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RAF Prisoners at Stalag Luft 3
Here we see a group of British Prisoners of War at Stalug Luft 3 (the site of the Great Escape). One of the prisoners is Victor Albert Bain, whose son Colin sent us the picture.
Many thanks to Colin Bain, whose father Victor Albert Bain flew with No.143 Squadron, for sending us these pictures.
Stalag Luft III
Post by hucks216 » 08 Feb 2013, 21:51
Re: Stalag Luft III
Post by Larry D. » 09 Feb 2013, 02:15
Here is all I have. There should be numerous studies on the Stalag at the BNA Kew. The Luftwaffe-run Stalags were guarded by Landesschützen units of the Luftwaffe. For example, Dulag Oberursel was guarded by Landesschützen-Kp. d.Lw. 14/XVII and the Dulag at Wetzlar-Klosterwald by Landesschützen-Kp. d.Lw. 17/XII.
Kriegsgefangenen-Lager 3 d.Lw.
Also known as : Stalag Luft 3
Formed May 1942 at Sagan-Carlswalde in Silesia (today Zagan in SW Poland) and located 13 km ESE of Sorau (today Zary) as a POW camp for Allied airmen. Sub-divided into a Nordlager (North Camp) for Americans, a Mittellager (Central Camp) and Ostlager (East Camp) for British and other nationalities, and a Südlager (South Camp). The camp at capacity was designed to hold 10,000 prisoners.
Mar 44: 80 men escaped through three tunnels they had dug and this was immortalized in several books, especially The Great Escape (1950) by Paul Brickhill, and a Steve McQueen blockbuster movie The Great Escape (1963).
1 Dec 44: Sagan-Carlswalde with the following POW complement: 6,765 American, 3,489 British and 170 Soviet.
27 Jan 45: as Soviet forces advanced into Silesia, the Stalag Luft 3 prisoners were divided into four groups: (1) Groups 1 and 2 were transferred to Stalag VII A, (2) Group 3 was transferred to Nürnberg where it was incarcerated in a Teillager (branch camp) of Stalag XIII D this branch camp was closed on 4 April 1945 and the men were moved to Stalag VII A/B (3) Group 4 was transferred to Marlag/Milag Nord (Naval Camp/Military Camp North) in Westertimke/26.5 km NE of Bremen in northern Germany, arriving there on 4 February 1945.
FpN : (none assigned)
Camp Kommandant :
Oberst Friedrich-Wilhelm von Lindeiner (24 Apr 42 - ? )
Tag: Luft Stalag III
Stalag Luft III was a German POW camp in the province of Lower Silesia, built to house captured Allied airmen. The first “Kriegsgefangene” (POWs), arrived on March 21, 1942. The facility would grow to include 10,949 “kriegies”, comprising some 2,500 Royal Air force officers, 7,500 United States Army Air officers, and about 900 from other Allied air forces.
Barracks were built on pilings to discourage tunneling, creating 24” of open space beneath the buildings. Seismic listening devices were placed around the camp’s perimeter. In the German mind, the place was the next best thing, to airtight.
Kriegies didn’t see it that way, three of whom concocted a gymnastic vaulting horse out of wood from Red Cross packages.
A Trojan horse was more like it. Every day, the horse would be lugged out to the perimeter. Above ground, prisoners’ gymnastic exercises masked the sound while underground, kriegies dug with bowls into the sand, using the horse itself to hide diggers, excavated soil and tools alike. Iron rods were used to poke air holes to the surface.
Every evening for three months, plywood was placed back over the hole, and covered with the gray-brown dust of the prison yard.
On October 19, 1943, the three British officers made their escape. Lieutenant Michael Codner and Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams reached the port of Stettin in the West Pomeranian capital of Poland, where they stowed away on a Danish ship. Flight Lieutenant Oliver Philpot boarded a train to Danzig, and stowed away on a ship bound for neutral Sweden. Eventually, all three made it back to England.
RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bushell was shot down and forced to crash land on his first engagement in May 1940, but not before taking two Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters with him. Taken to the Dulag Luft near Frankfurt, Bushell formed an escape committee along with Fleet Air Arm pilot Jimmy Buckley, and Wing Commander Harry Day.
Roger Bushell, (right), the Cambridge-educated son of British parents, was born and brought up in South Africa. Bushell was the inspiration for the film character “Bartlett”, played by Richard Attenborough
For POWs of officer rank, escape was the first duty. Roger Bushell escaped twice and almost made it, but each time his luck deserted him. By October, Bushell found himself in the north compound of Stalag Luft III, where British officers were held.
By the following spring, Bushell had concocted the most audacious escape plot in the history of World War Two. “Everyone here in this room is living on borrowed time”, he said. “By rights we should all be dead! The only reason that God allowed us this extra ration of life is so we can make life hell for the Hun… In North Compound we are concentrating our efforts on completing and escaping through one master tunnel. No private-enterprise tunnels allowed. Three bloody deep, bloody long tunnels will be dug – Tom, Dick and Harry. One will succeed!”
The effort was unprecedented. Previous escape attempts had never involved more than twenty individuals. Bushell, soon to be known by the code name “Big X” was proposing to get out with two hundred.
Civilian clothes had to be fashioned for every man. Identification and travel documents forged. “Tom” began in a darkened hallway corner. “Harry’s entrance was hidden under a stove, “Dick”‘s entrance was concealed in a drainage sump.
The Red Cross distributed high calorie, dehydrated whole-milk powder called “Klim” (“Spell it backwards”) throughout German POW camps. Klim tins were fashioned into tools, candle holders and vent stacks. Fat was skimmed off soups and molded into candles, using threads from old clothing for wicks.
Of fifteen hundred prisoners in the compound, six hundred were involved in the attempt. 200 “penguins” made 25,000 trips into the prison yard, sacks sewn from the legs of long underpants, disposing of soil. The tunnels were some kind of engineering marvel. 30′ down to avoid seismic detection equipment, and only two-feet square, the three tunnels extended outward for the length of a football field and more.
Prisoners rigged an electric lighting system and shored up the tunnel sides, using bedboards
Penguins were running out of places to put all that soil, around the time the camp was expanded to include “Dick’s” planned exit-point. From that time forward, “Dick” was refilled from the other two. “Tom” was discovered in September 1943, the 98th tunnel in the camp to be found out.
Flight Lieutenant Nathaniel Flekser reflected on his own experience: “How lucky I really was dawned on me when I later met RAF prisoners who were shot down while on bombing missions over Germany. They were attacked by angry civilians, brutally interrogated by the Gestapo, and packed into cattle cars. One crew was thrown into a furnace.” H/T warfarehistory.com
The escape was planned for the good weather of summer, but a Gestapo visit changed the timetable. “Harry” was ready by March. The “Great Escape” was scheduled for the next moonless night. March 24-25, 1944.
German soldier demonstrates trolley system used to transport soil for dispersal
Contrary to the Hollywood movie, no Americans were involved in the escape. At that point, none were left in camp.
The great escape was doomed, nearly from the start. First the door was frozen shut, then a partial collapse required repair. The exit came up short of the tree line, further slowing the escape. When guards spotted #77 coming out of the ground, it was all over.
German crawls out of tunnel entrance, following discovery
German authorities were apoplectic on learning the scope of the project. 90 complete bunk beds had disappeared, along with 635 mattresses. 52 twenty-man tables were missing, as were 4,000 bed boards and an endless list of other objects. For the rest of the war, each bed was issued with only nine boards, and those were counted, regularly.
Gestapo members executed German workers who had not reported the disappearance of electrical wire.
In the end, only three of the 76 made it to freedom: Norwegians Per Bergsland and Jens Muller made it back to England via Sweden. Dutch pilot Bram van der Stok made it to Gibraltar. Hitler personally ordered the execution of the other 73, 50 of which were actually carried out.
General Arthur Nebe is believed to have personally selected the 50 for execution. They were 22 Brits (including Bushell), 6 Canadians, 6 Poles, 4 Australians, 3 South Africans, 2 Norwegians, 2 New Zealanders, and one man each from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, and Lithuania. All but seven were RAF airmen.
