January 11, 2001

Jimmy Yule in 1945, and, right, the hidden radio shack at Colditz Castle where he monitored Allied and enemy broadcasts (photographed in 1999)

 

Lieutenant-Colonel Jimmy Yule

Controller of the secret radio set at Colditz who helped to keep the British prisoners informed about the progress of the war

Soldier, communicator, musician and tormentor of the pompous over a varied life, Jimmy Yule looked back on the years he spent as a prisoner in Oflag IVC - Colditz Castle, Saxony - as a period when all his skills were in demand. Sent there on recapture after jumping from a train, he decided that his fellow-prisoners would be better served by his remaining with them, rather than attempting to escape.

He was taken prisoner in May 1940 during the ill-fated Allied campaign in Norway, following the German air and sea invasion. After he had landed at the west coast railhead of Andalsnes with a brigade signals detachment, the train carrying his party south-eastwards was attacked by the Luftwaffe and derailed. Yule, trapped in the wreckage with an injured spine, was captured when the brigade withdrew to the coast.

On recovery, he spent the following year in transit from one German prison camp to another, constantly on the lookout for chances to escape. A chance came when the train carrying him and other prisoners from a camp close to the Swiss frontier paused at Munich for a welcome meal of stew. On leaving the station it was discovered that the door had not been bolted on the outside and, before the train could gather speed, several prisoners jumped down beside the track. Yule and a companion remained free for ten days only to be recaptured when they entered a guarded factory in search of food. Both were designated Deutschfeindlich - hostile to Germans - and sent to Colditz in July 1941.

In March 1943, for no apparent reason, Yule and several other Colditz prisoners were moved to Oflag IX - Spangenberg Castle, east of Kassel, where the drawbridge over the surrounding moat offered an escape route. It was supported by concrete blocks which also carried the castle drains encased in a wooden structure along which it seemed possible to crawl. Choosing a blustery evening to cover any sound, Yule and Alan Campbell, now Lord Campbell of Alloway, QC, climbed the support on the castle side of the moat and across the drain casing to the next one. Yule was waiting on the third and last support for Campbell to catch up when, during a drop in the wind, a sentry was alerted by a dislodged stone. The pair were apprehended before reaching the far side.

Together with the discovery of a tunnel under the castle wall, which the Germans mistakenly suspected was dug at their instigation, this incident resulted in the group from Colditz being returned there. That summer also saw the French prisoners moved out of the castle leaving their precious secret radio.

Its location - in a tiny space in the castle roof - was known to only six prisoners formed into two teams of three: an operator, a listener/writer and a ìputter-innerî responsible for concealing the entrance once the other two were inside. As a Royal Signals officer Yule was a natural choice as an operator, usually working with listener/writer Micky Burn, subsequently a foreign correspondent of The Times.

The radio was powered from the castle supply and the hide was furnished with maps to make the news from Allied and German broadcasts more easily intelligible. Yuleís responsibility for maintaining the flow of news to other inmates convinced him that he should join no further escape attempts; but he also had another contribution to make to his comrades morale.

Always fascinated by music and the theatre, he became involved in putting on pantomimes and revues, the Ballet Nonsense being among the best-remembered. He also arranged music for the prisoners band, equipped with instruments acquired in one way or another from the German guards. The noise of band performances or revues, including the applause, was frequently used to drown sound of preparation for escape attempts or distract key members of the guard while an attempt was made. One successful home run began from beneath the theatre stage. Yule's liberation was by the US Army in May 1945 when the German garrison was persuaded to surrender without a fight.

James de Deane Yule was born in Murree, on the border of the North West Frontier province, the only son of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Abercrombie Yule of the Indian Army. Educated at Charterhouse, he entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 1936 and was commissioned into the Royal Corps of Signals two years later.

He served in the 5th Division Signal Regiment with the British Expeditionary Force in France until his brigade was withdrawn for operations in Norway.

He returned to regular service after the war and while at Catterick wrote pantomimes and revues for the Cary Theatre. His knowledge of French led to an attachment to the French Army and in 1950 he worked in Paris for the European Longlines Agency, establishing part of the Nato communications network.

He commanded the Signals Regiment in Nicosia during the Eoka terrorist campaign in Cyprus, but retired from the Army in 1961 to join De La Rue Bull in London. He later became a schoolmaster at the Alec Hunter High School in Braintree, Essex, and was responsible for many of their musical productions.

He served as an Independent on the Braintree District Council for 18 years, writing on his own or the councilís account to the BBC, British Rail, trade unions and chairmen of any organisation which he or the council considered were not performing to the required standard.

His musical London, Paris, New York, taken from music written during his time in Colditz was staged professionally at the Imperial War Museum in April 1990, with the proceeds going to the British Red Cross. He was chairman of the Kelvedon and Feering branch of the Royal British Legion and also of the local Scout Association.

