Better than the movie… the REAL Great Escape


WAR MEMOIR

ESCAPE FROM STALAG LUFT III

by Bram Vanderstok (Greenhill Books £25, 256pp)

The pleasure of reading any memoir concerning the Great Escape of March 24, 1944 — that heroic, improvised, meticulously planned, madcap enterprise — is inevitably dented by the appalling statistics.

Of the 200 Allied prisoners of warfare (PoWs) in Stalag Luft III who have been primed to descend via the hidden lure door of Hut 104 that night time, solely seventy six would emerge at the far end earlier than the escape was discovered and stopped. Seventy-three of those can be recaptured shortly afterwards, with 50 shot in chilly blood by the Gestapo. Solely three of the seventy six would escape to freedom.

One of many profitable trio was the Dutch RAF pilot Bram ‘Bob’ Vanderstok, writer of this terribly vivid memoir, which has been reissued on this seventy fifth anniversary yr.

Bram Vanderstok's (pictured) gripping memoir of escaping Stalag Luft III has been reissued for this 75th anniversary year, he recounts the thousands involved in planning the Great Escape

Bram Vanderstok’s (pictured) gripping memoir of escaping Stalag Luft III has been reissued for this 75th anniversary yr, he recounts the hundreds concerned in planning the Great Escape

Before we get anyplace near Vanderstok’s Nice Escape, he tells us about his preliminary escape from occupied Holland to Britain in 1941. For 12 days, he hid in a 2 ft-excessive area underneath the engine room of a Swiss merchant ship, mendacity in a pool of grease because the Germans looked for stowaways above.

Clearly, this man was born with the escaping gene. He comes across as a delightfully simple Dutchman: ice hockey fanatic, medical scholar-turned-air pressure pilot, and enjoyer of excellent food and nightlife.

With boyish exhilaration, he describes the thrill of being an RAF fighter pilot and his joy at ‘scoring’ towards the Nazis. So, when his Spitfire is shot down over northern France in April 1942, we share his sense of ghastly anticlimax.

He arrived at the huge PoW camp Stalag Luft III, where 30 escape tunnels had already been started however discovered by Nazi ‘ferrets’ — guards whose special obligation it was to crawl beneath the huts to eavesdrop and nip any escape try in the bud.

Had I been incarcerated in Stalag Luft III, I’d simply have sat again. In contrast to Buchenwald and different Nazi concentration camps where the inmates have been starved and worked to dying, this was a PoW camp the place, beneath the Geneva Conference, the prisoners could not be pressured to work and life was far much less harsh.

Pink Cross parcels arrived repeatedly, containing espresso, chocolate, cigarettes and raisins, out of which the PoWs made scrumptious vodka.

The mastermind of the Great Escape Roger Bushell, was one of 50 brutally murdered after being recaptured (Pictured: Steve McQueen in the 1963 classic film The Great Escape)

The mastermind of the Great Escape Roger Bushell, was considered one of 50 brutally murdered after being recaptured (Pictured: Steve McQueen within the 1963 basic film The Nice Escape)

Because the struggle progressed and life acquired worse for the Germans, the PoWs bribed the guards with their Purple Cross riches.

This story proves the power of the urge for freedom, as well as the lads’s overwhelming sense of obligation. They have been decided to escape so that they might keep on preventing the Nazi evil.

A thousand of them have been involved in planning…



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