Nebe himself was later implicated in the July 20 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and executed on this day in 1945. Roger “Big X” Bushell and his partner Bernard Scheidhauer were caught while awaiting a train at the Saarbrücken railway station. They were murdered by members of the Gestapo on March 29, who were themselves tried and executed for war crimes, after the German surrender.
Dick Churchill, last surviving veteran of the “Great Escape”, died on February 12, 2019.
New camp Kommandant Oberst Franz Braune was horrified that so many escapees had been shot. Braune allowed those kriegies who remained to build a memorial, to which he personally contributed. Stalag Luft III is gone today, but that stone memorial to “The Fifty”, still stands.
Dick Churchill was an HP.52 bomber pilot and RAF Squadron Leader. One of the 76 who escaped, Churchill was recaptured three days later, hiding in a hay loft. In a 2014 interview, Churchill said he was fairly certain he’d been spared execution, because his captors thought he might be related to Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
The last surviving veteran of the daring escape which inspired the 1963 movie died at his home near Crediton, Devon, England, on February 12. Five weeks ago. Dick Churchill was ninety-nine years old.
Stalag Luft III Newsletter – October 2016
The fundraiser for Marek that Mike Eberhardt and I are overseeing is well underway, and we will be continuing it until December 15 th for those of you who would like to contribute to enable Marek to continue his projects at the museum. We are so thankful to all of you who have already contributed. For those new to this newsletter, $100.00 donations (or more) are requested to have a POW’s name engraved on the POW plaque in the museum as well as the contributor’s name on a plaque to be placed in the new replica POW room in the museum that Marek will be completing. Our goal is $5000.00. Donations can be sent to either me or to Mike, with checks made out to either one of us. Please write Stalag Luft III Museum in the memo section of your check. We will wire the donations to Marek to use in the coming year. He will send us photos of the contributors’ plaque and POW plaque and the new Kriegie room when complete. Mike and I, and Marek, thank you in advance for your consideration of this project when you contemplate your charitable contributions this year.
New Museum Acquisitions
Visitors and past visitors to the museum in Poland continue to find a home for some of their fathers’ wartime mementoes, always welcomed by Marek.
Anne McCaw, daughter of Pilot Officer William “Wally” D. Gaynel McCaw, RAF 22 Squadron, visited the museum and recently sent an original photo of her father in uniform, two original photos of an ice hockey game in camp, a copy of his Stalag Luft 3 ID card, two original letters, a newspaper photo of several Canadian POWs, and an original receipt of funds deposited into an account while in camp.
Close up of the hockey pictures:
Restored Fire Pool in North Compound
Marek has been cleaning out this historic structure. This is where POWs occasionally cooled off or sailed small boats they had crafted and where senior officers of the British and Americans were thrown into during the infamous 4 th of July Celebration in the camp in 1943.
Below is the section of the book Mike Eberhardt and I recently did, From Interrogation to Liberation, which describes this celebration and the activities in this fire pool that 4 th of July in North Compound. Much of it was told to me by the late Lt. Gen. A.P. Clark.
Celebrating Freedom Behind Barbed Wire
As 4 th of July approached in the summer of 1943, American POWs living in North Compound planned to celebrate the day, and the Red Cross had delivered new suntan uniforms for them that they planned to wear to appel. Up until the holiday, they had devoted all available parcels and their Foodacco points to accumulate enough raisins and prunes to outdo the British kriegie brew spectacular of Christmas 1942. Using all the barrels and jugs they could find, the Americans prepared a vast quantity of the highly-intoxicating brew.
Just after the Germans unlocked the barracks’ doors on the 4 th , and just as the sun was peeking through the tall pines, a commotion in the camp caused a stir among the British POWs and alerted the German guards. For the second time in two years, 1 st Lt. Harold “Shorty” Spire, mounted his gunny sack “horse” and road through the barracks in North Compound proclaiming the last and greatest American 4 th of July celebration was under way. Dressed as Paul Revere, he rode atop his thoroughbred steed, comprised front and rear, respectively, of 2 nd Lt. Ellis Porter and Capt. Alexander Kisselburgh. While Spire led the charge, Maj. Jerry Sage, planner of the celebration, decked out as Uncle Sam, complete with a large white papier mâché glove, roamed the camp in recruiting poster fashion calling, “Uncle Sam wants you!” Other kriegies, re-creating the painting, “The Spirit of ’76,” embodied the classic triad of wounded Revolutionary War patriots suitably equipped with fife and drum and a big American flag. Americans dressed as whooping Indians invaded the British blocks throwing unsuspecting kriegies out of their bunks. Sage took great pleasure in throwing Roger Bushell out of bed as Sage yelled, “The rebels are coming, arise, arise! Don your red coat and fight like a man!” Over three hundred boisterous Americans paraded along behind him toward the British barracks, where the British joined in the parade, many still in their pajamas.
By morning appel, the patriotic spirit of the day was symbolized by a staggering Uncle Sam, arm-in-arm with an unsteady Paul Revere, while Revere’s horse displayed a singular ability to synchronize its fore and aft ends, one or the other only, to stagger a few paces before frequently collapsing. The British had joined the celebration hauling out their own home brew. At first, the Germans suspected a great conflict had grown between the Americans and Brits, and they hoped that the strong alliance between them had been broken. Then they watched both sides throw the other into the fire pool and realized it was all in fun. Sage was the first to be thrown in. Normally sedate and very British, “Wings” Day, always in full military uniform, tie, and medals strutted forward.
“Who will save him?” he cried. “I’ll save him!”
“Who’re you?” cried the crowd.
“Jack Armstrong of the Royal U.S. Marines!” Day shouted, and with that he belly-flopped into the four-and-a-half-foot-deep pool.
The two inebriated men sat dripping on opposite sides of the pool and shook hands. Then they clasped both hands and leaned back stretching their hands across the pool.
“Hands across the sea!” they roared to cheers from the crowd.
Soon Senior American Officer Goodrich and block commanders, “Bub” Clark, Dick Klocko, and Doolittle Raider, Davy Jones, were all in the pool. Late in the afternoon, they all looked down to see a kriegie at the bottom in the shallow water. The startled officers fished him out, pumped water from his lungs, and gave him artificial respiration. When they got him breathing again, the celebration continued, never missing a beat.
The party moved to the middle of the appel ground from the pool, and “Shorty” Spire, still riding on his blanket-covered steed, entertained the kriegies, goon box guards, and other Germans, when he galloped onto the parade ground during appel. He instructed the men under the blanket to dump a keintrinkwasser pitcher of water, and the horse’s leg lifted as the water splashed out onto the ground, causing great hilarity among the international assortment of spectators. Good-natured Hauptman Hans Pieber went along with the prank. After counting the assembled block, he shouted to his recorder, “Zwei und achtig und ein pferd.” [82 men and one horse]
The British gave the Americans full credit for a “good show,” and the goons took the whole thing with good-natured resignation. By the time the sun went down behind the deep forest trees, the party had run its course. For evening roll call, one report indicated that the Germans counted the motionless forms that had retired early to their bunks.
Remains of the Hospital in North Compound
Below is the cooler ten years ago. You can clearly see the walkway down the center between rows of cells on either side. This gives you an idea of the size of the cells.
This is the most recent picture of “der cooler,” that Marek has taken. The cooler had 20 cells, a bathroom, and a guard room. No sounds of Steve McQueen of “Great Escape” fame throwing a baseball against the wall! One of Marek’s projects is to clean and restore it to the condition ten years ago.
Theatre South Compound
Theatre North Compound
North Compound – Hut #120
The Escape of Homer Mohr – Marek
“I found these two documents in The Institute of National Remembrance (Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation) in Breslau. They are originals. I don’t know much about Mohr’s story. The document says that Mohr escaped from the train in October 1943 while being transporting from Frankfurt to Sagan.”
Homer Mohr was navigator on B-17 #42-5232 “Available Jones” of the 305th Bomber Group/364th Bomber Squadron, shot down 4 April 1943 in France. Landing near Rouen, France, he was captured and became a Prisoner of War at Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Poland. Mohr stayed in the Air Force and served in Korea and Vietnam, ending his military career as a lieutenant colonel. Mohr was in West Compound.
As a side note, POW Morris Jones, on this same crew, was a roommate of my father’s in South Compound. They called Jones “Available Jones” who was a character then in the Li’l Abner comic strip series.
