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Forces War Records Blog

YOU MUST HAVE WATCHED THE GREAT ESCAPE WITH STEVE MCQUEEN?

Did you know that the 1963 film was based on a real escape from a German Prisoner of War camp, during the Second World War, in 1944? Sadly, one of the few remaining survivors of the camp, Frank Stone, from Hathersage, Derbyshire, has died at the age of 91.

Then, the young 18-year-old RAF gunner, found himself in Stalag Luft III in Zagan after his bomber crashed in Mannheim, Germany, 1940. He was housed in hut 104 with 76 other airmen who tried to escape via a 348ft tunnel.
 

The plot aimed to free 200 men and was the single greatest freedom attempt by POWs in the war– hence inspiring Hollywood. Mr Stone, who had helped dispose of the soil and helped the escape committee draw up the tunnel plans, never made it away with the other escapees — the alarm was sounded before he could join them. Out of the 76 men who used the tunnel to get away, 50 were shot after being recaptured and only three managed to get away making home runs to Britain. The mastermind of the escape plan, Roger Bushell, was among the 50 who were shot. The remaining 26 were returned to the camp and Mr Stone was eventually freed towards the end of the war. In a BBC interview in 2009, Mr Stone said the atmosphere on the night of the escape had been "electric". "It was all very tense - but at 5 o'clock, a shot rang out and we knew they had been discovered. "It was very sad and we were advised not to make any further attempts to escape," said Mr Stone. At the end of the war Mr Stone was finally freed from Stalag Luft III that held 10,000 RAF crew at the height of its occupation. In 1947, 18 soldiers who shot those who were recaptured were put before a military tribunal in Hamburg. Thirteen of them were executed, while the rest received long prison sentences. Mr Stone’s widow, Jane, 69, told the BBC: "He gave lots of talks about the escape and always said he was doing it in memory of those 50.
 
"Frank could never understand why people where so interested in him, but they were." She added: "Frank was an orderly to the engineer who drew up the escape plans so he had full knowledge of what was going on. ‘It was decided the first 50 to escape would be the ones who had the best chance of reaching freedom, those who could speak German or had some knowledge of German. "Frank's name went into the hat for the order of escape. A total of 200 were to go out first followed by a second 200 the following night. Frank was no 215 so he never got a chance." Mr Stone, who was promoted to Warrant Officer while in the camp, survived the 'Long March' which claimed 300 lives when the Germans evacuated prisoners with the Russians approaching. He was later finally freed and returned home. Jane added: "He saw The Great Escape and always used to say what was shown on the camp in the film was the truth but everything filmed outside the camp was pure Hollywood. "But he said if the film had never been made then no one would ever have heard the story of the great escape and it was a story that should never be forgotten." Sources: BBCDaily Mail Prisoner of War camps Over 100,000 soldiers of the British Army were captured during the Second World War war and placed in prisoner of war camps. All PoWs were allegedly protected by rules for the treatment of prisoners of war, which had been established in the Geneva Convention of 1929. Forces War Records have a large database of World War II Prisoners of War and if you are researching them you might find it helpful to know that there were two types of POW camps run by the Germans that soldiers of the British Army were assigned to, including: Oflag – camp for officers Stalag – camp for lower ranks There were separate camps for navy, aircrews, and civilians. The German camps were named according to a numbering system, beginning with a Roman numeral representing the military district the camp was located in. Following the Roman numeral could be a letter. This letter represented a specific camp within the military district. If the camp was a sub-camp, "/Z" was then appended to the end of the number. If the camp was a main camp, then the "/H" was appended to the end of the number. See our PoW tutorial.

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