Chapter 6 – Stalag Luft III, Sagan.
The Blenheim and boat crews left Bad Sulza on 29th April 1942 for Stalag Luft III, Sagan, Poland, arriving at the East Compound on 1st May (ICRC 30th April) 1942, initially commanded by a Luftwaffe Colonel, named Stephani but then Colonel Freidrich Wilhelm Von Lindeiner took over. He was in his sixties, a long-time military man who was already a seasoned soldier at the time of the First World War, during which he was wounded three times and won the Iron Cross twice. He married a Danish aristocrat and did his best to avoid Nazi politics, but at the start of the war, he was refused retirement and put in charge of a camp that grew to house 10,000 prisoners. He ran the camp from when it opened up to the aftermath of the Great Escape, when the Gestapo took over.
Initially, the Senior British Officer at Sagan was Wing Commander H M A ‘Wings’ Day in the officers compound, whilst J A G (Dixie) Deans was again elected Man of Confidence by the prisoners as he had been at Stalag Luft 1 at Barth and was appointed leader of the NCO compound at Sagan, ably assisted by F/Sgt. R P L Mogg. Later, in September 1942, Group Captain H M Massey would take over from ‘Wings’ Day.
Sagan was initially a Sonderlager for RAF officers and NCO’s and persistent escapees and was eventually, later in the war, divided into 5 different compounds, East (Officers), Centre (N.C.O.’s), North, South (American’s) and Balaria. However, when it was opened in April 1942, when Ken and the others arrived the compounds were split into one for officers (later to become the East compound) and another for sergeant pilots or NCO’s (later to become the Centre compound). Another area, the Vorlager, held the POW cells, bath house, coal shed, and sick quarters, which were controlled by the Germans. The Kommandantur, German quarters, containing their barracks and administration buildings, together with the Vorlager, were located on the west side of the camp.
Prisoners in German hands were graded ‘White’, ‘Grey’ and ‘Black’ depending on the record of escapes, ability to be a nuisance, and willingness to co-operate, hence the RAF NCO’s were graded as ‘Black’, the worst prisoners, as were the officers and were located in the Center Compound. Sagan, like Heydekrug which was yet to be constructed, was one of the new types of compound, constructed to be escape proof and to house the ever increasing number of allied airmen being captured daily, as Bomber Command maintained its offensive against German occupied Europe and Germany itself.
Located around 100 miles South East of Berlin in what is now Poland, the camp lay ¾ of a mile south of the town’s railway station, and was well concealed by thick pine forest on three sides, as far from neutral and Allied countries as possible. The first prisoners were brought in from Stalag Luft 1 (Barth), Dulag Luft and Oflag VIB (Warburg), 600 prisoners by the end of April 1942. Others followed over the next two months from these camps and Stalag IXc (Bad Sulza), Stalag VIIIb (Lamsdorf) and Stalag IIIe (Kirchhain). The final strength of the Centre Compound or N.C.O. Compound was about 1,800 personnel of the RAF, RAAF, RCAF, RNZAF, SAAF and Naval Fleet Air Arm, with the only other camp holding any quantity of RAF NCO’s being Stalag VIIIB (Lamsdorf).
Stalag Luft 3 could be seen as the prisoners straggled down the road from the station and had a forbidding bleakness. Long wooden huts were huddled together in tidy rows, perched on brick legs to stop tunnels from being hidden. They had double sides and double floors and each barrack was divided into two main rooms, each accommodating 80 men, so floor space was very limited. The main room was fitted with a large slow burning stove. In addition, there were two small rooms at each end of the barracks, one at either end was fitted with a small cooking stove, another held a night latrine and the last one, with a small stove, was for the barrack leader, assistant barrack leader, barrack red cross representative and barrack clothing representative.
The area was flat, well wooded and sandy, with a clay strata about eight inches thick at depths varying from nine to fourteen feet. The wind whipped the sand up to emphasise that tunnelling would be difficult in this collapsible ground. The Luftwaffe believed that escape from this camp would be impossible. Ugly, squat sentry towers loomed over the barracks, leaving nowhere to hide, surrounded by wire and a thick pine forest. Tree stumps and pine needles still littered the ground and no grass grew on the thin topsoil, dry in summer and muddy in winter.
Following the completion of the first two compounds and upon arrival of the new inmates, all the trees outside of the hut area had been felled to ground level only and fuel being of immense value, each stump was allocated to a hut for them to excavate and break up for fuel. Great strength and ability was required for this but the benefits were great and the Canadian’s expertise in dealing with lumber was of great use.
The International Red Cross reported the situation of the new camp to the British Government.
“We understand that the new Camp, which is situated at Sagan about 80 miles north-east of Dresden, will accommodate a large number of R.A.F. Prisoners of War, both officers and other ranks. Preliminary reports of conditions there are satisfactory.”
As the prisoners from all around passed through the main gate, they were marched into the Vorlager where the German administrative offices, the sick-bay, the cooler, the Red Cross stores, and the shower hut and delouser were situated. From this outside compound gates led into the two prison lagers, one for officers and one for NCO’s, which were separated by a wooden fence. A third lager, abutting the NCO’s compound, contained the German quarters. Russian prisoners had their own compound in the corner of the main Vorlager. Here, the prisoners would be searched again and any fountain pens, cigarette lighters and the like would be confiscated, to be exchanged for a numbered ticket as if the prisoner had handed in a coat at the cloak room at a dance.
As indicated, the first prisoners to arrive were from Stalag Luft 1, Barth and everyone that followed were keen to ask questions about their new home, together with the rules and regulations. They were told that they would be told everything by Sergeant Deans, they were told with respect but they had never heard of this man.
As the prisoners were led into the compound, they were greeted by many faces, a confusion of beards, shaven heads and odd looking homemade hats. Shouts and roars of laughter greeted old friends. Everyone wanting to know the news from home and the fate of old comrades. How long until the war was over? Dixie Deans demonstrated realism on this point, he had a calendar that stretched from September 1940 to May 1945.
It was also important to establish the validity of every prisoner to avoid stooges being planted amongst the ranks.
Dixie Deans, a prisoner since September 1940, was elected as the Camp Leader within the NCO’s compound at Stalag Luft 1, Barth, even though he was not the most senior representative and already, his name was well known around all the prison of war camps in Germany. His reputation stood him well in Geneva, Germany and the Air Ministry alike. Each new prisoner was ‘interviewed’ by Deans to establish his story, although, it is doubtful whether any of the prisoners were aware. Were they genuine and did they have any information that would be of value to the Authorities back home? He also wanted news on the fate of the rest of the aircrew, so that this also could be fed back to the authorities to ‘deal’ with any ‘missing in action’ questions. He was also able to divert wages from pay to assist others back home. He maintained his position but more importantly, the respect of the prisoners and German guards alike, throughout Stalag Luft’s 3 and 6 and Stalag 357, Thorn and Fallingbostal, the latter two camps stretching his ability but he was to prove worthy of the post.
The camp held a number on notable people, including Bob Stanford Tuck and Squadron Leader Douglas Bader in the Officers camp and the NCO’s camp now held a radio which had arrived with the prisoners from Barth.