This document is similar to a “wanted poster.”
The Three Who Got Away – Photos of the Great Escapers
Credit – Cato Guhnfeldt, Oslo, Norway, author of “Spitfire Saga”
Only three of the men (names in boldface font) who went out through Tunnel Harry made a successful escape and returned home. Standing from left to right: Sgt. Jan Staubo, Sgt. Per Bergsland, Sgt. Halldor Espelid (one of the 50 killed by Gestapo), and 2nd Lt. Jens Muller. The picture, taken in 1943, was in North Compound on the sports field. There is a theater under construction in the background.
Bram van Der Stok– from the book, “War Pilot of Orange” by Van der Stok, was third successful escaper.
The Long March Memorial Statue
As a follow-up to the story on the RAF Long March Memorial, Marek has sent additional views of it and more information:
“A few words about The Long March Memorial miniature now displayed in the museum. The original Long March Memorial is located within the RAF Museum at Hendon in London. Erected by the RAF ex-Prisoners of War Association, it was dedicated to the memory of prisoners of war of the RAF, Allied, and Commonwealth Air Forces. Air Commodore Charles Clarke OBE, President of the RAF ex-Prisoners of War Association, was the initiator of the memorial. This memorial represents air forces’ POWs trudging through snow after being forced by German guards to leave their prison camps in the face of the Russian advance in 1945. It was unveiled by His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on 14th May 2003. It was generously funded by members and friends of the RAF ex-PoW Association.”
Marek has restored the miniature version of this sculpture at the museum placing it in a new display:
Finding the Owner of the German Dog Tag
The German dog tag anonymously sent to Marek by mail from Warsaw that was mentioned in the last newsletter caught readers’ attention. Just who owned this dog tag numbered 3647?
Two crack researchers, Ed Reniere in Belgium, and Dave Champion in Canada, were quick to trace the number. Not realizing just where the dog tag had been found in the camp provided some interesting results.
Ed and Dave had both located a RAF POW Squadron Leader Thomas William Piper. From Oliver Clutton-Brock’s list of RAF POWs:
Piper was the pilot of Stirling N6018 of RAF 15 Squadron–Prisoner N° 3647 at Stalag Luft 3. He was hit by flak on the Circus 51 mission to Lille, one of three Stirlings diverted to attack the secondary target of Dunkirk instead. During the run up to the target, the aircraft was hit by flak, the port inner engine catching fire, causing the aircraft to dive vertically to the ground. All but Sqn Ldr Piper and Sgt G Armstong, RCAF, who became POWs, were killed. Piper went down in July 1941, which means he spent almost four years behind the wire. He crashed near Killem (Nord), France. The six who were KIA rest at the Dunkirk Communal Cemetery. In the link below, Piper is in the photograph taken in 1942 at Oflag XXIB (Schubin) – where the men were held before transfer to Stalag Luft 3.
Piper became an Air Marshal after the war. Born October 11, 1911, Air Marshal Sir Tim Piper retired 5 November 1968, and he died on 1 January 1978:
Two portraits from the National Portrait Gallery:
HOWEVER, by some system the Germans used that is still hard for researchers to figure out, they reused POW #s.
Marek : “We found T.W. Piper, too, but we also have POW No. 3647, American, John E. Gilmore. The dog tag was found in 2005 near hut #133 in South Compound. Gilmore was in hut #132. It is not an unusual case. We have many POWs with the same number on our lists and no key to understand it.”
Gilmore’s entry from Behind the Wire: [Date shot down is actually March 16 th , not the 10 th as shown.]
Thanks to Dave and Ed for their research on this. I have located John’s, son to give him the news.
Old Maps of German Railroads
This fantastic find by Marek shows the German RR lines in 1942. You can track the route that the 40&8 box cars might have taken during the evacuation of January, 1945. There are several railways so it is hard to say precisely just which one was used during the evacuation, and many of the railways were bombed during the war, but usually quickly repaired to be operational as soon as possible. But these maps will provide a good idea of which way the POWs traveled.
Chemnitz to Nurnburg (Nuremberg)
Nurnburg (Nuremberg) to Müchen (Munich)
Sagan (now Zagan) to Chemnitz (lower left corner)
POW Jim Stewart – Stalag Luft III & Buchenwald
From Jim’s Log Book – Jim has recently shared his entire Log Book, and it has some wonderful details. The picture below of Jim in the suit was taken in Paris for his false ID as he evaded capture. The more stark picture was taken for his ID card at Stalag Luft III after he was transferred from Buchenwald where he had been held with the 168 Allied Airmen sent there.
Anthropoid– Rob Davis – UK
The new movie, “Anthropoid” is about the assassination of Nazi, Reinhard Heydrich, in Prague, Czechoslovakia. At that time, Roger Bushell, later mastermind of the Great Escape, was hiding out in Prague. He was caught up in the net after the violent aftermath of the assassination, and the family that hid him was murdered. It was then, after a stay in Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin, that Bushell was transferred to Stalag Luft III through the intervention of Col. von Lindeiner. Rob Davis reviews the film on his Great Escape website:
Sky King– POW daughter, Leslie King – U.S.
As a follow-up to the posting of POW King’s obituary in the last newsletter, Leslie has sent a picture she and her family found of their father with some of his crew, one being Jack Sinise, uncle of actor, Gary Sinise:
Left to Right – co-pilot, C.W. Henry, R Olson, unnamed bombardier, pilot, Stephen King, and Jack Sinise, navigator
Jack Sinise – Navigator – uncle of actor, Gary Sinise
The late POW, Don Casey, was a last minute substitute co-pilot on this crew when they were all shot down. Some years after the war, Stephen “Sky” King served as the personal pilot for the Secretary General of the UN.
To Get Canadian WWII Records – Dave Champion – Canada
Unique Gift– POW son, Steve Kramer – U.S.
I have been blessed to receive many interesting Stalag Luft III mementoes, but recently I received something I thought I’d never see. Steve had told me the story of his father. The story was found in a faded blue booklet of 30 pages that Steve did not know existed until the day his father died. Found in a filing cabinet, the booklet detailed his father’s previously unknown story. Beside the booklet was a piece of a parachute and a Purple Heart. The B-17 navigator had been shot down over Berlin. Previous to that, he had been on 12 missions. On June 18, 1944, he had been on the same mission on which my father was shot down. Three days later, Harvey Kramer, 398 th Bomb Group, would be shot down. Hit over Berlin, Kramer received a gash to his head, a wound that bled profusely. After bailing out, the navigator with H on his dog tag, standing for Hebrew, landed right in the heart of Berlin. The first to greet him was a German man wielding a sledge hammer. When hit, Kramer rolled so that the sledgehammer glanced off the back of his skull. He freed himself from his parachute harness and grabbed the man by the throat. Police arrived and separated the two. Drenched in blood from the flak wound in his head, Kramer had to use a strip of his chute to stop the flow. Force marched through the angry streets of Berlin, Kramer was kicked and pummeled by civilians. Before he got to the police station, he met with two members of the Gestapo who dragged him into an alley where he was again beaten. Taken to the outskirts of Berlin, he was reunited with two of his crewmates, and flak was removed from his head. Then they flew to Frankfurt for interrogation and later transferred to Stalag Luft III.
Throughout the transfer from the Interrogation Center to SLIII, and then taken on the Forced March, on the box cars, to Stalag VII-A present through the degradation in Moosburg, and through the joyous liberation there, the on to Camp Lucky Strike, and finally on a troop ship home, one possession of great value traveled with Kramer–a part of the parachute he had depended on to save his life.
I am grateful to Steve for cutting a piece of this treasured parachute and sending it to me. Of all the parachutes I’ve read of, this is the first one I’ve ever touched. 72 years from the time it was used, as a frightened navigator jumped out over Berlin, I hold it in my hands, worn and marked in a few spots with dirt from so long ago it is such a poignant reminder of one man’s story that speaks to the stories of so many men and is a visible reminder of the sacrifice that today we can’t even begin to imagine. It is in times like this for me that I hope the nation never forgets.
