Object of the Month

“The Red Fox”: Colditz Castle Prisoner of War Portrait of Lieutenant Mike Sinclair, DSO

Colditz Sketch of Lieutenant Mike Sinclair, The Red FoxDuring WW2, within the forbidding walls of Colditz Castle, Lieutenant John Watton captured the indomitable spirit of fellow prisoner of war Lieutenant Mike Sinclair in this striking portrait. Sinclair, renowned for his relentless escape attempts, became an emblem of resistance against captivity, and was known to the Germans as Der Rote Fuchs – The Red Fox – for his cunning attempts.

The portrait itself was sketched by Watton shortly after Sinclair’s arrival at Colditz in 1942. Unlike Watton’s other portraits from that time, Sinclair’s gaze confronts viewers head-on with unwavering determination—a reflection of his steadfast refusal to yield to captivity.

Commissioned into the 2nd Battalion, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps in July 1939, Sinclair was captured in Northern France in May 1940 after Calais fell. Sinclair’s time as a POW was marked by extraordinary courage and a fervent desire to rejoin the fight against Nazi occupation. His escape attempts from various prison camps, including a daring trek to Russia thwarted by the German invasion of the Soviet Union, exemplify his unyielding spirit.

Tragically, Sinclair’s final escape bid in 1944 ended in his untimely death when a guard’s bullet ricocheted off his elbow and penetrated his heart, making him the sole prisoner to lose his life attempting escape from Colditz. His burial with full military honours by his German captors underscores the respect earned through his relentless pursuit of freedom. After the war, Lieutenant Mike Sinclair was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his unwavering commitment to escaping as a prisoner of war, making him the sole lieutenant of World War II to receive this medal for actions taken while in captivity.

John Watton, the artist behind this striking portrait also experienced the horrors of war and captivity. As Colditz’s resident artist, Watton’s talents went beyond capturing likenesses; he played a vital role in forging documents for escape attempts.

This portrait offers a window into the resilience of those imprisoned during wartime. Lieutenant Mike Sinclair’s unwavering determination, immortalised by Watton’s timeless sketch, serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by those who sought freedom amidst the darkest days of the war.

Item Details: Pastel and pencil on heavy gauge brown paper. Inscribed verso in pencil in the artist’s hand, ‘Escape from Posen May 41/ – recaptured and sent to Oflag IV C (Colditz) /Sender LT. J.F. WATTON 1442 / OFLAG IV C / LT A.M. SINCLAIR 60th RIFLES / After P[ublication] please send to Col. T.C. Sinclair c/o Lloyds Bank R. Section / 6 Pall Mall LONDON SW1’. Overall 52cm x 43cm. Framed and glazed.

Did You Know? Although considered a high security prison intended for officers who had become security or escape risks, Colditz had one of the greatest records of successful escape attempts. Between 30 and 36 men succeeded in permanently escaping Colditz.