When reading through all the various documents recording the time spent in the prisoner camps, together with the large volume of books written since, it is easy to think that there was a large gap between the officers and non-commissioned officer. Clearly they were separated but this was as required by the Geneva Convention and reflected the ‘class’ separation that the Germans adopted and encouraged. It was not unusual for a senior German officer to strike a subordinate in front of the prisoners, something that was unheard of within the British services and which, caused a great deal of embarrassment to the prisoners.
Contrary to these views there was a strict camaraderie between the Officers and non-commissioned men where they both looked after each other’s welfare. It was not unusual for a Sergeant pilot to be in charge of an aircraft where officers held other positions, such as navigator or bomb aimer. At Sagan, with the close proximity of the two camps, this liaison was never closer. The vagaries of the Geneva Convention allowed the Officers to receive part of their pay whilst incarcerated in the various camps across Germany, whereas the non-commissioned officers received nothing. This was put right by the Officers who gave money from their own pay to the sergeants to help them through those difficult times. It took a long time for this ‘pay’ to be repaid to the officers through the official ranks once they returned to England in 1945, but equally of note is the fact that income tax had first been paid by the officers on their income for the privilege of being locked up by the Germans. There are many examples of arguments between prisoners and ‘The authorities’ after the war where their full dues were held back and argued over, deductions made for lost kit in aircraft crashes for instance that never seem to have been resolved.
Sabotage continued and it was quite normal for the prisoners to put their finished razor blades into the pig swill to cause problems with the livestock. This was addressed by the Germans at parade when the Germans asked the prisoners to refrain from putting ’whole’ razor blades in the pig swill, which was accepted by Dixie Deans and the prisoners.
Escape also appears to be the main occupation of all the prisoners but this was far from the truth, but it did hold the mind of many during these lonesome times. Stalag Luft 3 had been designed as an escape proof camp but that did not stop the prisoners from trying. An early attempt was made when a party of prisoners was marched out by another prisoner masquerading as a ‘Guard’, passing an astonished prisoner, being escorted back in. The group were only discovered when the ‘Guard’ gave the wrong answer to the real Guard on the gate.
Another early escape attempt was made by hanging underneath a van as it drove out of the camp. This would have not been noticed if it had not waited quite some time in the officers compound where the prisoner tired and dropped into view. The Germans mistook the escapee for an Officer from the officer’s compound and called them out for several role calls, only to discover each time that they were all present and correct.
Robert Morton, mentioned earlier, recorded:-
One Escape attempt. ‘Stalag Luft III, Sagan, June 1942. Hid under motor-lorry. No companions. Discovered by Posterns at Main Gate. Yes,’ Physically fit.
Ron Mogg, arrived at Sagan in April 1942 and he recalls that :-
“At about the same time, a number of other types who had somehow got miss-routed to an Army camp, Stalag IXc, arrived at Sagan. They had proved too much for the camp guards and one or two of the inmates, who had other ideas about ‘goon-baiting’ and regular escapes.”
“During the first few weeks, conditions at Sagan were a little chaotic. Had we been as organised for escape as we were later, the Germans would soon have discovered that the place was full of bolt holes. Typical was the empty latrine from which the late Bill Williams, Ron West and Gerry Tipping began to burrow their way. The only trouble was that the camp was receiving so many prisoners, especially after the 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne, that the latrine was in use before the ‘moler’, or quickly-built shallow tunnel, could get through the wire. In the rueful summation of Gerry Tipping: “Our efforts in the Abort were aborted”.”
Gerald Tipping, a member of Ken’s hut in Fallingbostal recalls in his Liberation questionnaire:-
“I attempted escape on numerous occasions. Tunneling was the adopted method and in all, cases our tunnels were found before we had penetrated under the wire. In all RAF prison camps the German Albwehr were using Seismographs”.
Gerald Tipping was aboard a 38 Squadron Wellington, R3219 HD-Q, which was lost on the 1st October 1940 on a raid on Leipzig. He is listed as a student from 25 Mythop Avenue, Lytham St. Annes, Lancashire. The aircraft was airborne on 30th September 1940 from Marham but the cause of loss and crash site have not been established but he was captured on at Diepholz. The crew consisted of P/O D Maclean KIA, Sgt S A Williams POW, Sgt G Tipping POW, Sgt V F Gammon POW, Sgt J. Hamilton POW and P/O W T Mathieson Inj. Sgt V F Gammon was interned in Camps L1/L6/357, POW No.292 with Sgt J Hamilton, POW No.295 and Sgt S A Williams, POW No.311. P/O W T Mathieson was confined in Hospital due to injuries, No POW Number. Sgt G Tipping in Camps L1/L3/L6/357, POW No.724. He suffered with Jaundice through consuming excess fat. He completed his questionnaire on 22nd April 1945. P/O Maclean is buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Gerald is referred to as Jerry within various accounts.
Victor Salvage records in his Liberation Questionnaire that:-
“(i) Escaped in Luxemburg on way to Germany. Attempted to get through Maginot line to our troops. No success owing to moonlit nights. Went to American Ambassador Mr. Platt Waller in (Isumberg?) handed to saxonby authorities who handed me to Germans. (ii) Attempted to jump train again at Trier. Immediately recaptured. (iii) attempted to escape from gas works party at Barth Vogelsang Sept 3rd 40’, took a civilian bicycle was apprehended immediately (iv) made two unsuccessful tunnel attempts at Sagan.”
Victor Charles Salvage was aboard a 40 Squadron Blenheim, L8827 BL-?, when it was lost on 6th June 1940 on a raid on St. Valery. He was a student, contact was listed as being through (Father) T C Salvage at 1A Vicarage Road, Eastbourne. The aircraft was airborne at 08.15 Hrs from Wyton, the aircraft being attacked by six ME109’s and shot down out of control. The crew were given the order to bale out and Salvage landed in a cornfield in full view of a large German Head Quarters establishment and was immediately surrounded and captured. The crash-site has not been established but Salvage states he was captured near Albeville, France. S/L B Paddon POW, Sgt V C Salvage POW and Sgt T A Foreman POW. Sgt T A Foreman was interned in Camps L1/L6/357, PoW No.64. S/L B Paddon in Camps L1/20A/L1/04C but escaped captivity and was awarded the DSO for his ‘home run’ in August 1942. Sgt V C Salvage in Camps 20A/L1/7B/L3/L6/357, POW No.13076.
Salvage states that he escaped in Luxemburg on way to Germany, on the train journey between Givet (Belgium) and Trier (Germany) in June 1940, having got out of cattle truck through the grating and climbed from the roof to the buffers. Here he waited for a fairly sharp bend for the train to slow down on a slight incline and a place where he could jump into a sloping bank for cover and after 30 Kms, these conditions materialised so he jumped off the train and was not spotted by the guards on the roof. He found himself about ½ miles from the German frontier with Luxenbourg. He hid in the woods and finally reached the small village of Retzdorf, where he contacted two aging farmers and was directed to a mill house in the village, the owner of which welcomed him and gave him some food. He stayed there for the night and dressed in civilian clothing, he set off in a Southerly direction the next day with the idea of crossing the Maginot Line to our troops and arrived at the village of Syren, about 8 Kms South of Luxenburg. Here, he met too civilians, one of whom Salvage thought was the Mayor and having tested them he followed them to Syren and then to the Mayors house. He was hidden in the barn and spent three nights trying to cross the Maginot Line without success due to the bright moonlight each night. On the third night, Salvage heard the Queens speech to French women and realised that his intended escape plan was flawed. The Mayor advised him to go to Luxenbourg, a young boy accompanying him some 100 yards in front on a bicycle and he left Salvage outside the American Embassy, which was closed, being Saturday afternoon. He obtained the home address of the Ambassador (Mr Platt Waller in Loumberg) and went there to find him playing golf, to be told he would be back by 20.00 Hrs for his dinner. He actually returned at 2200 hours and after convincing him he was British, he was put up for the night. The next day he was taken to the Luxemburg Prime Minister who seemed very friendly and pro-British but seemed to provide little hope for escape.
