Count Felix von Luckner's escape in New Zealand
I have been reading your website with great interest and nostalgia. You may be interested in an extract from a letter I wrote recently.
"This was a trick similar to a World War II prisoner escape. An Allied prisoner volunteer regularly used to clip the grass along the edge of the prison camp roads making everything look neat and tidy. The clippings that he picked up as he went were placed in the bag he dragged along with him. One day he clipped his way up to the guard box and with the help of the guard shifted it so that he could clip around it, continued to clip his way out the gate, out of sight and was never seen again. Apparently the bag on that day had a change of clothes, fake passport papers, money, food and any other necessary things to help him on his way.
I had actually learnt the trick from the actions of Count Felix von Luckner while in captivity at Motuihe during World War I. As highest-ranking officer and head of the German prisoners on the island he was continually in and out of the Commandant's office visiting the Commandant. "Due to an accidental fall" he had "injured" his leg that he had to keep straight with a developed and pronounced limp. He needed to use a cane which he was often seen to use during his visits.
One day, Colonel Turner the Commandant had to attend an official parade in Auckland. When he reached for his sword standing up in the corner of his office, he found only that the canvas scabbard contained a stick and a tin can. Meanwhile the Count had made his escape in a dramatic and almost successful bid for freedom on the high seas.
As a child, I was very impressed with the Count when I climbed on his lap and tried to find the whistling canary it seemed was inside his tunic on board his vessel Seeteufel at berth in St. Marys Bay in 1938. When we left the yacht, as young children like to do, I swung on the held hands of my mother and his supposed wife who was furiously irritated by my behaviour because she wanted to hurry and couldn't. She was frustrated that she couldn't hear what my father and the Count were talking about. Meanwhile my father who had been in Military Intelligence and his long time friend Felix of whom he had been captor in charge after the Count's recapture in 1917 were striding it out well ahead along the long wharf jetty deep in conversation, leaving us far behind. The Count hated Hitler and the Nazis but he was too important as a respected, loved and much decorated German hero for them to dare touch him. He hurriedly told my father that the ship was full of Nazi spies including his so-called wife and that they very carefully watched him all the time. He quickly told my father of the Nazis, their plans for war, tanks, planes and as much other brief details as he had time for. He had a love of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. My father immediately went by train to see the SIS in Wellington with the information he had learnt from Count von Luckner, but came back very depressed because they refused to believe it and poohoo'd what he told them. He worked instead for American Intelligence later on during the war."
My father was stationed at "Fort Courtly" at the time he met the Count.
I had quite a few pieces of memorabelia from and of the count. Because I felt that they needed to be protected and kept properly, I gave them to the Royal New Zealand Navy who were collecting items for their museum that was yet to be established. As agreed by Commander Barrett who collected them, the proviso was that they looked after the originals and supplied me with photocopies. Well it never happened, despite my repeated inquiries. Nobody professed to know anything about it. When the museum finally opened, you can imagine my bitterness to find that some idiot had cut up the photos to make a montage. The autographed photo of von Luckner that seemed identical to the one taken in 1935 was captioned "To my old friend and Captor Ces Mickle". signed "Felix von Luckner" There was also a black and white photo of the SeeAdler under sail which was possibly the picture source for the coloured painting.
When I innocently mentioned at Te Atatu school at the outbreak of war that I had met Count von Luckner and that I thought our previously valued, friendly german neighbours that lived around the district being ostracised and treated so badly were decent people, I was viciously paraded around the school as a "Nazi German Hun Lover" by the sadistic, alcoholic female teacher. I learnt to keep my mouth shut, but I have never forgotten. I have also learnt never to loan out originals.
I left New Zealand some years ago and am now living on the Gold Coast in Queensland Australia.
Regards, Keith B. Mickle
My thanks for your message about The Count, all very interesting.
My piece about him in German Armed Merchant Raiders of WW1, drawn more comment from around the world than I think any other thing I have written about.
AHOY, is a joint affair between my friend Terry Kearns from Atlanta Georgia and myself. I write the text, and then Terry whips it all into shape and publishes it on our web site, without his dedication and expertise, our site would not see the light of day.
We are always pleased to have feed back.
Thanks again, and best regards from us both.