Sunday, March 13, 2016

the most amazing thing I saw today, a book made by English prisoners of war, to keep up morale while stuck in Stalag 4B. Drawn and scripted by hand and circulated around the camp for the POWs to read and pass on.

These images are ok, but I posted much better ones at

Flywheel: Memories of the Open Road by Tom Swallow and members of the Muhlberg Motor Club. Remarkable as it may seem, Flywheel is a compilation of reprinted motoring articles collated by founding editor Swallow and produced by prisoners-of-war in Stalag 4B in Germany from 1944-45.

A facsimile reproduction of the collection of motoring magazines that were drawn and scripted by hand by POW's in Muhlberg, Germany during the 2nd world war. Motoring adventures before the war, road tests of cars and motor cycles, a speculative 1944 motor show, advertisements, editorial comment and even a letters page nostalgically reflect pre-war life. The book is filled with humour, compassion, enthusiasm and authority, the drawings and sketches are both graphic and realistic, the text full of wit and highly credible.

In peacetime, Englishman Swallow was a keen car and motorcycle enthusiast and had teamed up at Stalag IVB with another PoW, a Durban journalist called Pat Harrington-Johnson. They decided, in an attempt to raise the prisoners’ morale, to publish a motoring magazine for them

I posted just the art from this book at

Stealth was the name of the game,” Harrington-Johnson said. “We collected all the exercise books we could find and spread the word around to all the chaps who had a motoring yarn to tell so they could contribute. Ink was something we most certainly didn’t have – but of ingenuity we had lots!

“Stolen materials such as quinine from the medical room provided the dye, tinted to suit, of course.”

“Sticking articles on the pages was difficult - excess fermented millet soup took care of that little problem.

“Just one copy per issue was produced and circulated among members of the Muhlberg Motor Club - the Jerries never had a clue what we were up to.”

Flywheel production was taken seriously. It had a diesel expert, a sports-car guru, a bike expert, even a circulation manager.

Flywheel produced 11 editions. The group went their separate ways after the end of the war, but Swallow kept in touch with his old POW campmates from Australia, Canada, Rhodesia and South Africa. Swallow went on to become a well-known motorcycle dealer in the British Midlands.

The magazine of the Muhlberg Motor Club helped keep alive the spirits and creative minds of hundreds of captive British Empire servicemen longing to return to their favorite car, motorcycle, track, or workshop. It also inadvertently proved the importance of content over flash in any publication.

Entirely hand-printed and illustrated with tinted pen-and-ink drawings on a few sheets of cheap, lined notebook paper, a single copy of each of the 11 “issues” was passed from hand to hand among enthusiasts in the camp, entertaining them with imaginary road tests, motor show reports, technical articles, race reports, motoring memories, cartoons, and even used car advertisements and letters to the editor. Most articles were created from memory, and a few were gleaned from magazines in Red Cross packages or letters. The finest of them are reproduced here, complete with faded paper and stains to show age. Of course, even though the original publication quality was almost non-existent, this hardbound book presents the reprints on quality paper in full, though accurately faded, color.

Judging by the writing, artwork, design, editing, and even penmanship, the original Flywheel staff’s professionalism is as evident as its enthusiasm, knowledge, and craftiness. To create each issue of this fascinating “magazine”, the prisoners had to beg, borrow, and steal such essentials as paper, ink, and pens.

Yet the content is superb, and the magazine even had an appropriate motto, “To Keep the Works Going Round on the Idle Strokes.” While there are references to “when we get home”, the general editorial approach is to mimic an actual magazine, as if the readers already were at home.

Appropriately, proceeds from the sale of this book were donated to the Red Cross, which had helped keep the staff alive.


  1. Wow. That's a great story.

  2. That is a cool, indeed. I always wonder how I would react if I had to live in those circumstances. Nice thought provoking article.

    1. thank you! I'm shocked I've never heard of it before!