Salvage was sent to the Military Police training centre and stayed there for seven days before being taken by the Germans to prison. Given seven days confinement he was taken to Trier for three days, having tried to jump the train again at Luxemburg but was immediately recaptured
He also attempted to escape from a gas works party at Barth on 3rd September 1940, when he took a civilian bicycle but was apprehended immediately.
He made a further two unsuccessful tunnel attempts at Sagan. Together with 3 Poles, 2 British RAF and one other, they set to work digging a sump within the compound latrines. The reason for this was given as the easier to dispose of sand and it was also some 50 to 60 feet closer to the warning wire. Three managed to dig 45 feet in 3 ½ days and they had almost reached the wire when it appears that the tunnel was disclosed to the Germans by a Czech (name unknown). The Germans walked straight to the spot and after digging, discovered the tunnel.
He was liberated by the 7th Armoured Division in April 1945, his liberation questionnaire is dated 20th April 1945.
Sgt. Arthur Sharples was
previously interned in Stalag 8B, Lamsdorf, before arriving at Sagan. He changed his identity with a soldier so as to be able to get on an external working party from which he hoped to escape and was sent to Kriegsdorf between April and June 1942 where he worked on a railway plate gang.
“Escapes attempted 3 times. Successful once in May 1942. Whilst returning from working party I evaded the guard at Neisse but was recaptured after 2 hours. Given 14 days ‘bunker’. Also committed sabotage. Volunteered to set saws at small saw mill at Kriebsdorf and set them so as not to function – took two days to correct. Sand in generator. Other attempts, tunnel at Sagan August 1942.”
Arthur Oliver Sharples was flying a 222 Squadron Spitfire, AB-801, when it was lost on 4th September 1941 on circus 93 to Mazingarbe, Pas-De-Calais. Sharples bailed out and he and the aircraft came down near St. Omer. He was a (Chartered) Secretary living at “Bergerdene”, Newchurch Road, Rawtenstall, Lancs. He says he sat for his Chartered Institute of secretaries – inter exams in December 1944, Results not known!!!! A O Sharples POW No. 9544 was interned in Stalag 8B, SL3, SL6 and S357. He was also at Kriegsdorf, attached to Lamsdorf, between April and June 1942 when he worked on a railway plate gang having “changed identity with a soldier in Lamsdorf so as to be able to get on an external working party from which he hoped to escape. He says: ‘Escapes attempted at Heydekrug Sept. 1943. Member of escape organisation and worked as instructed.’ He completed his liberation questionnaire on 23rd April 1945.
Arthur Sharples went on to train helicopter pilots and one unfortunate pupil became his charge. ‘The day arrived for John to have his check flight with Arthur Sharples and was told to go and start it up and he would join him. On his arrival at the aircraft Arthur said “I understand you can’t land it”. “Yes” was John’s reply. Get it into a hover about a foot high, John did as he was told and Arthur then said “let go of the lever.” For those readers who have never flown a Hiller there was no Hydraulics and you literally lifted it into the air using sheer strength and if you let the lever go it dropped like a stone. After being told three times to let go of the lever John did so with the anticipated result that the Hiller hit the ground. A big smile came over Arthur’s face and said ” I can’t see the problem you landed the “Bugger”. After several more controlled crashes things got better and John was sent solo.’
Charles Squire, said that he:-
“Helped numerous tunnelling attempts none of which were successful.”
Charles Howard Squire (968401) was flying a 54 Squadron Spitfire IIA, P7443 KL-E, when it was lost on 26th February 1941 on Circus 5, escorting Blenheim bombers on a raid to Calais. He was listed as an Insurance Official living in Hawarden Avenue, Wallasey, Cheshire, born in 1920. Whilst on his first operational flight, he was shot down by a Bf 109 of I./JG2 flown by Herbert Ihlefeld over Calais-Marcq airfield. There was an article about it in “After the Battle”, ISSUE No. 46 (Code A046), with “then and now” pictures, as both men had been pictured on the spot back in 1941, and they were brought together on the same spot again some 40 years later. “In Battle for the Skies”, he says, “I was climbing out over Kent towards Boulogne, for a patrol over France. In finger four formation for only the second time, l was the last man in the right flank. Eventually turning down sun for a run towards Calais and Dunkirk, we encountered no flak, but soon an enemy aircraft, which l suspected to be a decoy, rapidly crossed the Squadron’s path, from left to right. My No 1 immediately peeled off right to intercept and l was forced to follow him down, despite my suspicions, and immediately lost him. In fact, realizing this, he had rejoined the Squadron and l found myself alone. Checking for enemy aircraft and unable to locate my colleagues, l turned for home, weaving as l went.” “Despite my precautions, a huge bang suddenly shook the airframe shattering the canopy. Seeing tracers flying past, l realised l had been jumped and immediately rolled the aircraft, pulling the stick hard back, which caused me to black out. When l awoke, the aircraft was in a steep dive, so l started an aileron turn, looking out behind me. Seeing nothing, l began to pull out, but immediately felt more thumping as the unseen German scored more hits. Diving again, without being attacked, l was forced to belly-land the aircraft as my engine began to stop.” He states that he was captured on 26th February 1941 in Calais. Sgt C H Squire, POW No 515, was interned in camps Dulag Luft, SL1/SL3/SL6/S357 Thorn and Fallingbostal.
On 7th December 1940 he was the pilot of Spitfire N3292 which suffered damage at Catterick and on 28th December 1940 his Spitfire and another of the same squadron, were undertaking a training exercise when they collided at 12,000 feet, Squires aircraft cutting through the tail section of the other aircraft. Squires was new to the squadron when he made a practice attack on the other aircraft but struck the tail, slicing it off. Squires aircraft had damage to it’s canopy and flattened it’s tail fin whilst the other aircraft went into a spin. Squires remained in level flight for a time allowing the pilot to bail out and the aircraft then crashed into the bank of the River Leven at Red Hall Farm, Kirklevington. Squires escaped serious injury.
Another arrival in April 1942 was George John William Grimson. George Grimson who was the wireless operator aboard a 37 Squadron Wellington, L7792 LF-L which was lost on 15th July 1940 on a raid on barges in the dockyards of the German port of Hamburg when it was shot down by the flak defences over Bremen. The instruction was given by the pilot to evacuate the plane and shortly after exiting, the plane exploded. Grimson was one of two survivors who escaped before the explosion and to quote Rom Mogg;-
“George Grimson was down, unhurt: and, to quote a friend, ‘bloody annoyed’.”
