It was cold and damp on the evening of August 16 1915 when Walter Wood, accountant to the Llandudno Urban Council, left the town’s County Club. Outside, he was buttoning his coat up against the weather when a soldier approached him, offered him a polite greeting and started walking with him down Lloyd Street. Fearing that he was going to be the victim of a robbery, the accountant turned and ran back to the building in which he had spent the evening. He burst into the lobby followed by half a dozen soldiers, excitedly, shouting “We’ve got him; we’ve got him”.
For two days hundreds of soldiers had been searching for three German prisoners of war who had escaped from a camp in Llansannan. Dyffryn Aled had been requisitioned in 1914 to accommodate captured German officers and while interned there, Lieutenant-Commander Hermann Tholens and Captain Heinrich von Hennig hatched a plan to escape and rendezvous with a German submarine off the Great Orme. On the night of August 13 1915, along with Captain Hans von Heldorf, they forced their way through the barred windows of the 18th century mansion and walked the twenty miles to Llandudno. Confident that they would not be missed until the camp’s morning roll call, the three enjoyed a meal in a café before hiding for the day.
At dusk the three Germans left their hideout and tried to scramble down the cliffs below the Great Orme’s lighthouse. In the dark waters below a submarine moved towards them waiting for a signal which never came as the officers failed to find their way down to the beach. All was not lost for the three, however, as the plan was for the U-boat to rendezvous at the same position for three consecutive nights. The following night Tholens, von Hennig and von Heldorf made it to the foot of the Orme but failed to make contact with the submarine and assumed, wrongly, that it was not coming. It turned out to be just a few hundred yards away, their view of each other blocked by a limestone buttress.
Dejected, cold and hungry the Germans decided to walk into Llandudno, split up, and try and get a train to London. After buying a packet of cigarettes, Tholens went into a café in Mostyn Street where waitress, Nellie Hughes, served him a cup of coffee and piece of cake. He left the coffee bar and outside the Tudno Hotel was approached by Police Constable Morris Williams who asked his identity, the German replied “I am a Lieutenant-Commander in the German Navy, I am one of the officers who escaped from the camp at Denbigh. I want to be arrested”. Williams escorted him to the police station.
Unable to locate the other two fugitives the authorities staked out the railway station but no men matching the descriptions entered the concourse. To be sure the London-bound train was stopped at Colwyn Bay and every compartment searched but to no avail as von Hennig and von Heldorf had just entered the offices of the Silver Motor Company in Llandudno. They asked for a car but when staff tried engaging them in conversation the Germans departed abruptly.
That evening, around the same time the innocent council accountant was being harangued, cab driver, Alfred Davies was on his way to pick up a fare from the Pier Pavilion. He noticed two men standing under an ornamental lamp in North Parade in the pouring rain. He pulled over and asked if they needed a cab and understanding that they did, he opened the door for them and they climbed in. In broken English they asked to be taken “to the colonel” so he took them to the headquarters of the London Welsh battalion who were billeted in Gloddaeth Street. The following day all three were taken back to the camp in Llansannan in an ambulance belonging to the London Welsh, and they subsequently each served three months in Chelmsford Jail for the attempted escape.