  3. Thanks for posting this. I had forgotten that I still have a copy of this book.
    (My father was a PoW in Stalag XXA for 5 years - from Dunkirk to VE-Day)

    1. wow. That's astonishing... so many questions! How did he adapt to life after the war? Did he and the prisoners he was interred with stay in touch after getting released? What effect did the years as a POW have on your father son relationship?

    2. Here is a link to my Facebook album:

      Most ex-prisoners of war have never talked a lot with their children about their lives in captivity. Often, after their death, the children find some notes, a diary and some photographs from that period in time and more and more children, and even grand-children want to know and understand where their father or grandfather has been and how his life was there.

      My father died in 1963, aged 52. I found the photos in a box after he died.

      The only time he talked about his time in XXA was when he recognized Sam Kydd on television. see: (A few years later, I got to meet Sam while I was working in London)
      The other details I got from my mother (although he did not tell her too much) and fellow soldiers (living in the same village) who were also stationed in France but got back to Dunkirk. This was long after he died.

      Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the British Expeditionary Force was sent to the Franco-Belgian border.

      In September 1939, my father was called back to active service and was sent to France with the first contingent of the BEF.

      On May 5th 1940, my father returned home to England for two weeks leave.

      On May 10th the Phony War ended and the Battle of France began, his leave was canceled and he was called back to his unit.

      On May 12 my father arrived back in France accompanied by another local man from his company and they caught the train to return to their unit. Unknown to them, the unit was withdrawing back to Dunkirk, the Germans had over-run the position and the train went through the front lines. The rest of the company was evacuated at Dunkirk and my father was reported missing in June 1940.

      On July 20 1940, after some days avoiding the enemy troops, they were captured in the Netherlands.

      He was transported by rail to Stalag-XXA in Torun / Thorn, Poland.

      In early 1945, as the Soviet Army was advancing, German authorities decided to evacuate POW camps, to delay liberation of the prisoners. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of German civilian refugees, most of them women and children, as well as civilians of other nationalities, were also making their way westward on foot, in hazardous weather conditions.

      January and February '45 were among the coldest winter months of the 20th century in Europe, with blizzards and temperatures as low as –25 °C (–13 °F), and even until the middle of March, temperatures were well below 0 °C (32 °F).

      On Jan 20 '45, Stalag XX-A started evacuation. Most of the POWs were ill-prepared for the evacuation, having suffered years of poor rations and wearing clothing ill-suited to the appalling winter conditions. In most camps, the POWs were broken up in groups of 250 to 300 men and because of the inadequate roads and the flow of battle, not all the prisoners followed the same route. The groups would march 20 to 40 kilometers a day - resting in factories, churches, barns and even in the open.

      Soon long columns of POWs were wandering over the northern part of Germany with little or nothing in the way of food, clothing, shelter or medical care.

      After four months on the march, he was released by units of George Patton's armored divisions near Celle (Hamburg), and returned to England in April 1945.
      He was in very bad physical (and emotional) condition and spent some time recovering.

      Operation Exodus
      On 4 May 1945 RAF Bomber Command implemented Operation Exodus, and the first prisoners of war were repatriated by air in aircraft. Bomber Command flew 2,900 sorties over the next 23 days, carrying 72,500 prisoners of war.

      Sorry about the length of this reply...

    3. wow, I'm looking through your Facebook page right now... amazing. That xmas post card and your explanation of the colors and paintbrushes... incredible. Thank you for sharing what you know with us who are curious!

    4. and thank you for the length of your reply, and the thorough story you've told in it! Very appreciated!

    5. Hello, i read fascinating story and see some pictures posted here. Please see out blog dedicated to Stalag XXA. We come from Torun. Some of places from WWII is still exist here.

  4. Jesse- You are right. This would be a wonderful movie. Perhaps someone out there knows how get this done, These men deserve recognition, and perhaps the Red cross could get a nice donation.
    Sandy (of Sandy & Alex)

    1. Well hello! Thanks for your time yesterday! Wouldn't this be a great movie idea! All the actors I would want to see in it are too darn old though... Terry Thomas, Michael Caine, Peter O'Toole

    2. Did you see the other comments, one from a POW's son?