The Great Escape: online British records unearth POW tales
The records recount gruesome details of life for Allied soldiers held in Germany, Austria and Poland in World War II, including being forced to extract gold from dead Jews' bodies.London – Daredevil tales of prisoners-of-war escaping from Colditz and other German camps were revealed on Thursday, as records of over 100,000 soldiers caught by the Nazis were put online.
In what is claimed to be a world first, the records also recount gruesome details of life for Allied soldiers held in Germany, Austria and Poland in World War II, including being forced to extract gold from dead Jews' bodies.
"The unwavering spirit of British prisoners of war was astounding, with many trying to escape their captors at every opportunity in order to rejoin the war effort," said Daniel Jones of Ancestry.co.uk, which put the records online.
The records, which previously have only been available to those prepared to search through mountains of dusty archives, are mostly of British servicemen, along with a few hundred Australian and Canadian soldiers.
They reveal the real-life tales which inspired films including ‘The Great Escape’, in which POWs dig tunnels called Tom, Dick and Harry, and Steve McQueen famously roars to freedom on a motorbike over the razor wire.
Among the POWs whose escapades are recounted are:
– "Jock" Hamilton-Baillie, a serial escaper who found ways out of five separate camps, including the infamous Colditz Castle from which he nearly escaped dressed in a skin-tight black burglar's cat suit.
– Viscount George Henry Hubert Lascelles, the 7th Earl of Harewood who is 40th in line to the English throne -- and was seventh in line at the time he was captured -- was imprisoned in Colditz from 1944 until the end of the war.
– Desmond Wilkinson Llewelyn, the actor who played 'Q' in the James Bond films, who was held for five years in the Oflag IX-A/Z German prison camp.
More grimly, some prisoners told of cruel abuse by their Nazi captors.
"One of the jobs assigned to prisoners within the camps was the digging up of graves in a Jewish cemetery and taking the gold from the corpses," said James Wicketts, detained in Stalag XXIB in Schubin, Poland.
"Many of us refused to participate, quoting the Geneva Convention in protest, but our pleas fell on deaf ears," he added, according to the Daily Telegraph.
And he added: "On numerous occasions, the guards would line us up in the deep snow, where we would be kept standing for as long as they wished.
"When the guards grew bored, they would take their rifles and would charge into us, knocking down the unlucky ones."
AFP / Expatica