An Escaper or Evader

By Roger Stanton

Escapers and Evaders – what is the difference?

An Escaper is one who has managed to escape from ‘secure enemy custody’, whether it be a prison, POW camp, prison train, or from guards on the ground. Once free, he then has to turn to the tactics of evasion. WW2 escapers tended to be mainly Army personnel.

An Evader has not been captured and has, with luck, managed to retain some of his kit and equipment – his task is to remain undetected, outwit the enemy and stay free from capture in order to return to his unit. WW2 evaders tended to be mainly Aircrew or Special Forces.

A sound understanding of survival skills is a prerequisite for successful evasion; knowledge of both is needed to complement each other. The escaper has a different set of rules from the evader, starting from the time when he is captured.


The best time to escape is immediately upon capture. At that point you are probably aware of your location, probably still have most of your kit and are guarded by relatively few enemy. Once captured in the field, then blind-folded and taken through the front-line units to the rear echelons, the more difficult it becomes. Initial capture may be by relatively few enemy and possibly out in open ground; but in a very short time this could result in transportation to a heavily guarded prison miles behind the enemy front line, with no equipment and no boots to ease the path of escape.


There are many things that make a good evader. Appropriate equipment and the ability to use it effectively are important. Fitness also plays a part, but knowledge of survival skills is essential. However, the main ingredient of survival is the mental toughness of the individual to survive  when everything is against him. The ‘will to survive’ and get ‘home’, overrides everything. This is often assisted by one other factor – luck. Luck can include knocking on the right door, trusting the right person, the right weather conditions and remaining healthy and uninjured. The evader must remain calm; with every day of freedom he cannot afford to become complacent. However confident, he must obey the rules of evasion. On most occasions evaders have followed the golden rule of walking by night and sleeping by day (with the exception of a breakout). Ignoring the fundamental rules or becoming overconfident has resulted in the arrest and capture of many would be evaders: walking by day; stealing a bike for speed and then cycling on the wrong side of the road; tiredness from not resting; mistaking quiet streets for safe streets when in fact there is a curfew! Mental and sensory alertness are paramount.

The evader has many problems to deal with, the main one being loneliness. If he succeeds it is to his credit, if he is caught it is his fault. If he is ill he must deal with the situation. If he is in a safe-house he must allow his host’s life to appear as ‘normal’ as possible: ie. stay away from windows; don’t use the toilet, run the tap or cook food while the safe-house keeper is out or at work. Physical movement should be restricted for fear of noise. An evader cannot expect large meals, as a helper’s longer shopping list will attract attention; similarly additional milk on a doorstep or extra washing on the washing line [especially if it is not suited to the occupant!]. If the safe-house keeper lives alone additional light or sounds can alert suspicion from people near by. Above all consideration for the helper should be paramount; if compromise appears imminent the evader must leave immediately.

Post WW2

In future wars some service personnel will still need to escape and evade, although probably not on such a large scale as during WW2. Physically their trials may be harder as time will not be on their side. The battle line will move quickly. The RAF continue to train aircrew in E&E, and the army Special Forces train their ‘prone to capture’ military personnel. Escape kits are now more comprehensive and backed up by the soldiers’ own choice of additional items. Since WW2 escapes and evasions have taken place in all theatres of war including Korea, Vietnam, Falklands, Bosnia, the Gulf Wars, and Sierra Leone.

A number of Agencies also now assist evaders with search and rescue team ground hugging helicopters and emergency communication electronic equipment. It is however the knowledge of survival that is important, with the old rules and skills still applying; such as astral navigation, the ability to find food and water and survival medicine. The sun, stars, and moon have always been and will continue to be, the evaders best natural form of navigation The WW2 generation of escapers and evaders set the basic rules for today’s generation, and today’s forces have built on that solid ground. Above all, the biggest factor will still remain, the mental ability of the evader and escaper and his ‘Will to Survive’.

 The Escaper and Evader – The Legal Difference

The difference between escapers and evaders was brought to the attention of members in Newsletter 19.  However, a number of questions relating to the ‘legality of escaping’ have been raised since.  Legally, there is a difference between escapers and evaders.  The Geneva Convention gives an exact definition but MI9 (see ‘Saturday at MI9’ pg.21) classified escapers as those who escaped from enemy hands, whilst evaders were those who had avoided captured by the enemy.  The importance as far as evaders were concerned was that while escapers could be repatriated should they be subsequently caught in a neutral country, evaders were liable to be interned for the duration. That is why most evaders claimed to be escapers if arrested.  In WW2  escapers who reached Spain were released, or released early under International law. Evaders remained in captivity. All allied service personnel who underwent any form of escape and evasion training were told by MI9 that if caught, they were to call themselves escapers and to have a cover story ready.

Regarding British Military Law; I have been unable to obtain a copy of the pre-war ‘Manual of Military Law’, however, Section 25, of the Army Act updated in 1955, deals with escaping (other sections of RAF and Naval law also apply):

“A soldier subject to military law shall be guilty of an offence against section 25, if knowingly, and without lawful excuse, he;

(a) Communicates with or gives intelligence to the enemy, or
(b) Fails to make known to the proper authorities any information received by him from the enemy, or
(c) Furnishes the enemy with supplies of any description, or
(d) Having been captured by the enemy, serves with, or aids the enemy, in the prosecution of hostilities, or of measures likely to influence moral, or in any other manner whatsoever not authorised by international usage, or
(e) Having been captured by the enemy, fails to take, or prevents or discourages any other person subject to service law who has been captured by the enemy from taking any reasonable steps to rejoin her Majesty’s Service which are available to him, or as the case may be, to that other person, or
(f) Harbours or protects an enemy not being a prisoner of war

(2) A person found guilty of an offence against this section, shall on conviction by court-martial, be liable to;

If the offence consisted in an act or omission falling within (a),(b),(c),(d),(f), of (1), above, and was committed with intent to assist the enemy, to suffer death, or any less punishment provided by this Act.
(a) In any other case, to imprisonment or any less punishment provided by this Act.

In conclusion, section 25 of the Army Act 1955, section 1, para e, (above) covers the individual’s duty to escape.

The Statutory Obligation is the same under the following Acts;

Naval Discipline Act Section 3(1)e
Army Act Section 25(1)e
Air Force Act Section 21(1)e