Piece of the silk parachute
POW Harvey Kramer’s Stalag
Luft III ID cardDog tags showing H for Hebrew
The original story can be seen on this link:
Steve: “To read about what they and others undertook and survived – time after time – on bombing missions – can only reinforce how fortunate we are for their survival and our own good fortune in not having to take the same risks in other contexts. To not take the time and make the effort to educate ourselves and millennia about the sacrifices they made would be a failure to appreciate their efforts and a selfish indulgence of our good fortune and should be something we realize every time we look in their mirror.”
Steve submitted the poem below for reflection:
When you get what you want in the struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say
For it isn’t your mother or father or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The person whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass
‘Cause he’s with you clear up till the end
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the man in the glass is your friend
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears if you’ve cheated the man in the glass.
POW Roommates – POW Joe Consolmagno – U.S.
Hiding tunnel sand in North Compound:
Left to right: 1st Lt. Quentin Burgett, co-pilot, shot down 12/20/42
1st Lt Joseph Consolmagno, navigator – 4/5/43
1st Lt Frank (Jackie) Jacknik, navigator – 1/13/43
Capt. LR McKessen, pilot -12/20/42
1st Lt Robert Hermann, navigator – 3/6/43
1st Lt George Matthews, bombardier – 12/20/42
1st Lt Frank Leasman, navigator – 12/20/42
May, 1943, North Compound (RAF Compound) “garden” in front
of us made up of dispersal sand from Great Escape tunnels.
McKesse, Burgett crash landed in Seine. Jacknik downed by collision at Lille
Photos – POW Robert McBride – POW daughter, Joan McBride – Canada
Joan has shared these amusing pages from her father’s Log Book:
Robert McBride’s Log Book Cover
“Mac” and his tuque [winter hat]
First one caught coming out of the tunnel
“Rise and Fall of the RCAF”
New Feature – POW son, Mike Eberhardt – U.S.
Mike is back. My co-author and I initiated this newsletter together four years ago, and he turned it over to me when his work schedule got very busy. He’d like to add a monthly feature of WWII facts of interest. We are calling it, “Did You Know?” Welcome back, Mike!
The first American serviceman killed in the war was Captain
Robert M. Losey. He was serving as a military attaché and
was killed in Norway on April 21, 1940 when German aircraft
bombed the Dombås railway station where he and others
Tommy Hitchcock and the P-51 Mustang – POW Leonard Spivey – U.S.
Rare Color Footage of WWII Carrier in the Pacific – POW son, Mike Woodworth – U.S.
1940s Aircraft Carrier in the Pacific – This is 16mm color (not “colourized”) footage that you may not have seen of carrier action in the Pacific. Not many color shots in the s – extremely expensive then, with a complicated and exacting processing process.
Air Force Escape and Evasion Society
The Writing 69 th – Journalists – Cronkite, Rooney, et al.
The book above is a very good account of the experiences of these noted war correspondents. As an added surprise to me, as I read it, I found that they first trained in England at Bovingdon near Hertfordshire. The unique mission undertaken at the RAF instructional base at Bovingdon was the training of the United States journalists to cover the air war over Occupied Europe. The military journalists underwent training in February 1943 to fly high-altitude missions in bombers. At Bovingdon, they were taken up in a B-17 no longer able to fly on missions. The name of that plane was Johnny Reb and as Walter Cronkite took his first flight in a bomber, he sat in the very seat of SLIII POW Lt. Ewart T. Sconiers, who, as a bombardier, flew Johnny Reb home across the English Channel Aug. 21, 1942, from Rouen, France, when his pilot, severely injured, could no longer fly it, and his co-pilot had been mortally wounded. Pictured below is Johnny Reb when it arrived in England from that perilous flight. Those of us who have been involved in Lt. Sconiers’ recovery in Poland, always wondered what happened to that plane. The book above told us.
The primary mission of Bovingdon was to support Eighth Air Force Headquarters and the Air Technical Section, both equipped with a variety of aircraft types. General Eisenhower’s personal B-17 was housed on the base. During World War II, several film stars were assigned at one time or another to the base, including Clark Gable, James Stewart, and William Holden. Among famous wartime visitors were Bob Hope, Frances Langford, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, and Glenn Miller.
Sconiers’ Plane – Johnny Reb
Last Living Iwo Jima Medal of Honor Recipient – Hershel “Woody” Williams – POW son, Mike Eberhardt – U.S.
[In 1941, President Roosevelt appointed John Gilbert Winant U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom to replace Joseph P. Kennedy. Winant appears in this video. His son was a POW at SLIII and a roommate of Lt. Ewart Sconiers.]
Highway Named for Tuskegee Airmen – Marek Lazarz – Poland
5. Second World War &ndash PoWs held in Europe
If you are trying to establish whether someone was a British or Commonwealth prisoner of war held in Germany or a German-occupied territory, it may save time to start by consulting the following published sources, all held at our library in Kew. Between them they provide details of approximately 169,000 British and Commonwealth prisoners of war of all ranks and provide details which may prove vital in your search, as well as being of interest for their own sake:
For each prisoner they include:
- service number
- prisoner of war number
- final camp location
Once you are confident that an individual was held as a prisoner of war, the next step is to search within the record series detailed below.
5.1 German record cards of British and Commonwealth prisoners of war and civilian internees (1939-1945)
Search by name for details of some 190,000 individuals held by German authorities during the Second World War, in series WO 416. Not all the records in this series are yet open to the public, nor are they all name searchable in our catalogue, so in some cases there are access restrictions. For further details, please see the &lsquoarrangement&rsquo information in the WO 416 series description which also includes a list of the details which these cards can contain.
5.2 Escape and evasion reports (1941-1945)
Consult the escape and evasion reports in WO 208, which give individual accounts of escape attempts or capture or awards for those who assisted escape attempts.
The reports cover prisoners held in Europe (and North Africa).
Most of the reports are original documents only. A few have been digitised and are available to download.
Find the digitised reports by searching for the person&rsquos name in our catalogue. You can restrict your search to reference WO 208 and the relevant year range.
If you are looking for a report that has not been digitised, you will need to use the card indexes. You have two options:
- search selected card indexes on findmypast.co.uk ( £ )
- use the card index in the reading rooms at The National Archives
Each entry in the card index provides a prisoner&rsquos name, rank, number, corps and the record reference to the report in WO 208, which you can view at The National Archives.
Use the card index to identify which document reference you require in:
- -5460 for detailed recommendations for honours and awards made to foreign civilians and military personnel who assisted allied escape and evaders -5480 for individuals who assisted evaders in Belgium and Luxemburg, Denmark, France, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Italy and Poland which may provide limited personal information
Consult reports of escapees in AIR 40/1545-1552 for information about Royal Air Force prisoners of war who escaped or evaded capture. These reports include internal indexes. Read our guide on RFC, RAF and RNAS personnel for other records on RAF prisoners of war.
5.3 Liberated prisoner of war interrogation questionnaires (1945-1946)
Browse through WO 344 in our catalogue for questionnaires completed by liberated prisoners of war who had been held captive by the Germans or Japanese.
These records are arranged by nation (Germany or Japan) and then alphabetically.
Browse and locate file by the relevant surname range in WO 208/5437-5450 for special questionnaires made by individuals about work of escape committees, escape aids, German Censorship and collection of geographic information which might assist future escape attempts.
5.4 Liberation and interrogation reports (1945)
Where a liberation report exists it may provide more details than the liberation questionnaire. It is a good idea to check both sources.
The reports may provide details of escape attempts and organisation.
For liberation reports, use the advanced search in our catalogue to search WO 208 by surname and either first name or initials. Search results may include other types of documents held in WO 208 &ndash liberation reports falls within the range WO 208/3336-3340.
Locate interrogation reports in WO 208/3341-3345 by consulting the card index, sorted by prisoners&rsquo names, in the reading rooms at The National Archives. Use the guide &lsquoreports by prisoners of war, Second World War&rsquo available at The National Archives for guidance on how to find references and the explanation of the appendices.
Many reports include appendices which can provide further information relating to:
- locals who helped escapers
- feedback on the usefulness of escape aids or instructions provided beforehand
5.5 Nominal lists of prisoners of war (1943-1945)
Browse and download selected lists of British and Commonwealth prisoners of war in WO 392/1-26 for alphabetical lists of prisoners of war from all branches of HM Forces held in Germany or German-occupied territory, Italy and Japan or Japanese-occupied territory.