Grimson passed through Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft 1 at Barth, Stalag VIIIb, Lamsdorf and back to Barth before arriving at Sagan. At Barth, Grimson had escaped with a number of other prisoners when they were asked if they would like to help gather in the harvest. Not like later attempts, Grimson simply kicked his German guard in the backside and ran, soon to be returned as little thought had been given as what to do next. He then decided that more intelligence was required and started to learn German and gather as much information about his surroundings as possible. This entailed forming a close but professional relationship with the Germans where he was always clear that he was using them for his own means but this was not always understood by those prisoners around him.
He assisted with a further attempt at Barth when he impersonated a German guard to assist another prisoner, Tubby Dixon, to escape by digging a drainage trench under the wire. The attempt failed when one of the guards was waiting for Dixon on the other side of the wire and simply escorted him to the cooler. At the same time, in the camp itself, a snap roll-call had been called which showed everyone to be present and correct to the ultimate embarrassment of the guards once the escape was discovered.
It was also at Barth that the German speaking James Alexander Deans was also initially elected as the NCO’s leader or ‘Man of confidence’ and John Bristow made his first radio receiver. A well organised escape committee also started to be formed. Deans and Bristow arrived with Grimson at Sagan. Deans, whilst leader was constantly pushing the importance and duty of all serving Officers and NCO’s to escape. As quoted by Ron Mogg:-
“You are still members of the Royal Air Force, the finest service. It is your duty to escape and help others to escape. You must be prepared to do anything towards that end. Remember that every escape attempt ties up more troops looking for us and in the end they will have to increase the number guarding us. Any one of those troops could be serving at the front”.
Once at Sagan, Grimson met up with other would be escapers from other camps and immediately formed an allegiance with Allan Morris. The German’s had unwittingly put together all the best experienced escapers in one camp.
Sergeant Allan Morris was aboard a 77 Squadron Whitley, when it was lost on 20th May 1941 on a raid on. He was a trainee papermaker living at Glenville, Langdown Road, Walderslade, Chatham, Kent. He says that he did not know the exact position of his capture but it was in Belgium, West of Maastricht. He suffered with a flesh wound to his right foot during the incident. Sgt A Morris was interned in Stalag 18A, S13B, SL3 and 6 before returning to SL3. Other details from LQ and E & E report.
Amongst others, Dixie Deans and George Grimson now started to form a close nit escape community, drawing from everyone’s experiences and knowledge, and started to control the trading of goods with the Germans. This was called the Tally-Ho Club and would be well managed through Sagan and on to Heydekrug.
The prisoners kept a very careful watch out for Germans entering the compound and it became everyone’s duty to shout ‘Goons up’ or ‘Tally-Ho’ to signal this to the scouts around the camp. Later, The Duty Pilot system was introduced where the ‘Flight Controller’ would utilise scouts or the ‘duty flight’ to follow the German guards around to ensure their location was known at any time. Runners would report back to the ‘Flight Controller’ at regular intervals. The true success of this system was shown when the head of the Abwehr himself, Hermann Glemnitz, would ask the ‘Flight Controller’ about the whereabouts of any of his guards.
The camp became the location of the world’s most infamous breakout. Known today as “The Great Escape”, 76 men fled through a tunnel code-named “Harry” on the night of 24 March 1944. Although Hollywood later considered the incident exciting enough to make a film about it, the sad truth behind the story is that Hitler became so infuriated by the audacity of the escape, that he ordered 50 of the 73 recaptured men be executed. Of the remaining 23, seventeen were returned to Sagan, four sent to Sachsenhausen and two to Colditz. In the end, just three men made their escape good and returned to England.
Harold Bennett quotes in his Liberation Questionnaire that he was “a member of the Tally-ho club in Sagan and Heydekrug and helped to gather information and escape kit together. Spoke German. Participated in the escapes of W/O Grimson, Flockhart, Gilbert, Townsend-Coles, etc. from Stalag Luft 6 – Heydekrug. Last heard of Grimson in Danzig where he was waiting to help Leaman to get through. Source of information not reliable.”
Harold Edmund Bennett was flying a 64 Squadron Spitfire, Mark VB from Hornchurch, when it was lost on 17th May 1942 near Cap Gris-Nez. He was a Student from 79 Hoole Road, Hoole, Chester and was 20 years old. Sgt H E Bennett POW No. 795 was in SL3, SL6 and S357.
In May 1942, both Derek Thrower and Clement Murray (Ray) Chown were passed as fit and were sent to and arrived at Sagan, Thrower being immediately put in the cooler to serve his remaining 2 weeks of solitary for his earlier escape.
The cell was square and small and built of concrete with a tiny barred window high up on the wall, furnished with the usual wooden trestle bed on which he was not allowed to sit or lay down on during the day. A single pipe passed through the cell which acted as a type of radiator for maximum discomfort. There were no blankets. The diet consisted of the usual plain bread and water.
Throwing caution to the wind, Thrower one day, sat down against the wall and heard a faint tapping sound through the pipe. It was very faint and difficult to locate but he replied and very faintly heard a voice. Listening to the gap around the pipe he heard a very faint voice asking him to identify himself with a tone of urgency.
‘The speaker told me that he was a Squadron Leader Bushell. He had escaped into Czechoslovakia and joined up with a group of partisans. They were caught, and the Gestapo had interrogated him, accusing him of sabotage and demanding that he be executed. He had been sent to Stalag Luft 3, and placed in a cell until a decision could be reached between the Gestapo and the Luftwaffe as to whose prisoner he was. Bushell went on to say that he had been unable to make any form of contact with anybody else, and was afraid that he would be taken away again and shot.’
The conversation was then interrupted by the guard approaching who showed only limited interest so the conversation resumed. Thrower asked Bushell what he wanted him to do.
‘He replied by asking me how much longer l would be in gaol, and when l told him l thought it would be another two days, he asked me to see the senior British officer, tell him of our conversation and ask him to get in touch with the Swiss Red Cross immediately and demand his release before it was too late.’
He promised to help and two days later he was released and moved into the non-commissioned officer’s compound where he asked to immediately see the SBO.
‘Dixie Deans, Warrant Officer, aircrew, was the camp leader. I told him Bushell’s story, and said that in my opinion Bushell was in great danger. Dean promised me that he would see the senior British officer that day, and would do everything to make sure that Bushell would be released. I was impressed by Dean’s stature and authority.’
‘Bushell was released from the jail and put into the officer’s compound. The sequel, however, was tragic. He was involved in the ‘Great Escape’ and was one of the prisoners to get out of the tunnel and make his escape, only to be caught and handed over to the Gestapo – who made sure that he would not get away from them again by shooting him in cold blood.’
Thrower was destined to leave Sagan in October 1942 to be sent to Barth.
Dieppe Raid – August 1942.
In the Summer of 1942, Grimson made his first solo escape attempt when he noticed that the German in charge of the stores where he helped out, looked very similar to himself. Grimson ‘acquired’ the German corporal’s pay book and camp pass. These were quickly smuggled into the camp and passed to Sgt. Stan Harrison, chief of the forgery department, who quickly copied them so that the originals could be returned to their owner. A German fatigue uniform was made for Grimson from old towels with German badges, a leather belt and a pistol holder made from cardboard, stained brown with boot polish. An RAF cap was adjusted to resemble the German version to complete the disguise. Underneath this, to complete his disguise once he was out, Grimson wore a civilian coat.
