Escape from Colditz: Ronnie Littledale's Distinguished Service Order is to sell

One of the best remembered stories from WWII is that of the prisoners of war at Colditz castle, which was told in a book by the POW P R Reid in a book written following the end of the war. The story was then made into a 1955 film starring John Mills, and another in 2005.

Colditz castle was intended to contain unruly prisoners who had made attempts to escape. They therefore had various ideas for break outs, some of which proved successful.

One of those who escaped was Ronald Bolton "Ronnie" Littledale of Cheshire. His war had almost started with his being captured, in the gallant last stand made at Calais in late May 1940.

He immediately commenced an escape attempt from there by tunnel, but the guards were tipped off. He successfully escaped from a prison in Posen by use of a rubbish dump. He and a fellow escapee were sheltered and assisted in Poland, but sold to the Gestapo by the Bulgarian police.

Littledale had a tour around much of Europe seeking a safe way home all in all. The escape from Colditz with Reid and two others involved crossing a floodlit area which should have been in clear view of the sentries - but Littledale was keen to try it out, given that they seemed lax.

A signalling system was used by which a 'British orchestra' amongst the prisoners, conducted by Douglas Bader, were to stop playing whenever Bader, who had a clear view of the sentries, felt they were distracted.

This obstacle passed (with difficulty), the men had to escape through a chimney flue, which it was only possible to squeeze through naked "…like toothpaste out of a tube!"

Colditz Littledale DSO medal group
Colditz Littledale DSO medal group

From Littledale escaped via Geneva, and following a debrief by MI9 in the UK was awarded a DSO (Distinguished Service Order) which heads the medal set now on offer, which also include a General Service 1918-62 medal, a 1939-45 Star, a France and Germany Star and a War Medal 1939-45.

Sadly Littledale died later in the war as a Commanding Officer in 1944 in fighting near Falaise. He was lamented by those under his command.

"Colonel Littledale's death was a great blow to us all. During his month in command he had shown himself a very able Commanding Officer, and a man whom every Rifleman had grown to love."

The medal set will sell at Dix Noonan Webb in London on May 18. They are part of the Bill and Angela Strong Medal Collection, and the set is somewhat cautiously estimated at £10,000-£12,000 ($20,000). It will make an excellent investment.

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