Please note, some of these are available on Findmypast ( £ ).
5.6 Enquiries into missing personnel including PoWs (1940-1950)
Browse our catalogue in WO 361 for enquiries into missing army personnel in both Europe and the Far East. The series also includes miscellaneous prisoner of war rolls and details of what happened to some individual PoWs.
Please note, some of these are available on Findmypast ( £ ).
Search by surname in ADM 358 for enquiries into missing naval personnel.
Search for missing RAF personnel in AIR 81. Search these records by:
- surname of missing airman
- place/location of the incident in which air crew went missing
- date of the incident
- type of aircraft from which air crew went missing (for example, Blenheim)
These files may contain missing person and casualty action sheets, death certificates, personal letters and correspondence, exhumation reports, investigation reports, questionnaires by repatriated personnel and personal effects of POWs.
Please note that this series is still accruing and currently only goes up to June 1940.
5.7 PoW camp reports (1941-1947)
PoW reports were compiled by the Red Cross and supply details of camp conditions.
Search by camp name in WO 224 for some details of PoW camps. Also browse using our catalogue in:
Consult CAB 101/199 and WO 32/14550 for some reports made by former PoWs.
5.8 Abbreviations for German prisoner of war camps
The following abbreviations for German prisoner of war camps are found in our records:
- Stalag (Stammlager) &ndash in most cases, a camp for NCOs and enlisted men
- Oflag (Offizierlager) &ndash a camp for officers only
- Stalag Luft (Stammlager Luftwaffe) &ndash a camp for Air Force officers administered by the Luftwaffe
- Dulag (Durchgangslager) &ndash a transit camp where captured aircrew were processed and interrogated before being sent to a permanent camp
5.9 Selected notifications of deaths (1939-1942)
5.10 Merchant Navy prisoners of war (1939-1945)
Search by name of ship or surname in BT 373 for Merchant Navy prisoners of war.
Please note, BT 373/3717-8 and BT 373/3722 are available on Findmypast ( £ ).
5.11 Prisoner of war accounts in Nazi persecution files
Search among the correspondence and claims files in the Foreign Office claims department records, in series FO 950, for accounts from Britons imprisoned on enemy territory during the Second World War. Search with terms like &lsquoPOW&rsquo and &lsquoprisoner&rsquo and, less reliably, with the names of individuals.
5.12 War Crimes committed against Allied Prisoners of War
Search in series WO 309 and WO 311 using keywords in relation to the crimes themselves to find case files of the War Crimes Group (NW Europe), which investigated war crimes, including many against allied Prisoners of War For further information, consult our research guide, War Crimes 1939-1945.
5.13 Prisoners of War maps and plans
The series WO 418 consists of the UK Ministry of Defence&rsquos record set of escape and evasion maps produced by MI9 between 1940 and 1945. Escape maps and plans can also be found within escape and evasion reports discussed in 5.2.
British Chief of the Air Staff Sir Stephen Hillier (Left) and Lieutenant General Mika (Right) of the Polish Army laying wreaths at the memorial service
British Chief of the Air Staff Sir Stephen Hillier (left) and Lieutenant General Mika (right) of the Polish Army after laying wreaths at a memorial service held at the former site of Stalag Luft III in Zagan, Poland, 24 March 2019, to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Great Escape
'Sadly, we are slowly losing our heroes of the Second World War, so it is more important than ever that we preserve their legacies by continuing to tell their stories.'
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, joined Air Commodore Charles Clarke, a PoW who was held at Stalag Luft III at the time of the escape, in a ceremony on the site of the camp which at the time was in Germany, but is now in Poland.
Relatives of those who escaped and Government representatives were also present at the commemorations, which included a remembrance service at Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, where 48 of those executed are buried.
Air Commodore Charles Clarke (back row, second right) with his Lancaster bomber crew in 1943. Mr Clare was speaking on Tuesday at the RAF Club in London
Many internees at the PoW camp were British airmen and the RAF took part in a flypast and formed a guard of honour alongside the Polish Air Force as part of the commemorations in Poland yesterday
Down the hatch: A photo taken by officials at the German camp show the inside of the narrow tunnel, named 'Harry', in 1944. Some 76 men made it out before the escape was rumbled by Nazi guards
The story of the Great Escape heroes, who gave their three tunnels the code names Tom, Dick and Harry, gained even more prominence in 1963 when it became the basis for a Hollywood film of the same name starring Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough.
A special screening by the RAF Benevolent Fund will be part of a commemorative event, The Great Escape With Dan Snow, hosted by the TV historian, which will be streamed to cinemas across the UK.
Last month Dick Churchill, the last surviving member of the 76-strong group who made it out of the camp, died aged 99.
The former squadron leader, who lived in Crediton, Devon, was one of the 73 recaptured by the Germans within three days of the breakout after Hitler became aware and ordered locals to search their land and buildings.
Earlier this month Second World War pilot Jack Lyon, who was in the Stalag Luft III camp after his bomber plane was struck by flak near Dusseldorf, died aged 101.
Mr Lyon, who was a flight lieutenant, was recruited by other prisoners to carry out surveillance of the compound, but the plot was discovered before he could make his own escape.
Each RAF officer holds a single photo of each of the 50 great escape members that were killed when captured
Making do: Stalag Luft III prisoners are seen walking past a watchtower around the perimeter of the camp in the winter months to keep fit and stay warm
Stalag Luft III Newsletter – March 2017
Friday, the 24th of March, marked the 73rd anniversary of the Great Escape. In 1944, the escape was also on a Friday. On a sunny day in Zagan, many gathered to remember the fifty POWs who escaped through Tunnel Harry in North Compound and lost their lives, murdered by the Gestapo. Air Commodore Charles Clarke, who flew with the RAF and was a POW at Stalag Luft III, was an honored guest. On Saturday, the 25 th , The Great Escape Cup Cross Country Run took place with over 700 runners, including the RAF and US Army. There was also a static display of the U.S. 11th Division equipment that recently arrived at the camp.
73 rd Anniversary of the Great Escape:
Marek and the Mayor of Zagan, Daniel Marchewka
Marek, Master of Ceremonies
2 nd Tactical Wing of the Polish Air Force delegation
Col. Christopher Norrie, right, and Sgt. Major Christopher Gunn,
left, U.S. 3 rd Armored Brigade Commanders
Inspector of the Polish Air Force, Gen. Krzysztof Zabicki,
right, with Gen. Stanisława Czosnek, Polish Black Division Commander
A/Cdr Charles Clarke, RAF POW head of the RAF ex-POW Association, age 93, was interviewed by Polish television. He was the only POW to attend.
Video of interview with A/C Clarke:
Charles’s speech — Marek, left, and interpreter, Monika Parker
45 RAF servicemen arrived on 23rd March and spent all day touring the museum and the camp with Marek.
RAF bugler playing Last Post
After the ceremony, Black Division’s Band played the theme from The Great Escape to conclude a memorable and meaningful tribute to The Fifty.
Stalag VIIC Perimeter
“Replica of the Stalag VIIIC perimeter is finished! It will be painted soon with special protective varnish. As you remember, the perimeter and two new towers were the idea I came up with last year. I designed and planned everything. The mayor and the city council added additional funds. They liked the project, and here it is.”
American Red Cross War Medical Kit Box
Marek has acquired an interesting find that he will be able to use as he creates the new donor-funded replica of the kriegie room in the museum.
“Another great item for the collection. An original American Red Cross Prisoner of War Medical Kit No. 4. We found it in northern Poland so it is not directly related to SL3, but I’m 100% sure that hundreds of these were sent to Zagan too.” Here is an exact description of the kit (scroll down):
Night Time View of the New Perimeter and Tower
Marek has sent these beautiful pictures of the recently completed goon box and perimeter fencing he has installed at the camp. Each new project creates the authentic look of the old camp, restored in such a way that many of our POWs might be stunned to see the result.
Boy and Girl Scouts Remember the Great Escape
Boy and Girl Scouts traveling to Zagan participated in the 9 th Annual “The Great Escape” Boy Scout competition at the camp. Over 200 Polish Boy Scouts came to pay tribute. Both girls and boys competed, as they are both under one organization, the Polish Scouting Association.
