Lieutenant-Commander John Hoggard, RN
30th November 1919 - November 2002.



This obituary first appeared in the Daily Telegraph newspaper on 04-Nov-2002.


Lieutenant-Commander John Hoggard, who has died aged 82, made three escapes from captivity during the Second World War before being consigned to Colditz Castle.

In two of them, he enjoyed only brief moments of freedom while being transferred from one prison to another. But in the third he was one of 12 officers at Sandborstal who dug a tunnel, 251 yards long, which broke the record length established in the First World War.

Some 130 tons of sand were shifted in three-hour shifts, during which the diggers periodically passed out for lack of oxygen.

When, on April 7 1942, after five months of digging, Hoggard emerged amid some piles of dung outside the camp, he set off down a road, so excited at being free at last that he burst into song in English.

After exchanging a cheery Guten Morgen with peasants as he passed a German barracks, he tried to steal a bicycle, but decided he was drawing attention to himself; he then rested in a wood where he chatted in German to a Russian who was also on the run.

He had to hide in a ditch while the RAF bombed Harburg, near Hamburg, then fell into the hands of some home guard members. It was a cold night; they accepted his claim to be a French free worker who spoke no German, and let him proceed to a railway terminus.

On entering a carriage with five German soldiers, he lit a cigarette, then realised that he had drawn it from a packet with the Players Navy Cut logo on the cover. Again his luck held. His fellow passengers failed to notice as they puffed on their pungent Turkish brands.

Hoggard travelled on to Lubeck, hoping to stow away on a ship to Sweden; but there were no ships in port, thanks to a recent air raid. He went on to Schwartau, where he was conscious of a woman in a waiting room watching him eat a chocolate bar with a Red Cross wrapper.

While wearily making his way to Travemunde, Hoggard answered Ja to a question he had not understood from a German seaman, who then summoned a policeman. By now he had destroyed his French papers and only had one other set, claiming that he was a Dane; he was lost, however, when asked a question in his supposed native tongue.

Finally, Hoggard's cover was completely blown when he was taken to a police station and asked a question in English, to which he replied.

Arriving back in camp he heard familiar voices in 11 cells, indicating that all his fellow escapers had been recaptured. "I was sentenced to 21 days solitary confinement," he recalled. "Quite a good run for my money."

On being sent on to Colditz, Hoggard found himself in a camp made up entirely of would-be escapers, who kept up their spirits by boisterous behaviour while working on more than 300 escape plans.

Always keen to help, no matter how unpleasant the job, he assisted in the copying of maps, making ropes and keeping look-out for the men building a glider in the eaves; when a prisoner disguised as a guard who looked like the Emperor Franz Josef attempted to open the gates, Hoggard was one of those ready, with civilian dress and forged papers, to follow.

The son of a dentist, John Wellesley Hoggard was born in south London on November 30 1919 and went to King's School, Worcester, before joining the merchant marine. After the outbreak of war, he joined the Royal Navy, and served as a navigator in the armed merchant cruiser Voltaire before she was sunk west of Port of Spain in 1941.

Hoggard was wounded in the hips, and spent six hours in the water during which German snipers from the ship which had sunk them shot sharks who were attracted by the smell of British blood.  He was eventually taken to Germany, where a photograph of him being taken ashore in borrowed shorts and shirt appeared in the Nazi newspaper Volkischer Beobachter.

On being released from Colditz in 1945, Hoggard was posted to the cruiser Newfoundland, then in the Far East. When they were in Australia, he was invited to take part in the first Sydney-Hobart yacht race in 1945, sailing as navigator in the Bermudian cutter Rani.

The yacht ran into a ferocious 36-hour storm from which the six-man crew emerged to find that they had been feared lost but had beaten the other seven competitors.

When Hoggard finally returned home he discovered that his name was listed among the dead on a memorial tablet at his old school; but his letter of correction was not appreciated - his old housemaster wrote back with a vague hint that he might care to contribute to the cost of removing his name.

Hoggard came out of the Service in 1947 because of failing eyesight, and went into Lloyd's. Settling at Bosham, West Sussex, where he was a sidesman at the local church, he joined the Royal Ocean Racing Yacht Club and became a keen beagler with three packs, going out at least two days a week.

As chairman of the Colditz Association in his last years, he signalled the depletion of its membership by winding up its formal constitution and abolishing its rules, though not before he had organised the attendance of 25 members at the Horse Guards parade for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother's birthday party.

His last formal action was to attend her memorial service. On the way he collapsed while crossing Westminster Bridge, and was picked up by a passing ambulance.  But when he returned home he characteristically failed to mention the incident to his wife, saying merely that he had a good time.

John Hoggard married, in 1948, May Pearson who bore him two sons and a daughter.


Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2002.