The Royal Air Force School for Prisoners of War



The Royal Air Force School for Prisoners of War


A magazine produced in a prisoner of war camp. It describes the need for education in the camp, the lecturers, the subjects taught and examinations taken or about to be taken.

Temporal Coverage

Spatial Coverage



One printed magazine


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The Royal Air Force School for Prisoners of War

[Royal Air Force crest] ET [The Royal Air Force School for Prisoners of War crest]

Stalag Luft VI Germany


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THIS PROSPECTUS of study from a “Barbed Wire University whose only qualification for entry is to have faced Death” — is representative of the educational ferment at work in over 50 camps in Germany, France, Denmark, etc. (and formerly in Italy and North Africa).

One R.A.F. sergeant, a prisoner since 1939, has by the aid of books and materials sent out by the British Red Cross and St. John War Organisation (which inaugurated the educational section early in 1940) produced this beautiful illuminated report. His shortened title “British Red X” symbolizes for all prisoners salvation of mind as well as body. A lapse or two from dictionary spelling reflects the harsh conditions under which all educational or artistic effort is undertaken. Can we visualize the the surroundings — lack of space, lack of heat, lack of light, constant interruptions, no silence, no privacy?

“These schools,” says a sergeant in a Stalag, “have been raised on difficulties, and they have flourished on difficulties, in a way which it is not fantastic to say discharges the debt of a part of this generation to the ascetic seekers after knowledge who were the founders of all education,” and the continuation of the report can be accepted as the pattern for most camps. “The School catering for the educational needs of nearly 5,000 men, started with two classes in one room, with no material or text books, in the depth of winter with inadequate heating. From that beginning, hopelessly discouraging to all except a prisoner of war, progress has been made to a large building, partitioned by the use of Red Cross box wood into seven rooms — still fireless, but used from nine in the morning until nine at night by indefatigable students.

“The 23 original subjects are still on the programme, but the number of subjects taught has now risen to 84. This striking figure is due to the fact that an effort has been made to cater for the requirements of each individual prisoner, with the great emphasis laid upon the preparation for the after-war period and re-entry into civil life.

“Men from all parts of the Empire are keeping themselves up to standard — improving their knowledge in their profession, or learning a new kind of job. And as the surest test of their progress most are preparing for the examinations, which thanks to the arrangements made by the Red Cross are permitted by examining bodies to be held in P.O.W. Camps.”

Most of these men had been in working parties, but on learning that examinations could be taken, they preferred to study (N.C.O.s can choose whether they work or not) whereupon the Germans formed a special camp for this purpose.

In this camp of 4,686 prisoners there are 4,259 in classes, and 2,373 in school, and in addition there are 17 study groups for professional examinations, as well as a number of private students.

In an officers’ Air Camp the annual report reads “Over 40% are Examination-minded, and 66% have maintained interest throughout all the distractions of P.O.W. life.”

One of the largest Stalags reports that last year 104,991 students attended the 90 different classes, in which 72 qualified tutors teach many subjects ranging from elementary agriculture to advanced engineering. A special class is held “for the illiterate, many of whom have had no chance to study as they lived as sheep farmers or boundary riders far from a school.” One repatriated prisoner of war, suffering from shell-shock, described how he was taught to read again and this gradually restored to him his lost memory. Their library of 5,000 to 6,000 books is so well run that only three books have been lost in two years.

The working parties too are catered for by six visiting tutors, and the German authorities,

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five or six weeks before examinations allow prisoners to return to the Base camp for intensive reading. But difficulties here are far greater, and few manage consecutive study, though one man, after working ten hours in a gravel pit, returns to his hut and puts in some reading for Intermediate B.Sc., and as a Cypriot prisoner wrote, “I know it is difficult to study in Prison camps but I am not losing my time as stagnant water in the lake.”

In the Merchant Navy Camp highly organised study has been in progress for some years. The course given by the Merchant Navy Officers’ Training Board covers all the officer apprentices’ work, and we send these out to every two boys with the necessary books. Every month tests are held, marks awarded and a report forwarded. All this supervised study will be set against their four years sea-going service by the Ministry of War Transport, who this year, have allowed the men to take the written work of the Ministry’s Certificates of Competency. In April, 149 men took five examinations (Masters, Mates, Engineers). Examinations of many other bodies have been successfully held and as the education officer says, “Every endeavour has been made to widen interests from purely practical subjects to literary history, art appreciation and post-war reconstruction.”

In the Royal Navy Officers’ Division of the Camp, the learning of language is a favourite pursuit — in fact, throughout all camps, this study is widespread, including such unusual tongues as Serbo-Croat, Maori, Swahili, Chinese and Japanese.

Since 1940 one of the Oflags has been running a University with seventeen faculties, and some idea of its scope can be judged by its language faculty which teaches twenty-one languages, and its educational library which contains 30,000 volumes.

