Are there any historical cases where actual POWs made some form of alcohol while being held prisoner by belligerent forces in a POW camp?

While watching the classic movie The Great Escape (1963), I noticed that there is a scene in which three POWs made some moonshine out of potatoes. You can watch this scene on YouTube here.

Are there any documented cases of POWs making some form of alcohol under the noses of their enemy while being held in a POW encampment?

  • A Brit doc on Colditz mentioned making hootch from turnips. Even better is when tunnelers ended up in the castle's wine cellar, by mistake, and drank 137 bottles, the German colonel's supply.
    – Giorgio
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 17:31

1 Answer 1


Similarly, I recently watched the 2010 Maia Liddell documentary, Colditz The Legend.

Colditz Castle was a maximum security prison from which no one was meant to escape... but escape they did. Take a fresh look at the legendary escapes, featuring stories from both Colditz survivors and their extended families.

Listening to the narratives by former British officers held captive and memories and anecdotes by family (sons, daughters, grandchildren) prompted Google searches, among them these.

George Drew, 87, British POW Brewed Turnip Hooch at Colditz

Major George Drew, who has died aged 87, helped his fellow prisoners to cope with the boredom and deprivations of Colditz Castle during World War II by producing potent homemade alcohol.

He and his friend Pat Fergusson first tried to brew from the sugar and raisins from Red Cross parcels, but failed. Then they realized that there was sufficient sugar for fermentation in the turnip jam supplied by the Germans. Mixing the jam with yeast and water, they used a piece of purloined drainpipe and a large can, sealed with plaster of Paris from the sick bay, to produce hooch for such events as St. Valentine's and St. Patrick's Days.

However, the effects of the more than 100 proof alcohol could be severe, even leading to temporary blindness. Dental fillings would fall out. If a man was having obvious difficulty walking and talking in the castle yard it was said that he was "jam happy."

When Drew and Fergusson took part in the British television series "Escape From Colditz" in 2000, they made their potion for the first time since 1945. Taking the first glass before the camera, Drew said "Dear God," remarked that the smell was not quite as bad as it used to be, then drank again. "Oh Christ," he gasped.

And although not brewed, a group of tunnelers, after nine months of digging, took a wrong turn and emerged, fortuitously, in the castle’s wine cellar, enjoying 137 bottles, about four and a half bottles per person.

Article: In 1940 British POWs accidentally tunneled into a Nazi colonel's wine cellar and proceeded to drink everything they saw.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.