Considering that the Second World War went on for six years and it was the duty of every British officer to attempt to escape capture, it’s not surprising that POWs spent quite a bit of time devising escapes. Officers, at least, didn’t have much else to do.

But it wasn’t easy to get out of a POW camp. A man had to get through locked doors, barbed wire and guards who were not easily amused. Some POW camps, like Colditz, had additional challenges in the form of stone walls and moats. It was possible for a man to bluff his way out in a basket of laundry or some such, but a planned escape involved a number of men. A tunnel, for instance, had to be dug without adequate tools. And they had to hide the dirt they took out of the tunnel and shore up the tunnel as they dug. The men working on the tunnel needed sentries to warn them when guards approached.

Once a POW got to the other side of the walls, he was in enemy territory. He needed maps, false documents, a compass, money and civilian clothes to travel. It was also a good idea to take food with him. Just having an adequate disguise to walk through the woods in Germany let alone take a train was the work of many.

In addition, it was entirely possible that more than one group of POWs in the same camp would be working on an escape at the same time. They might easily work against each other without meaning to. For an example from Colditz, one group might decide to file through the bars on a window right where another group was tunneling so that when the German guards discovered that the window bars had been tampered with they also found the tunnel.

The Escape Committees were designed to solve these problems. They were made up of POW officers, obviously without the knowledge of the German camp personnel. Any POW who wanted to escape had to have his plan approved by the committee. The committee then allocated resources to that plan and made sure that no other plans got in its way. The committee knew which POWs had the skills to sew civilian clothing or forge documents and made sure that they had the raw materials to do so. The escape committee also received some useful supplies such as maps from a department of military intelligence that specialized in escape and evasion. They sent them in care packages from home.

The committee could also organize cover activities among the rest of the inmates to distract the guards from the escape. You could consider the escape committee to be an escape line within a POW camp. They didn’t pass men from place to place, but they did oversee the complex context of a man’s escape. Like an escape line such as Dutch-Paris, the escape committee provided false documents, disguises, money and coordination.