a corner. They found a man who was to be believed to have contact with Allied intelligence and he arranged for them to be smuggled out to Switzerland. Alas, this was not to be.

As Cole and Frye were sitting in a café on 12th June 1944, they were captured by fascists, who now knew Prichard’s identity and location. Prichard left the area immediately and severed all communications with his existing contacts.

He moved to the mountains, surviving on sweet chestnuts (which he never liked again). Whilst hiding in the woods, a priest made contact with him. The priest had been aware of Prichard for some time and introduced him to a group of partisans that arranged an escape.

Post Escape

Prichard was interned when he arrived in Switzerland, and during this time he befriended his cellmate, a Luftwaffe officer called Hans. Between them, they would bribe the guards (who they had already been drinking with) to let them go into the local town. Prichard made a habit of not making his bed, which resulted in confinement and a mark on his record, and Hans had to make two beds each morning.

One day Prichard was given a train ticket to Bern and was met by three comrades. The four ended up having drinks with the ambassador’s wife. He was then informed he was to become Aide-de-Camp to none other than Lady Mountbatten. This was likely done to circumvent internment rules and get him back to England. Prichard was then flown to Paris and was late for lunch at the Ritz.

Lieutenant Colonel Jack Prichard DSO, MC passed away on 12th June 1993 aged 80.

Black and white photograph of a couple getting married
Eilleen and Jack's wedding
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