Finding Stefan - Hazel Hartstone's Extraordinary Story About Her Father, An Escaped POW Who Survived for Three Years By Posing as a Deaf Mute

15/08/2016 09:35 | Updated 15 August 2016

Colin Marshall was a former coal miner who joined the army and was called up at the outbreak of war. Captured at Dunkirk, he escaped from a POW camp in Poland. Befriended by a Polish family, in a village occupied by German soldiers, he came up with the remarkable concept of posing as a deaf mute - with forged identity papers using the fabricated name of "Stefan Wysocki".
His descriptions of life down the pit before the war are almost as fascinating as his adventures in Poland. For example: "Packed like sardines in a cage...the cage lifted about a foot. Props removed with a bang. Then we were on the rope. Suddenly, the cage seemed to go from under my feet and we seemed to be falling at great speed. There was a flash of lights as we passed the other cage going up, and a sudden jerk as we seemed to stop dead. Then I felt as if we were on a yo-yo, bouncing up and down. A voice behind me said: 'Bloody fool, he thinks he's still winding coal, not men.' It was like entering another world. The lights were so dim and when I left the pit bottom there were no lights at all, only the one I carried."
After a good bath, it all seemed like a bad dream, says Marshall later. His mother says, presciently: "The only way out of the pit is the army". He never forgot those words.
His escape route from a Polish village involved a brilliant ploy. Given the task of erecting barbed-wire fences, "there was one section behind the toilets to complete, when I had an idea." He suggested adding perpendicular wires to the horizontal wires, ostensibly "to make it more difficult for the Poles to throw food parcels through".
Says Marshall: "The guard fell for it...those upright strands had made a good ladder".
After escaping, various adventures, and gradually learning Polish, he is befriended by first one farming family and then another, who help his struggle to keep up the pretence. Selected members of each family are "in" on his secret.
"Wojciech Rewers' farm seemed to be a hive of illegal industry" he noted. "Killing pigs, making butter, distilling vodka and listening to the radio. When we were doing anything illegal on the farm, Wojciech would be serious and tense.
"As we drove along, he named what the charge and sentence would be. 'Somewhere among the rye is a radio battery...they would shoot me for that...For an escaped POW, shot without a trial. Then there is the piece of pork and a kilo of butter; that would be a thousand zloty fine and six months in prison. You are a lucky man Stefan. You would go back to a prison camp and I'd be shot twice, fined a thousand zloty and (given) a prison sentence.'"
Marshall's closest call comes when he's walking past a village store. "I noticed two SS men having a drink outside" he writes. "I'd walked about twenty yards when a voice shouted halt! " But of course if he were really deaf he wouldn't have heard this command - but they would have assumed he was disobeying orders.
"The situation had gone through my mind a thousand times" he noted. "I'd often pondered what I'd do...I had to check myself; I felt like running, the thoughts seemed to fly through my mind...Where would they hit me?"
To Marshall's great good fortune, a woman nearby screams: "Don't shoot! He's deaf and dumb!"
Later he discovers that the German had actually put his rifle to his shoulder and had been about to fire.
When the war ends, so does Marshall's three-year subterfuge. Villagers from all around flock to see him. Their usual question? "However did you manage it?"
Marshall says some were embarrassed when they recalled what they'd said in front of him, thinking he couldn't hear. And there were "quite a few blushes from the girls when they realised I knew a few of their secrets".
He's re-united with his wife, Nancy, after being "as good as dead for nearly five years". If only Hazel could tell us more about her parents' joyful meeting. Having been so engrossed in her father's amazing story I felt slightly cheated when the story stops just as he gets home.
But at least we're told of a poignant gathering in Poland. "Dad never forgot his Polish friends" writes Hazel. "And in August 1961, my mother and I, aged 11, accompanied him on a visit to Poland where we visited Wojciech's farm. We had an emotional welcome."
"Everyone in those (nearby) Polish villages instantly recognised Dad" she writes. "They still remembered Stefan Wysocki - Nie mowe (deaf and dumb)."
Finding Stefan is published by FastPrint Publishing ( at £8.99 and available on Amazon at £8.98.