The Last Escaper by Peter Tunstall
|The Last Escaper by Peter Tunstall|
|Reviewer: Sam Tyler|
|Summary: Known as the 'Cooler King', Tunstall spent over 400 days in solitary confinement as a Prisoner of War during World War 2 due to his repeated attempts to escape and his camp based antics. Read Tunstall's own recollections of the time in his own distinctive voice. He explores the darkness of war, but always with a Britain can do it attitude.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 368||Date: September 2014|
|Publisher: Gerald Duckworth and Co Ltd|
The Last Escaper opens differently to many of the great escape biographies that were released soon after the war as it is told some 70 years later. Peter Tunstall was an RAF pilot who was shot down and spent many years as a Prisoner Of War across occupied Europe, including in Colditz. He lived through the war, but also lived through many decades of peace. Will these years of the relative quiet life lesson the tales of bravery and dare doing of the war? Of course not!
Tunstall's biography purports to give more perspective on being a POW during WW2 and that it won't be just another boy's own adventure. However, it does not take long to work out that this is not strictly true. Tunstall was known as the 'Cooler King' during the war due to the amount of time spent in solitary confinement after repeated attempts to escape various camps. Not only did he try to escape, but when he was trapped he spent as much time as possible disrupting his captures. With this in mind, 'The Last Escaper' has some great stories to tell; many of them not that highbrow.
The one thing that comes off the page more than any other is the strong character of Tunstall himself. It is clear that he was a single minded man and this would have been needed to survive the war and partake in as many escape attempts as he did. He obviously had a glass-half-full approach to life and this reflects on his stories; many of them light-hearted asides about botched escapes or pranks on the guards.
There is also a darker side to the book, which is only right when exploring the subject matter. Although Tunstall never contemplated suicide, there are elements of 'The Last Escaper' which explore what it felt like to be trapped and nowhere to go. The afterword is particularly poignant as Tunstall discusses the vilification of the Allied Bombers after the war. The importance of hindsight is integral to any student of history and this afterword is a great lesson for anyone who wants to try and get into the mind-set of those who lived history and didn't just study it.
Even with moments of great pathos, the prevailing feel of 'The Last Escaper' is one of action and fun. Tunstall's writing is wonderfully evocative. He is also able to explain quite complex and dry subject matters in a way that is entertaining i.e. the workings of a plane engine. You get a real sense of what it was like to be a POW, how the differing nationalities coped – some with dignity, some with passion and the Brits often with a silly sense of humour. His actual moments of freedom are extremely tense as you wonder if he will make it back home. Never one to hog all the limelight, Tunstall is equally happy to praise those around him who managed successful escapes and tells their tales with as much passion as he does his own.
The Last Escaper may very well be the last of the memoirs to come out of the POW camps of WW2 as the generation passes. Unlike the prologue suggests there seems to be relatively little reflection of the past 70 years of peace on this book. Instead, it is another extremely fun look at POW with moments of poignancy and very well written memories.
If this book appeals then you might also enjoy The Boys In The Boat: An Epic Journey to the Heart of Hitler's Berlin by Daniel James Brown and The Greatest Escape: How one French community saved thousands of lives from the Nazis by Peter Grose.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Escaper by Peter Tunstall at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Escaper by Peter Tunstall at Amazon.com.
The Last Escaper by Peter Tunstall is in the Top Ten Autobiographies 2014.
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