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Remembering the Great Escape: 80 years on

It is 80 years since one of the most daring escapes of World War 2 took place ‘The Great Escape’.  Immortalised in books & films even today it continues to resonate with people across the world, it is a story of courage, resilience & the fight for freedom.

Probably the most famous portrayal of the events was the film ‘the Great Escape’ released in 1963 & shown on British Television annually around the Christmas Holiday period.  This film was based on the book by Paul Brickhill & starred Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, David McCallum & Donald Pleasence. 

At Stalag Luft 3 a German POW Camp in Sagan, Poland during the Spring of 1944 allied prisoners mainly Airmen, devised an escape plan to claim their freedom.

This involved the digging of 3 tunnels Tom, Dick & Harry all of which were concealed under the camp barracks.  Despite many challenges & a high level of risk they worked together strategically to plan the escape, gather intelligence, forge documents, make civilian clothes, dig the tunnels, disperse sand, act as lookouts & all the other jobs that went along with such a monumental feat!

On the night of the 24th March 1944 after many months of work 79 men made it through the tunnel named Harry, their escape was sadly short lived as the majority were recaptured.  In violation of the Geneva Convention, the Gestapo executed 50 men on the orders of Adolf Hitler.  Just 3 men made it home to freedom. 

Model of Tunnel named Harry - Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre

It always amazes me whilst working with POW Questionnaires of men who spent time in Stalag Luft 3 how many men were actually involved in assisting escapes whether that be digging tunnels or providing bed boards to support the tunnels.  I always find that reading these documents brings you that bit closer to history.

The duty of an airmen was to return to his unit & these types of escapes highlight the sheer courage, bravery & sacrifice that each of them gave.

Tunnel named Harry (one showing location of entrance) - Public Domain - Wikicommons

One book that I have reviewed & that I can highly recommend is the Stalag Luft III Official History book, this was taken from the original documents written up after the war on the running & structure of the camp.  It provides a great insight into the day-to-day goings on in the camp as well as listing the men who contributed to the various escape organisations.  You can purchase it via Pen & Sword here

All 79 men have been listed below, those marked with a 'X' were shot by the Gestapo, those with an 'E' escaped & returned home & those, those with an 'A' were arrested outside the exit of the tunnel, the remaining 23 were recaptured & sent to various camps in Germany.

109946                F/Lt A Armstrong RAF

373                       Sgt P Bergsland RAF E

120413                F/Lt PA Bethell RAF

J5233                  F/O H Birkland RCAF                       X

61053                  F/Lt EG Brettell RAF                         X

122363                F/Lt LJC Brodrick RAF

43932                  F/Lt LG Bull RAF                                 X

90120                  S/Ldr RJ Bushell RAF                        X

J6487                   F/Lt W Cameron RCAF

39024                   F/Lt NJ Casey RAF                            X

A400364             S/Ldr J Catanach RAAF                   X

NZ413380           P/O AG Christiansen RNZAF         X

41255                   F/Lt RSA Churchill RAF   

12241                   F/O DM Cochran RAF                       X

39305                   S/Ldr P Cross RAF                             X

05175                   W/Cdr HMA Day RAF     

101106                Maj JB Dodge Territorial Army

86685                   F/Lt SH Dowse RAF

82542                   F/Lt B Dvorak RAF

378                        Sgt H Espelid RNAF                          X

42745                   F/Lt BH Evans RAF                            X

742                        2/Lt N Fuglesang RNAF                   X

103275                 Lt JS Gouws SAAF                            X

76904                   F/Lt B Green RAF             

45148                   F/Lt WJ Grisman RAF                       X

60345                   F/Lt ADM Gunn RAF                         X

A403218              F/Lt AA Hake RAAF                           X

50896                   F/Lt CP Hall RAF                                X

42124                   F/Lt AR Hayter RAF                          X

42177                   F/Lt ES Humphreys RAF                   X

42232                   F/Lt BA James RAF

J10177                 F/O GA Kidder RCAF                       X

A402364             F/O RV Kierath RAAF                        X            

P0109                   F/Lt A Kiewnarski RAF                     X

39103                   S/Ldr TG Kirby-Green RAF             X

P0243                   F/O W Kolanowski RAF                   X

P0237                   F/O SZ Krol RAF                                X

C1631                   F/Lt PW Langford RCAF                  X

37938                   F/Lt RB Langlois RAF                       A

46462                   F/Lt TB Leigh RAF                             X

89375                   F/Lt JLR Long RAF                            X

89580                   F/Lt R Marcinkus RAF                      X

36103                   F/Lt HC Marshall RAF     

115320                F/Lt AT McDonald RAF

956691                2/Lt SCAN McGarr SAAF                 X

J5312                   F/Lt GE McGill RCAF                        X

103586                F/Lt HJ Milford RAF                          X

P0913                  F/O J Mondschein RAF                    X

1007                     2/Lt JE Muller RAF                           E

                               Lt (A) AD Neely RN

70811                   F/Lt TR Nelson RAF

42872                   F/Lt AK Ogilvie RAF

P0740                   F/O K Pawluk RAF                             X

86793                   F/O HA Picard RAF                           X

78847                   F/Lt DL Plunkett RAF       

402894                F/O J Pohe RAF                                  X

                              Lt (A) DA Poynter RN

76017                   S/Ldr L Reavell-Carter RAF            A

42152                   F/Lt PG Royle RAF

30649                   Lt B Scheidhaver                               X

NZ391368           F/Lt MM Shand RNZAF

213                       W/O E Scantzikas RHAF                   X

47431                  Lt RJ Stevens SAAF                           X

130452                F/O RC Stewart RAF                         X

107520                F/O JB Stower RAF                            X

123026                F/O DO Street RAF                           X

37658                   F/Lt CD Swain RAF                            X

C97013                F/Lt AB Thompson RCAF

P0736                   F/O P Tobolski RAF                           X

83232                   F/Lt IP Tonder RAF

NZ2481                S/Ldr LH Trent RNZAF                     A

82532                   F/Lt E Valenta RAF                            X

106346                F/Lt B Van der Stok RAF                  E

30268                   F/Lt RLN Van Wymeersch RAF

73023                   F/Lt GW Walenn RAF                      X

J6144                    F/Lt JC Wernham RCAF                   X

J7234                    F/Lt GW Wiley RCAF                        X

40652                   S/Ldr JE Williams RAF                     X

106173                F/Lt JF Williams RAF                        X

A memorial to ‘The Fifty’ was erected by the airmen of the camp to hold the urns of the 50 men murdered.  Three tablets list the names of the men who were murdered.  After the war the urns were moved to Old Garrison Cemetery in Poznan.

Memorial to the 50 - Image Public Domain - Wikicommons

Lest we Forget!


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