Even the wounded have made the effort of concentration necessary to take an examination. After the dire disappointment of Rouen, a young teacher (wounded himself) took the situation in hand and slaved sixteen hours a day to prepare these men for Matriculation. Often a wounded hand held pen or pencil, guided along by the unwounded hand, but the results on their return (for most are now repatriated) must have heartened teacher and taught, for twelve out of thirteen were successful.

In the Civilian Internment Camps (Ilags) the education is wide in range and standard: for example, in one camp thirty-five classes (all different subjects) are in full swing. As well as the British internees, there are many foreigners who are taking advantage of their enforced sojourn to learn English, and obtain the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency. Schoolboys and schoolgirls deported from the Channel Islands are preparing for School Certificate and Matriculation, and there is even a man of 42 who has courageously sat for, and passed, the former. Women as well as men are studying for examinations and as their education officer says, “It was interesting to see how the satisfactory result in the first Matriculation Examination put Education on the map. The candidates were a keen lot, and it impressed the general public to see young men putting in seven hours’ class work a day even in the summer.”

We must not forget that these prisoners started from nothing, without teachers, classrooms, books or writing materials, and often without chairs or tables. But with vision and courage, they improvised essential equipment, built their own class rooms, and took it in turns to lecture before the books arrived. Later on help came from all sides:- the German authorities, the indefatigable International Red Cross Consultative Committee with its constituent societies (E.S.R.F., I.B.E., Y.M.C.A., etc.). From Sweden, Canada, the Argentine and Great Britain came paper and pencils, while books seeped in from divers sources, the neutrals, the Dominions, the United States of America and the United Kingdom.

Co-operation in common cause brought the impossible to pass, and at this moment more than 100 examining bodies, university, professional and vocational, are holding their Examinations in the prison camps. The results to-day are startling for out of 8,000 applications 5,369

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prisoners have already taken their Examinations for which 4,000 passes have been announced and this represents 78% complete passes in all papers.

“No report can adequately deal with the patience, hard work and overcoming of difficulties in a cheery spirit which has been characteristic of both the teachers and the pupils,” says the Education Officer of the N.C.O.s camp and he continues, “At this stage, when many men have been over for years prisoners it does take some effort to persist in a line of study, but of course that effort when made produces remarkable benefits to the men themselves.”

Some fall by the wayside, but the reward for teachers and students who stay the course can be gauged by listening to an extract from the school report of the largest Stalag : “…Very satisfactory work has been accomplished with many of Les Grands Blessés. This has been proved by letters received from several who were repatriated. They state that, due to the school, they were able, upon their return home, to procure superior posts to those that they held prior to the war. One outstanding case is that of an N.C.O. who had lost a leg. Before the war he had been a hod carrier. He realised that whilst he was here, he would be unable, owing to his disablement, to resume his peacetime work. Consequently he approached us for advice and he was advised to study building with a view to obtaining a post with an Architectural Firm. We then proceeded to train him with such satisfactory results that he was successful in passing the City and Guilds Building Examination. He now holds a good post in a building firm in the South of England…..”

An Ilag Education Officer sums up for us the spirit which is keeping prisoners alive mentally as well as physically. “We try to communicate the faith that there are things of the mind unbounded by time and place and that captives may escape beyond the barbed wire into fields of knowledge and delight. Those who know this freedom of the intellect are the happiest people in this camp and they will go out from here the best citizens when the gates are open.”

This camp record, wrought for us in such exquisite form, witnesses to the fact that far from wasting their time these men are actively preparing to play their part in the post-war world, and this is trenchantly expressed by their Education Officer, “I want…to publicise the fact that this period is not one of inactivity, it is not a lull or hiatus, but an extra period of learning, of training, which the men have taken, or shall I say have had thrust upon them by force of circumstance. With the aid of your Educational Service [i.e. Red Cross Educational Books Section] it is a period of praiseworthy effort in adverse conditions. If I had the power I would inform every professional body and every employer in England and the Dominions that the letters P.O.W. can and often do imply an added qualification.”

It is clear that more than ordinary will-power is needed to enable men to concentrate under the distracting and unnatural conditions of prison life, and those who make this effort (whether they achieve success in examinations or not) give proof of that strength of character and stability which, the war won, will help us to keep the peace.

Educational Books Section, Prisoner of War Department

War Organisation of the British Red Cross Society and Order of St. John of Jerusalem,

New Bodleian, OXFORD

July 1944

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Buckingham Palace

June, 1944

“The King and Queen have seen the Illuminated Book from Stalag Luft VI, N.C.O.s Education Committee. Their Majesties are both deeply impressed by the beautiful workmanship which has been put into the book, and by the splendid courageous spirit with which it has been completed. I am to say that The Queen hopes the booklet will meet with every success.”



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BY TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE FACILITIES offered through the channels of the Red Cross Society it has been possible to establish in a Prisoner of War Camp this Educational Organisation, an outline of which is given in the following pages.

To convert this period of enforced military inactivity into one of further training is our final aim. The principal value of the scheme however lies in its power to provide a distraction from Boredom and an antidote to Mental Stagnation.”

