Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Great Escape - 65 years later

65 years ago, in March 1944, 76 Royal Air Force and Allied airmen escaped from Stalag Luft III prison camp in Sagan, Germany, through a tunnel they'd nicknamed 'Harry'. Their feat would become known as 'The Great Escape'.

Some of the few surviving prisoners of war who were incarcerated at Stalag Luft III have just revisited the site to remember their fallen comrades.

British veterans from the WW2 prison camp that featured in the Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Great Escape’ returned to the site of the getaway tunnel yesterday on the 65th anniversary of the breakout.

At the mouth to tunnel dubbed ‘Harry’ – carved from beneath the sand and soil of Stalag Luft III – the men who aided the escapers toasted absent comrades 65 years to the day that history was made.

And they bowed their heads too in respectful memory of the 50 Allied airmen escapees who, having been recaptured, were murdered on Hitler's orders.

At the memorial marking the exit of tunnel "Harry"

The Great Escape from the camp in Poland – German territory before the war – was the single greatest flight for freedom attempted by POWs during WW2.

Seventy six men made it out of the tunnel christened Harry that ran for 348 feet from hut 104 to the woods beyond on the night of March 24-25 1944.

Among the 50 who were shot was Roger Bushell, the mastermind of the escape plot planned to free over 200 men.

Twenty six others were returned to the camp while three made ‘home runs’ back to the UK. All those 29 have since died.

But they were remembered yesterday by the group who travelled to the site to mark the anniversary, including Frank Stone, 86, from Hathersage in Derbyshire who was in hut 104 from 1943 onwards.

. . .

Also there yesterday was Alfie ‘Bill’ Fripp, who was married one month before he was shot down in October 1939, and remained a prisoner of the Germans until May 1945.

Alfie Fripp - then (above) and today (below), circled in white.

He was unable to stop himself shedding a tear as he drank a glass of champagne to the memory of the murdered men.

Now 95 and living in Bournemouth, he was shot down in Holland returning from a trip to reconnoitre German marshalling yards near Hamburg.

He acted as a spy for the escapers – and a thief. In his job in charge of collecting Red Cross parcels for the prisoners from a depot in the nearby town he found the opportunity to ‘liberate’ numerous items to help the tunnelers, such as wire cutters, files and other tools.

Later he learned with anger of the murder of the escapees – one of them Mike Casey, the pilot of his plane.

“When I saw the site of Harry the tunnel, I thought of Mike and said a prayer for him,” he said.

There's lots more - and more pictures - at the link. Recommended reading.

The prisoners at Stalag Luft III erected a memorial to their 50 murdered comrades, with the permission of the German camp authorities. It still stands today on the road to Sagan. Click the picture for a larger view.

From this veteran of a younger generation, and a different war, to those of World War II, a heartfelt and grateful "Saaaa-lute!"


1 comment:

Old NFO said...

Excellent post! A real piece of history and a tribute to the American and British who never gave up!