My great-grandpa Jack ─ the Mapmaker of Colditz

by Clive Millett

I WOULD like to pay tribute to my greatgrandfather, Jack Millett, who served with the 2nd/11th battalion from 1941 to 1945.

During his time in WA prior to the war, Jack had joined the army reserve.

This meant he was an officer by the time he joined his unit in North Africa and went to battle in Italian-occupied Libya and Tobruk.

The battalion was then sent to Greece, where they were pursued relentlessly by German troops, until they were forced to evacuate to the island of Crete.

The respite from battle lasted only until hundreds of German paratroopers were dropped from gliders and the island was soon overtaken.

Captured and sent to the Oflag V1-B camp in Germany when he was caught digging a
tunnel from his hut, Jack was sent to a more secure prison in Bavaria.

Already with a reputation, he was at once recruited to join the escape committee.

In June 1943, after many weeks of tunnelling, he went out under the wire along with 65 men, who escaped in the most famous mass break-out of WWII.

On the run for five days, he was quickly tracked down by the Nazi’s using Alsatian dogs.

All of the escapees were recaptured, but not before they had tied up more than 50,000
German police and soldiers for a week in the search.

Jack was not only a repeat offender but was also identified as the draftsman who provided
the men with tiny maps showing the way to ports and borders.

This skill had Jack sent to the POW stronghold of Colditz Castle, which was considered escape proof.

As the only WA officer among the 800 POWs at Colditz, he continued his activities making maps for the 32 prisoners who managed to escape, he forged keys to the food storage areas and helped construct a glider hidden in the Castle attic – which was intended to be used to sail over the wall.

In 1945 American forces reached Colditz, and not seeing the POW sheets flying from the windows, the Castle was hit by artillery, some pieces of which Jack brought home.

He later said it had been a disappointment that he didn’t get a chance to use the glider.

Known as ‘The Mapmaker of Colditz’– Jack Millett is remembered not only for his courage in action – but also his famous ingenuity while serving as a POW to help his fellows escape.

Vale Jack Millett – and all those men and women whose deeds inspired and continue the spirit of ANZAC.