Grimson casually walked up to the gate carrying a jam tin fashioned to look like a bucket containing scrubbing brushes and cloths but also his escape rations and the rest of his civilian disguise. The sentry opened the gate without any comment, hardly looking at his papers and let him through. The small band of watchers who were in on the escape, watched Grimson cross the outer compound and pass over to the outer gate through which the German quarters lay. The guard took a quick look at the papers and let him pass through.
Grimson’s pass would not let him out of the main gate at that time and he would have to wait 6 hours until darkness and he knew that there would be plenty of Officers and senior NCO’s looking out for malingering or soldiers looking to make an early departure. He hid in the lavatory then in an air-raid shelter before darkness fell and he slipped away through the gate by the officer’s mess.
Once into the woods, he quickly changed into his civilian outfit and made straight for the railway station. His papers passed scrutiny and he then purchased a ticket to a point on his journey to the Swiss border.
At the next stop, however, another ticket was required and at this point, by additional examination his papers were found to be faulty. He never found out what was wrong but he was soon back at Sagan and in for a 14 day stint in the cooler.
Derek Thrower recalls Grimson:-
‘A young prisoner named Grimson had his bunk just across the room from us. He was a slim quiet person who spoke German fluently. Every day he was to be seen talking with one of the overalled guards, always the same guard. The two would stand by an open window talking animatedly to each other. We came to the conclusion that Grimson was intent on brushing up his German.’
Many others considered his fraternisation as much more than this.
‘One day Grimson was missing. He had escaped. The method used was a brilliant conceived idea and well executed.’
Greta Bridge lies in the Pennine Hills, near Barnard Castle, County Durham.
Cal Younger recall’s:-
“The business of learning to live this hyper-gregarious existence was not easy. You talked, ate, slept and walked with the same men, even sat beside them in the latrine. You looked back on the days of solitary confinement almost with longing. There were the times when the impossibility of being alone, even for a few minutes, drove you almost to madness”.
“Some, in time, developed a kind of inward solitude, enviable, yet dangerous, for the mind involuted was likely to become hazed in a miasma of self-sympathy. The melancholic was pitiful but he was a burden, and sometimes a menace.”
Combines of two, three or four men formed together to pool rations and share chores and proved to be one of the most important factors for the prisoner’s survival. It was considered to be the substitute for the family, few men chose to go it alone, known as “one man combines”.
The German dry rations were issued from, and the cooked rations were cooked in, the two main cookhouses. This work was done by volunteer prisoners under German supervision. Vic Salvage was known to be one of these cooks. The German’s fed the prisoners on bread, made from rye and sawdust, bad potatoes and a daily issue of vegetables or grain. These were supplemented by Red Cross parcels, which would prove all important. These parcels were raised in either Britain or America and sailed, with Red Cross flags, through dangerous waters but secured safe passage through enemy lines to the prisoners. In the early days, these parcels were few and far between, maybe half a parcel in three months but this soon increased to allow the prisoners to improve their overall fitness and mental ability to take on prison life.
The rations of fuel issued by the Germans to barracks for heating, and the cooking of the Red Cross food, was always inadequate.
The rations of fuel issued by the Germans to barracks for heating, and the cooking of the Red Cross food, was always inadequate.
The prisoners entertained themselves in many ways, through education, theatre, sport and the like. A well attended debating society was organised and Sgt. Peter J M Thomas, an Oxford law student, destined to become an MP and the first Welsh Chairman of the Conservative Party and known as Lord Thomas of Gwydir, was a prominent contender. As a POW Thomas continued his legal studies, writing for inmates, conducting long-distance divorces and appearing in a Nazi court in Hamburg for an RAF prisoner accused of sabotage during an air raid; he secured an acquittal.
Peter John Mitchell Thomas was born in 1920, the son of a Llabrwst solkicitor. He was educated at the village school from where he went to Epworth College, Ryhl (The scene of his Welsh home rule motion, which was lost by two votes). At Jesus College, Oxford, he read law. Called up when war broke out in 1939, he served in the RAF as a bomber pilot, with 51 Squadron and was shot down in Whitley Z6563 MH-T over Germany on the night of 19th/20th June 1941 on a raid on Dusseldorf. He was a POW for the remainder of the war, using periods of enforced inactivity to continue his legal studies. Camps? All his crew became POW’s and consisted of P/O A J Brewster, Sgt P J M Thomas, Sgt J B Whitworth, Sgt A S Tarry and Sgt Mann, who, being injured, was repatriated after a stay in hospital.
Learning became an important part of the Kriegies life, trying not to waste their time in captivity, looking to better themselves after the war. Students could learn languages, take London University math’s exams, even the intermediate examinations for some degrees. Institutes of secretaries, accountants and bankers sent syllabuses and arranged examinations for the prisoners of the Stalag University. It is not unusual to see under qualification on their returning Liberation questionnaires, that they are still awaiting some exam results completed either before or during their captivity.
Two rival bands of Stan Parris and Johnny Fender, practiced long and hard and provided the music for the shows. Johnny Fender of Failsworth, Lancashire, an RAF regular of 148 Squadron Bomber Command was captured of the Dutch Coast on 29th August 1940 and spent the war in Stalag Lufts, 1, 3, 6 and Stalag 357 Thorne and Fallingbostal. His Liberation Questionnaire is dated 11th May 1945, the same as Kens.
Model makers were also in good supply and some excellent models were produced and entered into model making competitions. One hut held a large collection of British and German airplanes in suspended flight, whilst the fire pool became a regular place for various model boats to be shown off and sailed.
The “Canary”, the camp radio, was also hidden in a model, the previous one that was hidden in an accordion having been discovered, and passed to a German museum to display. John Bristow, who built radios from mess-tins, and any odds and ends which he could lay his hands on was known as ‘Curly Bristow’ because of his crop of tight curly fair hairs. John Bristow, the wireless operator of an 82 Squadron Blenheim shot down on 8th August 1941 had made this version, the hiding place for which, changed many times to protect it. Sometimes in a gramophone, a model ship or airplane, or even in a jam tin, which, had jam in the top. This was a real breakthrough for the POW’s as they now had new from home, as opposed to the German version of events, as was posted around the camp each day by their captives. The English news was transcribed into shorthand by Daily Express reporters Ron Mogg and Cyril Aynsley and read out in each barrack block by selected readers to hide the fact that the radio was in existence. The news had to be repeated in a typical BBC accent to ensure the importance of the message was delivered. The prisoners would debate at length any scrap of news received and it was important that they heard it in the tone that it was originally delivered.
The sergeants also used semaphore to pass the news to the Officers compound, which did give them a bit of pride as they were the radio gurus.
In ‘John Dominy’s’ book, written by Ron Mogg, “The Sergeant Escapers”, he recalls that David Young, a BBC back-room boy produced a basic wiring diagram for John Bristow, who set about trying to ‘find’ the parts. To quote Ron Mogg:-
““Some limited working parties were still allowed, and when John Bristow volunteered as a dustman – “Temporary, acting/unpaid” to quote him – he found a positive Ali Baba’s cave in the Barth dust-tip. One of the things he scrounged and got working was a small immersion heater, which suitably adapted could give him warm water for shaving or a quick brew-up”.