“It started with an official roll call at Gen. Maczek Plaza in Zagan. After the roll call I (with Mirek) welcomed them, and I wished them good luck. They walked from Gen. Maczek Plaza to the museum. Most of them were dressed as escapees, and their first task was to escape from Hut 104. They had to answer some questions about the Great Escape in order to “escape.” We had two volunteers from the Historical Association SAGAN dressed as German soldiers. They were checking the documents.”
The competition camp ended on Sunday, and the participants stayed in the local primary school. Below, Marek is wearing the same original 1943 US Army greatcoat that so many POWs wore on the evacuation march.
Archival Material Made Public – POW son, Ric Martini, U.S.
While researching his upcoming book, Betrayed, about his SLIII/POW father’s stay at Buchenwald, Ric accessed a tremendous amount of material from several archives. He would like to make all of it available to those who would also benefit from reading it. Click on the link below to view what is available—a wide variety of topics are covered. Many thanks, Ric!https://www.dropbox.com/sh/3f13cqryqu0sh4j/AABmb3H22Ho5bZQXoTkbt3Q1a?dl=0
British Beer Tribute to the Americans– POW son, Tyler Butterworth – UK
Tyler’s wife, Janet, recently bought him a bottle of beer from a brewery in Wiltshire.
“As you’ll see from the picture, it’s called 506. Why? The label on the bottle reads”:
“The American 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment’s motto is Currahee, which means ‘Stand Alone.’ This ale does exactly that. It’s our tribute to the men who were stationed on the land where we now grow the barley that makes this premium beer.”
POWs and Purple Hearts– Robert Sabel – U.S.
“A reminder that all American military personnel who experienced severe frostbite are entitled to the Purple Heart. Next of kin are also authorized to pursue the medal. Medical records are the evidence. The computer has avenues to access for records of POWs. With the guidelines, there should be no problem.”
For information, please contact Robert Sabel:
POW Website– POW Ralph Kling – U.S.
Lots to look at on this website sent by one of our POWs.
Many who flew this raid became POWs at SLIII. Be sure to watch this Memorial Video to the men of the 506 th Bomb Squadron who flew the deadly low level Ploesti Raid on the oil refinery in Romania:
More from the Col. Keeffe “Vault” – POW son, Jim Keeffe – U.S.
Jim has just found many maps kept by his father, including this one of Stalag VIIA in Moosburg, Germany, where the Americans were kept until liberation.
“South Compound was in the area marked ‘Officers Transient Compound,’ and Center (and eventually West) were in area marked ‘British.’”
Pictures found in the cabinet:
Former RAF POWs returned to the camp and museum for the 50 th anniversary of the Great Escape: This picture was taken in the old museum.
Standing left to right: Dennis Plunkett, Sydney Dowse, Ivo Tonder, Ray van Wymeersch, Les Brodrick and Bob Nelson
Who is Laddie MacArthur??
This young gentleman is in several pictures taken at SLIII during the anniversary.
He is with Hermann Glemnitz on Jim’s black/white picture and with Gen. Spivey on the picture that Jim found at the USAF Academy last year. Does anyone know who he is?
RAF ID Requested – Ian Sayer – Switzerland
Ian sent two pictures for identification. First mystery solved. It is RAF F/Lt John Talbot Lovell Shore on the left next to RAF Jimmy James, one of the surviving Great Escapers. The picture was taken at Stalag Luft I in Barth, before they both transferred to Stalag Luft III.
Jimmy James is shown again below. There are some names on the back of the photo which was given to Ian recently by the daughter of RAF POW Wings Day.
In the back is definitely “Cookie Long,” one of the 50 murdered after the Great Escape. Jimmy James is in the middle. The words “Trund” and Gilson are also written on the back of the photo. There was a R.M. Trundle who was a RAF POW at SLIII and a G.K. Gilson who was also. Can anyone confirm?
POW Andy Wiseman
Marek sent this picture showing former RAF POW Andy Wiseman in sunglasses below. Andy died a few years ago, but he always went back for the RAF re-enactment marches and memorial activities at the camp. Andy always met up with A/C Clarke at the camp for the anniversary memorials.
“Good old Andy Wiseman seated second from the left (dark glasses). He spoke very good Polish. He was a Polish Jew who went to the UK shortly before 1939. As I remember, he joined the RAF when he was 17. His first name was still Andrzej while in Stalag Luft 3. Andy’s signature in Polish is shown below in his POW diary. He helped to organize the anniversary in 1994, and he attended several Long Marches in the last 10 years. He passed away 2 years ago we miss him.”
POW Sydney Dowse to Andy’s right
SLIII Reunion Table Decoration
At a previous SLIII Reunion, replicas of “goon boxes” sat at each table. During the days of the reunion, each goon box held a Nazi flag. On the last night at the banquet, those flags were replaced by Old Glory, much to the delight of the POWs.
Recently, ebay showed one of the table goon boxes:
Marek sent the picture below:
Former Guard, Hermann Glemnitz holds his goon box at the reunion.
Bob Doolan’s 100 th Birthday Party March 26 st – POW daughter, Mary Lance – U.S.
Enjoy Bob’s recent interview here:
There was a celebration of his birthday (March 21) on March 26 at the Western Hills Retirement Village in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Travel Grant Opportunity – Sue Moyer – SSMA (Second Schweinfurt Memorial Association) – U.S.
A nice opportunity for researchers:
Militaria Show – Robert Coalter – U.S.
“Some of your readers that live in the DFW metroplex may be interested in attending a Militaria Show this May 20-21 in Cleburne, TX. Vendors will be buying, selling, trading militaria artifacts, and authors selling books and a number of veterans will be there signing books and pictures.
Army Air Corps Library and Museum
Did You Know?– POW son, Mike Eberhardt – U.S.
[Mike’s father, Charles, and the late POW Irv Baum, both arrived at SLIII the day after the Great Escape!]
In WWII, the French used the port of Toulon for anchorage of most of the French fleet. As the Germans initiated their siege on Toulon in late 1942, the French feared seizure of the anchored fleet and scuttled three battleships, seven cruisers, twenty eight destroyers and twenty submarines. Without the Germans firing on the French fleet, it was destroyed and constituted a significant naval setback for the Allies as they sought to build their naval capacity in the early stages of the war.
Prior to WWII, the French had designed and then built three prototype bombers that were designed as sea planes. Upon the German invasion of France, the Nazis captured these planes and flew them to southern Germany where they were kept on Lake Constance. When the RAF discovered their location, they were bombed and now reside in the deep waters of the lake.
New Orleans WWII Museum Link to POW Exhibit
The museum recently had a temporary exhibit, Guests of the Third Reich:
Danish Boy Finds German Fighter Plane and Pilot – POW son, Mike Eberhardt – U.S.
Finding the Murderers of The Fifty
For those of you who missed this excellent video we played at the reunion regarding the hunt for the murders of the Great Escapers, here is the full video:
Click on, “click to play video” at the very end of the link:
Flying Through the Himalayas – POW nephew, John Lanza – U.S.
(If you have trouble loading or playing this in HD, left click on HD on the bottom right of the screen and choose a lower category of HD.)
Drone Flying over Auschwitz– POW nephew, Ross Greene – U.S.
Remains of Fighter Pilot Brought home after 70Years – POW daughter, Joan Wootton – U.S.
Unusual Burial at Sea – Bob Frey – U.S.Loyce Edward Deen, an Aviation Machinist Mate 2nd Class, USNR, was a gunner on a TBM Avenger. On November 5, 1944, Deen’s squadron participated in a raid on Manila where his plane was hit multiple times by anti-aircraft fire while attacking a Japanese cruiser. Deen was killed. The Avenger’s pilot, Lt. Robert Cosgrove, managed to return to his carrier, the USS Essex. Both Deen and the plane had been shot up so badly that it was decided to leave him in it. It is the only time in U.S. Navy history (and probably U.S. military history) that an aviator was buried in his aircraft after being killed in action.
Restoring B-29 “Doc” – POW Kenneth Collins – U.S.