E. Alderton.

July, 1943

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THIS UNIQUE SCHOOL was formed to provide educational facilities for flying personnel interned in Germany. Three separate Air Force Camps were moved to form one large camp now called Stalag Luft VI


There are now more that one thousand students attending lectures at the school and the majority of these are studying for examinations. Through the kind co-operation of the Red Cross Educational Section at Oxford books and equipment are provided to enable the students to carry on, and the Examinations Department at Oxford organises the despatch of

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professional and academical examination papers. These examinations are held under the supervision of the Education Committee which is in constant touch with the authorities in England.

The Educational Library, divided into two sections, Arts and Sciences now contains some four thousand reference books and is growing rapidly.

As quoted in the forward the aim of the school is to expel boredom and mental stagnation by providing educational courses which can be profitably put to use in post-war life.

The school has been called “The Barbed-Wire University” and the status of Prisoner of War is the only qualification for entry. It contains students from all parts of the Empire thus giving it a cosmopolitan quality which is greatly cherished.

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Sgt. E. Alderton.

Sgt. G. J. Springett.

Sgt. G. Higginbothom.

The above committee is responsible for the organisation of the school and the supervision of examinations.


Chief Librarian Sgt. K.C.H. Rawlings.

Assistant Librarian Sgt. R. M. Holder

Book-binder Sgt. C. R. Brown.


Arts, Science, Medicine, Law and Professional Studies.

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Ball. G. — Barlow. A. E. — Beare. R. L. B. — Beck. R. J. — Bonnet. J. P. A. — Booth. L. — Bredin. J. C. — Brown. E. A. — Carter. J. C. — Carter. K. S. — Clarke. G. — Clarke. R. V. F. — Clarke. G. B. — Clayton. G. P. — Coveyduck. V. — Curties. M. C. — Custance. M. — Freed. A. — Featherstone. W. — Gardiner. J. — Goldthorpe. C. — Graham. T. — Hanslip. R. N. — Harris. W. — Hawkhead. E. — Hilton-Jones. R. — Holden. K. S. — Huckle. H. G. — Hunt. H. E — Jones. G. D. — Jones. H. A. — Jones. E. W. — Macdonald. A. — Mackenzie. R. — McGlashan. J. — McKernan. C. B. — Murrell. J. G. — Niblett. G. W. — Oliver. M. A. — Pattinson. A. — Penn. E. W. — Penn. F. W. — Phillips. W. — Pitt. J. H. — Rawlings. K. C. — Silver. J. — Slattery. L. J. — Springett. G. J. — Stevenson. J. G. — Taylor-Gill. J. D. — Utteridge. R. J. — Vermiglio. T. A. — Warburton. D. — Warren. W. K.

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Mathematics — Physics — Chemistry — Biology — Botany — Medicine — Engineering — Metallurgy — Meteorology — Navigation — Geography — Ecconomics [sic] — English — History — Art — French — Latin — Greek — Spanish — Portugese [sic] — German — Italian — Accountancy — Book-keeping — Commerce — Secretarial Practice — Local Government — Law — Motor Trade — Typography — Building — Banking — Agriculture — Hotel Management

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Examinations already taken marked - *

London University Matriculation — *

London University Diploma in Public Administration — *

London University Intermediate B. A.

London University Intermediate B. Sc. — *

Institute of Bankers England — *

Institute of Bankers Scotland — *

Institute of Chartered Accountants

Institute of Cost and Works Accountants — *

Association of Certified and Corporate Accountants

Society of Incorporated Accountants and Auditors

Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants — *

Royal Agricultural Society

Royal Institute of British Architects — *

Royal Society of Arts — *

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Auctioneers’ and Estate Agents’ Institute — *

Institute of Book-keepers — *

Building Societies Institute — *

City and Guilds of London Institute — *

Co-operative Union — *

Institute of Motor Trade

Institution of Electrical Engineers

Institution of Structural Engineers

Corporation of Insurance Brokers — *

Chartered Insurance Institute

Law Society

National Association of Local Government Officers — *

Association Board of the Royal Schools of Music — *

Pitmans Institute

The College of Preceptors — *

Incorporated Sales Managers’ Association — *

Chartered Institute of Secretaries — *

Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers

Institute of Transport — *

Incorporated Clerk of Works Association

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The classes and examinations are held in five small rooms contained in separate barrack blocks. Three of these B, C, and D are used continuously whilst the remaining lectures are carried on in the Fiction Library and the Hairdressing Shop when these places are not in use.

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[students timetable]

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FROM THE FOREGOING pages can be gleaned a mental picture of the Educational Organisation on this camp. Its success cannot be gauged in terms of certificates, degrees or diplomas but its value in preserving the morale of the men is immeasurable. The Education Committee has only one hope and that is, that the work done by the prisoners here will prove of value to them in post-war life.

“If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything thats [sic] in it”…


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The prisoners of Stalag Luft 6, “The Royal Air Force School for Prisoners of War,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 1, 2023,

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