“A tuning condenser was made from an old French mess-tin; the transformer was hand-wound from ‘spare’ wire taken from the German lighting system. It was a little large at first and had to be hidden in the false bottom of a jam tin used for rubbish. Smoothing condensers were made from the tin-foil tops of cigarette tins inserted between Bible leaves (the only source of thin India paper), then turned over at the ends and soldered. The whole was then boiled in paraffin wax from alter candles acquired in a most dubious way (some Communion wine was also ‘seen off’ at the same time).”
“But the great problem was to get valves. Everything else could be home-made, but not the ‘Toobs’ as ‘Bris’ insisted on calling them. A quick sleight of hand by Sandy Sands, another Regular, while he was working in the Vorlager left a German radio deficient of a full set of valves.”
“Perhaps the home-made earphones were one of the most interesting pieces of equipment. These lasted until the end of the war. The magnets were made by crushing razor blades and annealing them into a core, which was then wrapped in wire from an electric shaver. Diaphragms came from the ubiquitous thin seals on tinned cigarettes and the whole earphone was placed in a plastic tooth-powder container with a hole cut in the lid. The phones were then stuck in a scrum cap and you were in business.”
Ink was banned from the prisoners, yet once a drawing was complete it could be kept. Classes were held to help prisoners perfect their drawing skills and many a sketch was copied by a number of prisoners.
The camp theatre also thrived with well thought out lavish productions of shows such as ‘For the Love of Mike’, ‘Girls, Girls, Girls,’ ‘Merchant of Venice’ and ‘Thru the Sheet Music’. (See the photo’s later in this story). The theatre was housed in its own hut, set aside for use as a chapel and theatre, where tons of earth had been excavated by the prisoners so that the floor could be stepped, with a good size stage and comfortable seats built from Red Cross parcels. This was actively encouraged by the German’s who could see that whilst this was going on, escape was not, but also using it as a punishment to offenders where breaks in the rules where established. Reprisals were swift, where the mass paid for the transgressions’ of the few, not to say that the guilty did not suffer. Delaying mail deliveries was also a frequent punishment, sometimes for punishment for apparent breaks off the Geneva convention that occurred to German prisoner’s far away.
Solitary confinement was given out for moderate crimes such as smoking during appell, which carried a week’s sentence, with its rations of bread and water. It proved difficult to avoid this punishment as those who ignored the ruling were easily caught out by the amount of smoke produced but also by the unfailing nose of “Smoky Joe”, a lean rounded shouldered German Guard, with a Hitler Moustache who easily detected the aroma of tobacco.
“Jerry” or “Goon” baiting was practiced in most camps with various degrees to enthusiasm, basic school boy humour formed the basis of this. To outwit the Germans, to embarrass them or humiliate them by subtle means was altogether different as this required guile and cunning and a greater intelligence than their captors. Dixie Deans used this to his complete advantage. When the German’s showed no control of the assembled prisoners as they threatened various degrees of punishment unless order was restored, Deans would let it continue, the count be completed and then bring the prisoners to attention on a single word of command, demonstrating to the Germans who was in control. He would also use this time to make announcements on domestic matters, whilst the Germans stood guard.
n one occasion, a special day of prayers was organised, when the dishevelled rabble, overnight became a well-dressed, clean and organised parade, carrying out their marching orders to the letter, with hats at the correct angle, boots shining and ties set.
Whilst in Stalag Luft 3, George Overill received a letter from Mrs Nicholls asking for information about her son who was lost on the 1st July 1941. This letter was shown to Robert McDonald who responded to Mrs Nicholls. I have since been in touch with Charlotte Gerlings, who was able to supply me with this letter sent to her Grandmother, Barrie Nicholls mother and hidden behind the picture in the picture frame.
The letter reads:-
Dear Mrs Nicholls, A few days ago my friend, George Overill, showed me your letter, asking if it was possible to supply any information that might be available concerning your missing son. Please forgive me madame for taking the liberty of writing to you but I feel sure the occasion justifies it. I was one of the crew of three in a dinghy in the North Sea, who feel responsible for the loss of that gallant crew which, l have since learned, died in the act of helping their unfortunate comrades. In the afternoon of the 1st July (1941), we were sighted by a four engined bomber returning home. He immediately circled ………………..giving our position to the rescue services. He circled for about an hour when suddenly from the clouds appeared an overwhelming force of enemy planes which attacked him. He had to leave us-the challenge was taken up by the bomber and he disappeared with guns blazing beyond the horizon.
A few weeks after being taken prisoner, l met a fellow who was on your son’s squadron, and he confirmed that the plane had been shot down over the sea and that there were no survivors. Dear Madame, accept on behalf of my crew and myself my deepest sympathy in your bereavement for a son who died upholding the traditions of the RAF. Overill and myself are fit and well. I do so hope that you and your family are the same.
I am, Madame, Yours Sincerely.
It is not clear when this letter was written or who instigated it but based on the fact that there is no mention of Fenton or Fuller, it is thought that it was sent after they had departed for Stalag Luft VI but this was 2 years later than the tragic event. Sgt. Leslie Ernest John Davenport was shot down on 7th September 1941 with 7 Squadron, was captured and became a POW. He had previously flown with F/O D T Witt and had witnessed the demise of Kinnane’s aircraft and the loss of Barry Nicholls himself.
Due to the number of RAF aircrew being shot down each day, the prisoner numbers were increased every now and then over what was considered full capacity. As N.C.O.’s commissions came through they would become Warrant Officer’s and be ‘promoted’ to the officers compound. Other times, residents from occupied countries who had escaped to England to become pilots and hidden themselves under assumed names, were ‘discovered’ and taken away to concentration camps, allowing others to take their place.
Whilst here, Overill was draughted into the cobbler’s shop where his duties were to make, mend and repair boots and shoes. In addition, one of his tasks was to go to all the new ‘intake’ of captured flyers and secure their flying boots. The rubber heels were then removed and substituted for wooden ones allowing the rubber heals to be used to manufacture counterfeit stamps for passes, documents, etc. for future escape attempts. He also helped to make or convert boots into shoes for the big ‘break out’. He was given the chance to go, as was anyone who worked on the escape attempt but being claustrophobic; he declined the offer, which probably saved his life.
A relaxation of the rules occurred on Christmas Eve, 1942, when the prisoners were allowed time after lights out, to visit the other barracks or the latrines up to 11.00 PM, rather than 6.00 PM., certain rules had to be followed but the prisoners knew these and hoped that the Guards also did.
On Christmas morning, Hauptmann Pfeiffer, a schoolmaster before the war, passed round and wished everyone a happy Christmas as much as the circumstances would allow.
Twenty four German officers attended the Christmas showing of Aladdin, two of them departing half way through with venom in their voices, they marched out of the POW’s compound to the strains of ‘Land of hope and glory’, explaining that they had to leave early for duties elsewhere and through the German compound. At the first gate, the guard was a small distance from his post and received a rebuke for not being at his post. The guard, full of apologises, let them pass.
Did they not like the show? The sight of the high kicking ‘girls’ in a camp starved of women was an interesting concept but the applause was so loud that Stan Parrish’s orchestra struggled to be heard. The other German’s seemed as entertained by the show as much as the prisoners.
The Guards, not wanting to challenge these two and receive their wroth, let them through, except at the outer gate, numbers were also required as well as a pass to prove identity. The German officers cursed the guards for keeping them waiting and were again let through with apologises.