Dog Fight Under the Eiffel Tower – Joe Lawrence – U.S.
Under The Tower (hit control while clicking on the link)
Inside the Red Baron's Mind
The Immutable Nature of War
Spy Factory: Expert Q&A
At the station he left Bram to his own devices, and the first thing Bram discovered was that the heavy raid on Berlin had delayed his train by three hours. Bram wished someone could have told the chief of Bomber Command what trouble he was causing his fellow air force men.
He then observed one of the German censors at the camp. He knew her slightly by sight he hoped to God she didn't know him. But she was suspicious of one of the men on the platform, whom Bram recognized as Thomas Kirby-Green [a British pilot who was later recaptured at Hodonin in Czechoslovakia and shot on March 29]. If the police picked him up they would be alerted at once. He hardly dared look around—the station was full of Stalag Luft III escapers.
Bram van der Stok in his RAF uniform
And—oh, hell—she was telling an officer of the German military police to go accost Kirby-Green, and demand to see his papers. Then he became conscious that the bright female eyes were fixed on him. Bram van der Stok moved closer, not farther away. The only way to counter suspicion was to face it. One thing the Escape Committee had not taken into consideration was a female Sherlock Holmes sitting in the Sagan station. Her question was abrupt.
"You are traveling tonight?"
At least he was comfortable with his German. "Yes, I'm Dutch—you can probably tell from my accent."
"You know the trains are running late?"
"Yes, I understand that is so." Bram gave a quick glance at Kirby-Green. He was putting his papers away. The military policeman was satisfied. Thank God for that.
"There are many strangers around these days," said Bram equably. That seemed to satisfy her. She had done her duty as a good German woman.
The train for Breslau arrived at 3:30 a.m. Bram van der Stok traveled second-class. He saw eight fellow escapers from Sagan, among them Roger Bushell and Bernard Scheidhauer, but not even by the flutter of an eyebrow did he offer a sign of recognition. They chugged into Breslau station at 5:00 a.m. There was no bustle of security, no groups of Gestapo or military police with hard watchful eyes. The tunnel hadn't been discovered . yet! [To be continued. ]
Roger Bushell (left), the RAF pilot who masterminded the Great Escape, was recaptured near Saarbrí¼cken, Germany, with his escape partner, the French pilot Bernard Scheidhauer. The Gestapo shot both men on March 29.
Safely to Stettin
Sergeant Peter Bergsland was Norwegian. When the Germans invaded his country he fled to England. There he joined the RAF, was shot down, and duly arrived at Stalag Luft III.
Sergeant Bergsland and his partner, fellow countryman Lieutenant Jens Müller, also with the RAF, decided to team up for the Sagan escape. They headed for Stettin, where Swedish ships regularly docked and departed. Both spoke perfect Swedish.
They came out of the tunnel as Numbers 43 and 44, and Müller was surprised at the ease of passage through Harry. His report to Intelligence explained what had happened:
"It took me three minutes to get through the tunnel. Above ground I crawled along holding the rope for several feet: it was tied to a tree. Sergeant Bergsland joined me we arranged our clothes and walked to the Sagan railway station.
"Bergsland was wearing a civilian suit he had made for himself from a Royal Marine uniform, with an RAF overcoat slightly altered with brown leather sewn over the buttons. A black RAF tie, no hat. He carried a small suitcase which had been sent from Norway. In it were Norwegian toothpaste and soap, sandwiches, and 163 reichsmarks given to him by the Escape Committee.
"We caught the 2:04 train to Frankfurt an der Oder. Our papers stated that we were Norwegian electricians from the Arbeitslager [labor camp] in Frankfurt working in the vicinity of Sagan. For the journey from Frankfurt to Stettin we had other papers ordering us to change our place of work from Frankfurt to Stettin, and to report to the Bürgermeister of Stettin."
The journey was uneventful. They traveled in a third-class carriage full of civilians and looked like any ordinary travelers. They arrived at Frankfurt at 6:00 in the morning, and caught a connecting train to Küstrin at 8:00 a.m. They had a beer in the station cafe, and while they were sipping, the first inspection took place. A wandering German Feldwebel [sergeant] of the military police approached them. He looked at the cheerful, fresh-faced young men who spoke excellent German with a Norwegian accent, gave their papers a cursory examination, touched his cap, and departed. Bergsland and Müller clinked mugs, smiled, and drank up.
They caught the 10:00 a.m. train from Küstrin to Stettin and arrived at lunchtime.
In this photo from Stalag Luft III, Peter Bergsland (left) and Jens Mí¼ller (right) pose prior to the Great Escape with fellow Norwegian Halldor Espelid, who was caught after the break and executed.
To Sweden through a brothel
"We walked around the town, visited a cinema and a beer hall, and after dusk went to an address given to us by the Escape Committee.
"It was a French brothel bearing the inscription 'Nur fur Auslínders—Deutschen verboten' ['Only for foreigners—Germans forbidden']. We knocked on the door. As we did so a Pole who was standing on the street approached us and asked us if we had any black-market wares for sale. We asked him if he knew any Swedish sailors. He fetched one out of the brothel. We made our identity known, talking in Swedish, and he told us that his ship was leaving that night and to meet us at 20:00 hours outside the brothel."
The Swede was as good as his word, and was waiting for them when they returned. He led them to the docks, and told them to duck under a chain while he reported to the Control Office. He would then go aboard, wait for an all clear, and then whistle them to come aboard.
They waited in vain. No signal was given. Seamen cast off the ropes and they watched the ship set sail down the channel. They could hazard a guess that he probably tried to enlist help to get them aboard, and was probably told by his friends that one was likely to end up in a Nazi concentration camp if caught. They were now inside the docks, and they had to get out. The best meeting place in town was obviously the brothel, if they could get through. They decided to take a chance the officer at Control hardly bothered to glance at their papers. But disappointingly the brothel was a no-nonsense establishment, and closed its doors at 2:00 a.m.
Recaptured Great Escape prisoners, each carrying a briefcase and wearing the hand-made civilian clothing they donned for their short-lived getaway
The area itself, however, was certainly populated by seamen and they looked like seamen. Small cafes were open small, sordid hotels did business. They had a meal and paid for a room in one of the hotels. They had taken part in one of the most momentous escapes in history theyɽ taken their chances and gotten away with it. They were already asleep as their heads fell towards the pillows, and did not wake until four oɼlock the following afternoon. Müller looked across at Bergsland and grinned. "Another visit to 17 Klein Oder Strasse, I think."
They arrived at the brothel at six, and met two more Swedish sailors coming out through the door. They were affable when the two Norwegians explained their difficulties.
"Ja," they said. "You come, catch the tram with us and we go back to our docks. Four miles out near Parnitz." By that time it was 8:30 and getting dark. The Swedish sailors slouched up to the German soldier on guard, showing their papers, the two Norwegians close behind. The guard was helpful. "All part of the same crew?" he inquired, and they nodded vigorously. He stood aside to let them pass, not even asking them for papers.
Safely on deck, the Swedes slapped them on the back, and said, "Not bad, eh? Now we've got to hide you because the ship doesn't sail until seven tomorrow morning, and there's bound to be a German search before we sail."
Their hiding place was the anchor locker holding the great coiled chain. In one corner was a pile of netting and sacks. The sailors heaved it aside and formed a sort of inner nest. "Now you can sleep. But don't be snoring when the Germans arrive tomorrow morning. Usually they don't have dogs. Dogs don't like climbing up and down thin steel companion ladders."
Hours later Bergsland and Müller heard the Germans tramping towards them the hatch was thrown open and closed again the search was perfunctory. The feet stamped away. Half an hour later the propellers began to thrash water and they felt the ship begin to move. Their two friends came down with food and drink, and the smell of sea coming in through the hawseholes in the bow was like an elixir of freedom. When they reached Sweden they shook hands and gave a whoop for joy, for it was a small victory for them. Then they went to find the British consulate. Two out of 76 had reached freedom.
The three that got away traveled enormous distances through Nazi-occupied territory. In this map, trace their respective routes to freedom through the towns they passed through.
All the way to Gibraltar
Bram van der Stok sat on a bench in the Breslau railway station and pretended to doze. He believed that "he travels fastest who travels alone." He was wearing civilian clothes—at least they looked like that, although they were in fact an Australian air force overcoat and a converted naval jacket and trousers, RAF shoes, and a beret.
