On this day in history : 13th December 1914 – Lieutenant Otto Koehn – known as ‘the German jack-in-a-box’ – is discovered concealed in a packing crate at Tilbury Docks….attempting to escape to Hamburg….

Otto was a German prisoner of war…. He had been captured from a German freight ship travelling from the USA to Germany….and he had been taken to Poundbury Prisoner of War Camp in Dorchester…. Otto began to plan his escape soon after arriving….

His opportunity came when some of the older prisoners were due to be repatriated back to Germany…. When the day came for their departure, there was an extra packing crate amongst their luggage….a crate measuring just 3ft x 2ft x 2ft…. Inside was Otto – which must have been quite a squeeze, as he was over 6ft tall! He had along with him a dozen bananas, some malt extract and three Champagne bottles full of water….

On arrival at Tilbury Docks the SS Batavian was waiting to take the prisoners for repatriation to Hamburg…. Dockers decided the best way to load the crate Otto was secluded in was by rolling it down the ramp to the ship…. So shaken and jolted was Otto inside he could stand it no more…. He burst out of the crate head first….and surrendered….

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SS Batavier – unknown photographer – public domain

Otto was returned back to Dorchester….and earned the new name ….’Jack-in-a-box’….

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Thomas Nast – Public domain

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