It was only when the twenty four German Officers left later that evening that the true situation was discovered. George Grimson and Allan Morris had made their escape, only to be captured, 2 days later, when they showed more courtesy than was expected from a German Officer.
Again Sgt. Stan Harrison’s forgery department had produced the documentation necessary for the escape and Len Burroughs had produced the German uniforms to go over their civilian clothing. Both Grimson and Morris had again noticed that they had near doubles serving as officers in the German guard company, whom they had sort to impersonate. They had both been laying in wait for 3 nights, fully disguised in their German uniforms waiting for the right moment when the two clones attended the show.
Once again outside the wire, they quickly changed into their civilian clothes, disguised as foreign workers, walked quickly to Sagan station and caught a train as scheduled.
The Germans were on their trail within an hour but they travelled to the outskirts of Leipzig before being caught.
Grimson and Morris had re-sparked the wish to escape again within the prisoner of war fraternity.
Sergeants Paddy Flockhart and Chandler, part of the central core of the escape committee, devised a scheme to simply crawl across 200 yards of prison compound in the dead of night and cut their way through the wire. The escape committee consisting of Grimson, Alexander and Morris knew what was ahead of the two hopeful escapees, with searchlights sweeping the compound under cover of Garman machine gunners and considered the proposed attempt foolhardy but nevertheless approved the scheme and gave it the escape committee’s full backing.
With blackened faces, the two escapees were caught by recently introduced dog patrols and were led without fuss to the cooler. For Flockhart this was but a small interlude as later on he made a successful escape and returned to England along the Grimson line.
A similar attempt was made by Sergeants Saxon and Joyce but they were not so luck and caught in the open, were racked by machine gun fire. Saxon was unhurt but Joyce died some time later in hospital from his wounds. The prisoners tried their best to save him without much success but it later transpired that the medical attention that he received was not sufficient and his life could have possibly been saved. Joyce was given the correct military burial, the Germans probably realising their error. Shortly after this Sergeant Fancy, known as the ‘Mole’, arrived from Schubin POW camp and proceeded to push for more tunnels rather than the more accepted method of through or over the wire, but tunnelling at Sagan had many drawbacks. The prisoners at Sagan had also come from many other camps where tunnels had not been successful so they were not high on the priority. Following lengthy discussions between the Sagan and Schubin prisoners, it was agreed that both methods had their merits and an action plan was agreed, supported by the now enhanced size of the Tally-Ho club.
Sergeant John Neil Prendergrast was soon in charge of tunnels and with some zeal, they started to appear. The first attempt suffered near disaster following a major cave in halfway towards the fence, which simple strengthened their resolve to produce stronger better tunnels in future.
Grimson and Flockhart were loners in their attempts and Flockhart made a further attempt in April 1943 when, pretending to have tooth ache, he passed through the first gate into the dental area of the hospital from where, in a German uniform he joined the German bath party and marched out of the camp. To add to the spice of those in the know who were watching, he:-
“Marched out of the camp with the other Germans, singing their favourite song, ‘Orido’. They always sang this when they marched; it reminded us of the Seven Dwarfs in ‘Snow White’.” Flockhart was caught after three days out after sleeping overnight.
Grimson meanwhile hatched a plan to dress up as a German officer and march four prisoners out of the compound but he ran out of time and resources before they were moved out.
The escape committee was formed of a number of different departments or organisations, the most well-known department being the ‘X’ organisation, with Big ‘X’ and Little ‘X’ being the head and assistant head. This was the most well-known as it was responsible for the area of undercover work dealing with planned escape attempts, organised tunnel digging and devised other methods of exit from the camp. The escape committee would usually try to help any POW’s determined to try an escape attempt, but it naturally gave priority to those persons deemed to have the best chance of success and with the best ideas, for instance, priority might be given to persons fluent in one of the European languages.
Two other departments of the escape committee were the ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ organisations.
The ‘Y’ department was the section responsible for the forgery of maps, making substitute clothes and advice and procurement of food, money and perhaps a compass or other scrounged items. It also organized the system of look-outs, to protect the various undercover activities.
Getting out of the camps was only the first part of a planned escape and if after months of tunnelling you were apprehended at the first check-point, it would become a very demoralising thing. There were checks at most strategic points such as railway stations and major bridges, but also police and Gestapo made on the spot identity checks, particularly on any form of transport, and an escaper not adequately prepared would have been unlikely to survive for too long. In most cases, documents had to be forged.
Anyone adept at drawing or painting was encouraged into the forgery department or ‘Y’ organisation as initially all forgeries were produced entirely by hand drawing using a brush and Indian ink, with rubber stamps being carved out later to be used on multiple documents.
Bribing or even blackmailing a guard was the normal method of obtaining prohibited articles but some items were almost impossible to obtain in that way and so a method of obtaining contraband from England had to be established and this was done by including these articles in so called personal parcels. Whilst all parcels were supposed to be opened and checked by the camp security staff, POWs were used as labour to unload the parcels from railway trucks onto camp wagons, and to unload the wagons again at the camp. It was not difficult for parcels containing contraband to carry some prearranged distinguishing mark. The attention of the guards would then be distracted for the brief moment and the marked parcel would be set aside. A number of items useful for the camp’s undercover activities, including cameras complete with a supply of film and photographic processing chemicals, were obtained this way.
Different currencies were also sent this way for the intended use of escapees. At Stalag Luft VI, Heydekrug, a marked parcel had slipped through the system without being spotted and was being opened by the German security staff in front of the designated recipient. The parcel contained a box full of European money and upon opening it, the German stared in amazement before rushing to the chief security officer, telling him to come and see what he had found. Having turned his back only for a matter of seconds, but it was enough for several POWs waiting for their parcels to grab a handful of money and to stuff it into their pockets. The examiner could see that some of the money had been taken, but could say nothing as he would probably face a disciplinary charge for having left the money unattended.
And finally, there was Department ‘Z’, who’s activities included operation of the camp’s secret radio. Probably most importantly, Z maintained contact with the RAF intelligence section in England by means of written codes. This was done in the early years of the war, by giving a few aircrew instruction on written codes in case they were ever captured and taken as prisoners-of-war. This training was very restricted and in many cases tended to be reserved for officers rather than NCO’s. Training was given more widely as to how other aircrew might work out a code with their own family or friends in case they were captured.
Information was obviously about anything they could find out that they thought maybe of use but would include details of lost aircraft and aircrew, information that would be passed onto the RAF intelligence section.
As more and more aircrew became prisoners, so the knowledge of the codes and latest methods became available and the debriefing of all new POW’s became more important to find out what they knew, any useful items of information being sent back to England by coded POW mail. The POW’s would also respond to requests for information. This was not as glamourous as the escape activities, but just as important.
These clandestine POW activities had to take place virtually under the noses of the snooping German security staff and all huts had a ‘Duty Look-out’. If a guard or other suspect approached a hut, as described earlier, the look-out gave a shout of ‘Goon Up’ and all illegal activities would then cease be hidden.
As the weather warmed in the spring, the flies arrived in black clouds and sickness and dysentery became the norm., the only cure being to eat nothing, but this reduced their strength measurably. Quite often, lice followed.