He married Stella Lintott in 1947. She predeceased him, and he is survived by a son and two daughters.

Lieutenant-Colonel J. de D. Yule, Colditz prisoner, was born on September 17, 1916. He died on Christmas Day aged 84.

 


 

Jimmy Yule, British P.O.W. Who Bamboozled Nazis, Dies at 84

 

By Richard Goldstein,, January 15, 2001

 

Lt. Col. Jimmy Yule, who as a British Army officer at the Colditz prisoner of war camp in World War II operated a clandestine radio receiving coded intelligence messages and organized a P.O.W. musical group that helped orchestrate escapes, died Dec. 25 in Colchester, England. He was 84.

Colditz Castle near Leipzig, an 11th-century hunting lodge originally for the kings of Saxony, was converted by the Germans into a camp for incorrigible Allied prisoners, most of them officers. The P.O.W.'s - some 800 at their peak - had been recaptured after escaping from less secure German prison camps and were experts at picking locks and using explosives and disguises. The walls of Colditz Castle were thick and high, and there were often as many guards as prisoners. It was supposed to be escape-proof.

But 160 prisoners did escape, according to German records - 30 of them eventually reaching their homelands, the others recaptured - thanks to the ingenuity of men like Colonel Yule, who was a captain at the time in the British Signal Corps.

Captain Yule was captured in May 1940 when his troop train was bombed during the Norwegian campaign. He tried to escape from a P.O.W. camp by digging a tunnel but was discovered and put on a train to another camp. He jumped from an unlocked door on that train only to be recaptured a few days later.

That brought him incarceration at Colditz in August 1941. He remained there until March 1943, when he was transferred to Spangenberg camp. His attempt to escape from Spangenberg across a moat was foiled, and he was sent back to Colditz after three months.

He never tried to escape from Colditz since his services were too valuable to the other prisoners.

When French officers were transferred out in mid-1943, they left behind a radio receiver that had been hidden between an upper and lower attic.

Captain Yule, using his Signal Corps training, and another operator took turns fiddling with the dials, hoping to hear the words "This is London calling, with Alvar Liddell" - the voice of the BBC. Two other prisoners transcribed the BBC reports on the Allies' military progress.

When the war news was good, the prisoners' morale soared. But the radio had another use. The BBC sent coded messages seeking intelligence information. Captain Yule had no radio transmitter, but the prisoners could respond by using written codes smuggled into Colditz by British military intelligence.

One night, the BBC asked whether there might be barrage balloons - devices for foiling low-flying planes - at Dresden. "I knew the German post officer was unbribable, but he did chat a lot and I found there was no barrage at Dresden," Kenneth Lockwood, secretary of the Colditz Association of former prisoners, recalled in 1993. "The information was sent back to London, in code, in a prisoner's letter."

Captain Yule also arranged music for the prisoners' orchestra. The strains often drowned out preparations for breakouts or distracted guards when escapes were in progress. On one occasion, the music started or stopped to signal two escaping prisoners on the whereabouts of sentries who were in view of the prisoner musicians. And a space below the theater stage was used by four escapees as an exit toward passageways leading to freedom.

The prisoners were also building a glider for their most spectacular escape effort, but before it could be used American troops liberated Colditz, in April 1945.

James de D. Yule was born in India, the son of a lieutenant colonel in the Indian Army. He entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, England, in 1936, and received an army commission two years later. Returning to the army at the war's end, he wrote camp revues and performed communications work, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1961. He later taught music at a high school.

He is survived by a son and two daughters.

In January 1993, workmen renovating Colditz Castle for use as a museum discovered the secret radio room. They found Captain Yule's notebook containing German words, codes and directions to German towns for escapees. But the book also revealed Captain Yule's longing for home, for an end to the cold and the hunger. It contained a poem he had written:

Back in London, here we are

Back to clubs and caviar.

Back to Covent Garden's fruits,

Back to 50-shilling suits.


January 19, 2001

 

Lieutenant-Colonel Jimmy Yule

 

Recaptured PoW who operated a secret wireless room under the noses of the Germans in the attic of Colditz Castle

 

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL JIMMY YULE, who has died aged 84, was a member of the secret wireless team that, under the noses of the Germans, obtained morale-boosting news for their fellow inmates at Colditz.

Every night one of two teams, each consisting of an operator and a scribe, would move into a hidden compartment under the rafters of the castle where a small domestic wireless left behind by the French was installed. Yule was the operator of one of these teams. His scribe was Micky Burn, a journalist who had been captured while serving with the Commandos on the Saint Nazaire raid.

A party of "putter inners" would open up the hide, see the wireless team in and batten them down. Once inside, the operator would tune the wireless to London Calling with Alvar Liddell and keep it on station while the scribe noted down details from the broadcasts. It was taxing work, not only because of the risk of detection but also because the wireless had a tendency to fade and drift off frequency. After half an hour or so the putter inners would have to return to let them out.