He bought a second-class ticket to Alkmaar, boarded the train, and at 10:00 a.m. arrived in Dresden, where he had a long layover. He dozed in two cinemas until 8:00 p.m., then went back to the station to catch a train to the Dutch border at Bentheim. He realized that the tunnel had been discovered, and the hunt was on, because his papers were carefully scrutinized on four occasions. At the frontier post his papers were examined again, but now it was easier. His Dutch was, naturally, perfect, and his papers were in order.
He traveled by train to Oldenzaal, then on to Utrecht. Here the Escape Committee had given him the address of an underground resistance worker. The man welcomed him, gave him fake identity papers and ration cards, and kept him safe in his home for three days. But there was no victory yet. Holland was part of Germany's conquered Europe informers and spies were everywhere. Bram van der Stok still had to move fast.
He traveled by bicycle to another safe house in Belgium, where he was given Belgian identity papers, then on by train through Brussels and Paris. More false papers and south again to Toulouse, and now he was installed in the Maquis resistance chain [the French resistance]. He met up with two American lieutenants, two RAF pilots, a French officer, a Russian, and a French girl who acted as a guide. Together they crossed the Pyrenees and arrived in Lérida. The Spanish were neutral, but not necessarily friendly. The British consul took them over in Lérida, and Bram van der Stok arrived in Gibraltar on July 8.
His escape journey had taken almost three and a half months. He was back in England within a few days, the third to make a home run.
Liberated United States airmen prisoners at Stalag 7A in Moosburg, Germany
Liberated United States prisoners (mostly military airmen) at POW camp called Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager (Stalag) VII A, located just North of Moosburg, Germany. The airmen cook food. Several are seen sunning themselves. Airmen seen shaving, shining shoes and cleaning clothes. A group of airmen around sign 'I Wanted Wings' and 'Luft 3'. These are some of the prisoners who were originally held at Stalag Luft III, in German Province of Lower Silesia, near the town of Sagan (now in Poland). (Note: Stalag Luft III is famous because the "Great Escape" took place there in March, 1944. Prisoners were forced to march from Sagan to Spremburg during the coldest winter in Germany in 50 years. There, they boarded a train of boxcars for a 3 day trip to Moosburg in January 1945, because the Russians were closing in. The addition of these prisoners to Stalag 7A, at Moosburg, led to serious overcrowding of the camp. On May 1, 1945, the New York Times reported that "The Fourteenth Armored Division liberated 110,000 Allied prisoners of war at Stalag 7A at Moosburg." This corrected an earlier report that 27,000 prisoners had been liberated.)
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Opening up our prisoner of war collection
In December 2014, the Ministry of Defence transferred to The National Archives the series of records WO 416 consisting of an estimated 190,000 records of individuals captured in German occupied territory during the Second World War, primarily Allied service men (including Canadians, South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders) but also several hundred British and Allied civilians and a few nurses.
The series also includes several thousand records relating to deceased allied airmen, whose bodies were found by or near to their aircraft which had been shot down. To some degree, these act as a record of death as the individuals were never prisoners of war as such. The number of cards for each individual varies from one to fifteen, but in most cases there are just one or two.
The records are in the form of cards and they record (with certain exceptions) a varying amount of detail which can include the following:
- Camp name (Gefangenenlager)
- Camp number (Gefangenen Nummer)
- Country of origin
- Surname (Name)
- First name/s (Vorname)
- Place and Date of birth (Geburtstag und Ort)
- Father’s first name (Vorname des Vaters)
- Mother’s maiden name (Familienname der Mutter)
- Name and Address of Next of Kin
- Health and illnesses and subsequent treatment
- Date and Place of Capture (Gefangenname – Ort und Datum)
- Where transferred/transported from
- Details of escape
- Details of death
- Service (e.g. Army, Air, Navy, Civilian) (Truppenteil)
- Service rank (Dienstgrad)
- Service number (Matrikel Nummer)
While the majority of the cards are of Allied service personnel, many cards relate to Merchant Navy Ratings, Merchant Navy Officers, South Africans, Palestinians, New Zealanders, and Australians, and a limited number of cards are of individuals of American, Norwegian, Chinese, Arabic, and Cypriot origin.
There are also a number of cards for individuals who are listed as ‘unknown’ at WO 416/415-417. The entries on these cards are written in German only (and are usually noted as English with a blue cross).
Cards show details of deaths by use of symbols such as black, blue and red crosses there are pink cards created when prisoners received medical attention while captive.
Cards for some service personnel are missing as they were taken out of the collection to be used as evidence to support the claims made by Prisoners of War after the end of the Second World War. In most cases, the card was placed on the claim file and not returned to this series. These cards may form part of personnel’s service records, still held by the Veterans Agency.
The entire series has been closed: since the collection was accessioned in 2014 it is is not catalogued by name of individual as many may still be alive – we believe that the youngest of them was born in 1928. The collection can contain sensitive information about living individuals so, with the support of volunteers, we have started to catalogue the entire series: this enables us to open records for those born more than 100 years ago or where we have proof of death.
This ambitious project will continue until the end of 2021 and for the main we are working our way through the series alphabetically by surname. This page, under ‘Arrangement’, provides a link to the projected completion stages of the project, subject to change. Fifteen per cent of the collection has now been catalogued by name of individual we have loaded this information on Discovery so researchers can access the material on site or arrange for digital or paper copies to be sent to them. We are offering a paid search service for uncatalogued pieces for those who do not want to wait until the project has completed: details of this service are available at piece level descriptions in Discovery.
Please note: as we are cataloguing the series, although cards are arranged in boxes according to alphabetical groupings, we are discovering some that are misfiled and can be found in pieces with descriptions outside their surname range. Very occasionally, cards for the same individual can be found in multiple boxes.
One of the first items we catalogued was for the film actor Peter Butterworth, who would later become famous for starring in a number of films (including some of the Carry On series, such as ‘Carry on Camping’, in which he played Joshua Fiddler, the laid-back camp site manager).
During the Second World War he served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. In June 1940, while flying in an attack on the Dutch coast, his plane was shot down and he was captured on the island of Texel. As a prisoner of war he was eventually sent to Stalag Luft III, near Sagan in Poland, later to be the scene of the Great Escape, immortalised in the classic 1963 movie starring Steve McQueen. It was a compound of huts accommodating allied officers, including non-commissioned officers and members of the Fleet Air Arm.
Butterworth played his part in helping prisoners escape but reputedly, when he later auditioned for a part in the 1950 film ‘The Wooden Horse’, based on another escape from the camp, the film-makers considered him ‘unconvincingly heroic or athletic enough’.
WO 416/53/114: Prisoner of War card for Peter Butterworth
Also held captive in Stalag Luft III was RAF Squadron Leader Roger Joyce Bushell. He had been captured at Boulogne in May 1940. He became part of an escape committee alongside other prisoners including Wing Commander Harry Day and Fleet Air Arm operator Jimmy Buckley (WO 416/45/154).
Sadly, Bushell didn’t survive the war, being captured and executed following his escape. As for Buckley, his body was never found following his escape attempt on 21 May 1943. The part of Bushell (WO 416/47/197) was famously played by Richard Attenborough in the film ‘The Great Escape’.
WO 416/45/154: James (Jimmy) Brian Buckley
WO 416/47/197: Prisoner of War card for Roger Joyce Bushell
WO 416/47/197: Prisoner of War card for Roger Joyce Bushell. The black cross signifies death.
This collection complements other series of records held at The National Archives and helps to paint a vivid picture of what life was like as a prisoner of war. Other relevant records include escape and evasion reports in WO 208, which give individual accounts of escape attempts or capture, or awards for those who assisted escape attempts. Series WO 344 includes questionnaires completed by liberated prisoners of war who had been held captive by the Germans or Japanese. These records are arranged by nation (Germany or Japan) and then alphabetically WO 208/5437-5450 for special questionnaires made by individuals about work of escape committees, escape aids, German Censorship and collection of geographic information which might assist future escape attempts and selected lists of British and Commonwealth prisoners of war in WO 392/1-26.