Rumours spread, one of which was that the Officers were to be moved and the two compounds merged into one for N.C.O.’s, moving some over from Lamsdorff, but this never happened. The other rumour was true instead, and it transpired that the N.C.O.’s were to be moved to a new camp, especially for NCO’s at Heydekrug, to make Sagan an officer’s camp.
Just prior to Fenton and Fuller being moved onto Stalag Luft VI, Overill, McDonald, Raybould and Daggett were moved to hut 101 in the notorious North Compound, the site of the Great Escape. The Great Escape took place in March 1944 from hut 104. Hut 102 was the ablution block. It is not clear as to why McDonald remained at Stalag Luft 3 rather than go with his fellow crewmembers but it was clear that he had already formed an alliance with the HSL crew.
The time came for the prisoners to be transferred. They took all their collection of belongings with them. It appeared that nothing was to be left behind.
George Grimson again escaped as the prisoners were being moved to Stalag Luft 6 and was seen aboard the same train as the other prisoners, but different to them, he was travelling in somewhat comfort as he was impersonating a member of the Gestapo.
This escape had been encouraged at a time when the disruption and confusion of the move to Heydekrug was on the mind of most. He disguised himself as one of the German Ferrets with a German field-service cap, set of German overalls and leather belts and proceeded to ‘test’ the boundary lighting, with a large ammeter fashioned from tins and dangling leads. Whilst the prisoners were preparing to leave, so was Grimson. Members of the ‘Tally-Ho’ club checked to ensure that all the ferrets and guards had left the compound and passed the message to Grimson. The breaks, if any, were expected as the NCO’s departed, outside the wire, rather than from within. The reports came back that the compound was clear.
After the usual wishes of luck, Grimson slipped out of his hut and strolled through the compound, picking up a ladder from the camp theatre on the way. There was plenty of movement outside the compound, it was 3.00 PM and members of the Tally-Ho club watched, ready to stage a diversion if it proved necessary.
Grimson continued through the compound to a spot 10 feet from a guard machine gun tower, calling up to the guard he stepped over the warning wire. He set his ladder against the fence and proceeded to test the lights by placing a plank across the two barbed wire fence lines. He tested a few bulbs, shouting to the guard each time he had to move.
A moments panic ensued when a real German ferret entered the compound but he was quickly invited into a hut with an offer of a cup of tea and some chocolate, which the prisoners could not possibly carry with them. Twice Grimson was questioned by patrolling guards but each time he convinced them he was looking for a broken wire.
Nearly half an hour later, whilst still on his plank, he dropped some pliers just inside the outer wire and requested of the guards that he descend and get them and return via the gate. Confirmation was received but Grimson did not rush. He slowly lowered himself down, cracked a joke with the guard and retrieved his pliers. He walked down the line, commenting to each guard post as he passed by and then slipped quietly into the woods that surrounded the camp. Grimson found an old hut and hid up for a few hours until it was almost dark. Grimson then changed into his civilian outfit and buried his previous identity and with his food and equipment followed the prisoners to the startion.
Slightly later, another prisoner walked up to the guard tower and informed the German guard that he wanted his ladder back for the next theatre production. The guard obliged and he went over to the wire, retrieved the ladder and took it back, thereby concealing how Grimson had actually exited the camp.
Sergeants Gilbert and Wilkie tried to escape also, following the Dentist route as tried by Flockhart earlier, but were foiled on their attempt.
The advance party of NCO’s continued to be prepared for departure. First of all they had a lecture from Oberst von Lindeiner about the dangers of escape and then from the Senior British Officer, Group Captain Macdonald, who advised them of their duty. Wings Day waved his cap to the departing NCO’s from the Officers compound as did many other friends and comrades. The NCO’s both inside and outside the compound were counted again and with a proper cover up, the correct numbers were found.
The train at Sagan indicated that it was ready to go and Dixie marched the NCO’s out towards the railway station in smart order. “Eyes Right” was ordered as they passed by the gate of the officer’s compound and Wings, Massey and Macdonald came sharply to attention and returned the salute. A cheer followed the prisoners from the officer’s compound.
The German civilians watched as the prisoners were pushed into the cattle trucks before the train began to trundle over a desolate landscape, no different to that that surrounded Sagan, with it’s pine forest all around. The prisoners watched train loads of tanks going to the Russian front and returning damaged tanks and wounded returning to the repair yards and hospitals. They estimated the number of wounded to see how the war was going. The prisoners were packed into the carriages, the windows were wired up and the heat was turned up full. The guards stood along the corridor.
They spent the night in a marshalling yard whilst the nearby capital of Berlin received another blasting, pieces of flak rained down on the trucks. The prisoners watched with excitement whilst the German guards looked much more worried.
From the train, the prisoners saw the horrors of the concentration camps as they trundled by. Outwardly, no different from the prisoner of war camps they also passed, but they had heard stories of atrocities committed in these camps, which they found difficult to believe.
On the journey at a station stop, the prisoners witnessed men, women and children being pushed into cattle tucks, the children, clearly unaware of what lay ahead of them. Many must have died on this journey as they were packed so tightly. The children had no chance. Cal Younger recall’s that he “watched on of the guards surveying the scene, pale with horror at such a sight.” The Cattle trucks bore the words “Forty Hommes, eight Chevaux”, they knew where the priority was.
The train also passed Tilsit at the Niemen River crossing, where Napoleon and the Russian Czar, upon a raft, had formed their pact and Napoleon commenced his famous retreat.
Then onward the train continued towards Memel, but stopped short of the sea port at Heydekrug, just West of Lithuania.
George Grimson meanwhile had changed trains to avoid being discovered and was making his way towards the Baltic. He was on his way to Stettin in the hope of stowing away on a ship. On his fifth day of freedom, he was arrested as he tried to board a Swedish ship.
From the Station at Heydekrug, the prisoners were marched under a hot sun along a dusty road and they were soon to discover that they were again about to lose their relative freedom once more to a new camp.
Cal Younger recall’s in his book, “No Flight from the cage”:-
“Recumbent in long, green grass in the Vorlager we waited for the endless dragooning and searching and counting. We could see the grass was lush in the main compound, too, but within weeks thousands of boots would destroy every blade of it and reduce the topsoil to the grey dust that we knew so well.”
“None of the prisoners on the train had escaped, but Grimson had left the train somewhere in Poland and had made his way to Stettin in the guise of a Polish conscript worker. A self-appointed espionage agent and saboteur, he mingled with slave labourers to whom he reported the progress of the war against Germany, gathered information, and made contact with the Underground Movement, a liaison which was to have far-reaching effects.”
“From one Baltic port to another he went, seeking no way home for himself, but discovering how each port was organised. He possessed forged papers, but these were supposedly valid only in the Stettin area. Detained on suspicion at Rostock, he argued so convincingly that the authorities issued him with a rail pass back to Stettin. There he was caught in a net spread for a Russian prisoner who had murdered a German N.C.O.”
“The Germans were pleased to make this unexpected capture. The Russian, too, had been caught, and for one night shared a cell with Grimson. They spent the night hilariously chasing bed-bugs, and the Russian was disgruntled when the game had to end at dawn, the appointed hour of his execution.”
Contrary to this report, it is recorded that F/Sgt. D D P Leitch escaped from the train and was recaptured 150 kilometres away near the Baltic coast.