After they had departed, a party of "dust layers" would scatter dust over the floor to restore the look of neglect that the guards were used to. The whole operation was covered by "stooges" who watched every movement the Germans made while the wireless was in use. It was then the scribe's job to spread whatever information they had gleaned, from war news to football results, without compromising its source.

Yule acted as a wireless operator from June 1943 until the end of the war. Throughout this period he was also involved in the writing of music, revues and pantomimes - activities which the Germans encouraged in the belief that they would distract prisoners from escape attempts.

James de Denne Yule was born on September 17 1916 at Murree, India, and educated at Charterhouse. Maintaining a family tradition - his father being a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Indian Army - he then joined "The Shop", the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and in 1936 was commissioned into the Royal Corps of Signals. In 1939 he joined the 5th Division Signal Regiment in France, but in April, in the wake of the German invasion of Norway, he was sent as part of 15th Infantry Brigade to Norway.

The 15th Brigade's fighting withdrawal from Kvam was the first contact between British regular troops (as opposed to Territorials) and the Germans in the Second World War. Although outnumbered and out-gunned, the brigade acquitted itself well. But when it was evacuated, it sailed without Yule. A few days earlier a train he was travelling on was bombed at Lesja and Yule found himself trapped under the wreckage.

By May 1, unable to walk because of a twisted spine, he was a PoW. After a period in hospital in Norway, Yule was sent to Germany, being transferred from one prison camp to another and ending up, in March 1941, in Oflag VB near Biberach. Three weeks later, while he and 10 other officers were being transported by train to Bavaria, one of their number discovered that the carriage door was not locked. By the time the train reached its destination the compartment was empty and the line littered with PoWs.

Yule had jumped with two companions, Bill "Lulu" Lawton of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment and E P G "Rex" Harrison of the Green Howards. Lawton injured his knee and had to give himself up, but Yule and Harrison started making their way towards Switzerland. After five nights on the run they hitched a lift on a train which they hoped would take them across the border, only to find themselves being carried into a well-guarded "shadow factory" where they were recaptured and sent to Colditz.

The castle had by this time been earmarked for those prisoners regarded as especially deutschfeindlich, or hostile to the Germans, and it was here that Yule was to spend most of what he called his "unscheduled holiday at the expense of the Wehrmacht." From the start, Yule threw himself into those theatrical activities which as well as relieving boredom, often served as a cover for escape plans. He knew how to arrange music and soon had a full pit orchestra, Jimmy Yule's Band, equipped with instruments bought from the Germans with "Lagermarks" the PoW currency.

One of his earliest and best-known productions was Ballet Nonsense. The band thrived despite the loss of its drummer, Lieutenant A P T Luteijn, of the Royal Netherlands Indian Army, who together with Lieutenant Airey Neave made a "home run" in January 1942, both disguised as German officers.

In March 1943, Yule and 11 others were transferred to Spangenburg Castle, possibly because they were no longer regarded as a threat. Within weeks Yule had attempted to escape by crawling along the drainage pipes under the drawbridge, accompanied by Alan "Black" Campbell (now Lord Campbell of Alloway). Unfortunately, a dislodged stone landing in the moat alerted the guards and both men were "geschnappt". All 12 men were returned to Colditz. After his return, in June 1943 Yule took up his post as operator of the secret radio, the existence of which was unknown to the Germans until after the war.

After liberation, Yule returned to Catterick, where he served until 1950, when he was posted to Paris to set up the Western Union Defence Organisation, the forerunner of Nato. In 1952 he joined Signal Squadron Floriana in Malta and then, after a period in Herford, West Germany, returned to Britain in 1956. After serving in Cyprus in command of the Signal Regiment, Nicosia, throughout the Eoka crisis he retired from the Army in 1961.

He was then employed by De La Rue Bull in London to teach young engineers about computers, and worked for a time in Paris, using the French he had learned in captivity. After a spell as a temporary Civil Servant at the Ministry of Technology, he became a Mathematics Master at the Alec Hunter High School, Braintree, Essex. He organised musical productions there, and also ran a jazz group. He retired in 1981.

He sat as an Independent on Braintree District Council for 18 years, and chaired the local Scout Association and the Kelvedon and Feering branch of the Royal British Legion. An active member of the Colditz Association, Yule gave talks to schools and associations, following the successful television series in the 1970s. In 1993 the wireless hide was rediscovered, and an exercise book found there in which Yule had made notes.

Last year he appeared on Channel 4's Escape from Colditz, playing snatches from Ballet Nonsense. Music remained one of the great loves of his life and he delighted to talk about it at any level to any age group. He married, in 1947, Stella Lintott, who died in 1995. He is survived by their son and two daughters.


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© 2001 by Neil Mishalov