The Great Escape- The South African Pilots

The Great Escape; Stalag Luft III; Old Garnison cemetery; Poznan; South African World War II pilots; Prisoners of war; Steve McQueen the Great escape

The great escape from Stalag Luft III Nazi camp and our fallen heroes.

I receive a monthly newsletter with news from South Africans living abroad. The newsletter is a treat, because it is written in my native language Afrikaans. Today a very interesting article by a lady living in Poland caught my eye. Karen Kuhn wrote that on the 1st of November a day is set aside in Poland and in other countries around the world, to bring tribute to fallen soldiers.

The Great Escape; Stalag Luft III; Old Garnison cemetery; Poznan; South African World War II pilots; Prisoners of war; Steve McQueen the Great escape
Memorial to “The 50” at Stalag Luft III in Poland. The scene of the “Great Escape” by allied POWs in March 1944. 50 prisoners were murdered by the Nazis after being recaptured.

She and a group of South African students and colleagues, visited a cemetery in Citadel Park, close to the Old Garnison cemetery in Poznan, Poland. They brought candles and were looking for the South Africans that were laid to rest there.

Many fallen soldiers during World War I and II from all over the world were laid to rest at this cemetery.

the role of South Africans during World War I and II

It is here where they found the graves of 4 South African pilots that were captured during World War II by the German Nazis. We learned about World War I and II in history but many things were left out, for example, the men and women that made a difference. I doubt if they are teaching it to our younger generation now or if they ever will. As a South African it saddens me a great deal. Let`s go back in time and learn more about our heroes.

Many South African men were ordered to serve during World War I and II and many more volunteered to help. Some were very young and many died or were injured. Not only did white South Africans help but many Blacks, Coloureds, and Indians.

The reason why I am mentioning the statistics is that people like to bring “Apartheid” into the equation and never stop to think that even during “Apartheid” the country managed to unite and do something good. That is a real thorn in my side.

334,000 men volunteered for full-time service which included 211,000 Whites, 77,000 Blacks and 46,000 Coloureds and Indians.

The Great Escape during World War II

A movie was based on the true story of the Great Escape during World War II starring Steve McQueen. It was one of the greatest escape stories. 76 Prisoners of War planned and managed to escape from the Stalag Luft III Nazi camp. Unfortunately, 50 were caught and executed on Hitler`s direct orders. Four of them were South African pilots.

Roger Bushell played an important role in the Great Escape. He organized and led the escape and was the brain behind the whole plan. Richard Attenborough plays the role of Roger Bushell in the movie. Two books were written about the Great Escape: The Wooden Horse (1949) and Paul Brickhill – The Great Escape (1950).

The camp where they escaped from was situated 160 km from Berlin close to a town called Sagan. Today it is called Żagań. The reason why they chose to build the prison camp here, was because of the sandy terrain, which made escaping complicated.

Some indeed managed to escape and one of the men, Pilot Les Brodrick, died this year in South Africa. Many call him the “Forgotten Hero”. He was 92.

Finding the graves of the  South Africans pilots at the Garnison Cemetery in Poland

Karen Kuhn and her colleagues found the graves of three of the South African pilots. Here they placed a candle and a small South African flag. In remembrance of all our fallen soldiers. I got tears in my eyes and this touched me deeply. The bodies of many soldiers were cremated or dumped in mass graves.

The Great Escape; Stalag Luft III; Old Garnison cemetery;Poznan; South African World War II pilots; Prisoners of war; Steve McQueen the Great escape
The final resting place of Lt. McGarr in Poland. A small South African flag and candle was left by Karen Kuhn and friends.
  • Lieutenant Johannes S. Gouws – SAAF (He was caught in Lindau in Germany and was killed by Gestapo member Johan Schneider at the age of 24).
  • Lieutenant Clement A.N. McGarr – SAAF (He was caught close to Sagan and it is believed that he was killed by Gestapo member Lux).
  • Lieutenant Rupert J. Stevens – SAAF (He was caught at Rosenheim and was also killed by Gestapo member Johan Schneider. He just turned 25).
  • Squadron Leader Roger Bushell – RAF (He was born in South Africa but moved to England at the age of 14).

Remembering fallen soldiers from around the world

Travelling has taught me many things. I have been to Auschwitz Concentration Camp and other important battlefields around the world. In Russia, I have seen how people remember their fallen soldiers by leaving a wedding bouquet at the feet of a statue. Important dates are circled on the calendar. Russia remembers because millions of soldiers perished during World War II.

Sadly, I cannot remember seeing this in South Africa. Sure, there are statues but people forget. The younger generation will never remember our fallen heroes because they are not reminded of the important role that our ancestors played in historical events. Even if they do remember then there is always some racial issue or people are reminded of “Apartheid”. Bottom line – It turns into a political issue.

To conclude. I wrote this post because the subject touched me. It reminded me that I am guilty too because I also forget. May this post be a tribute to all the South Africans who laid down their lives for us in World War I and II. May we always remember. May we never forget.

If you are interested to read more about the escape please follow the link to Wikipedia.

I have been fortunate to have done quite a bit of travelling over the last 10 years. By heart I am an adventurer and I love exploring new places, cultures and food. Travelling can become stressful and expensive. Over the years I have learnt to travel as cost effective as possible, simply by travelling more clever. Nelmitravel.com is a Adventure and Budget Travel site where I review Airlines, Accommodation, Transport, Restaurants and give helpful travel information.

4 Comments

  1. I saw the movie, “The great escape” as a youngster with my dad. He had a snigger through most of the movie and I always wondered why. To my surprise there were other people in the movie house, The Premier in Bellville, who was doing the same.
    When the movie came out in 16mm years ago I rented it and looked at it again. I could see absolutely nothing funny!?
    I asked him about it and he said to me, “That is NOT the way it happened son”. Then he explained to me the actual event.
    My dad fought in Africa in 1940 and in Normandy 6 June 1944 with the South African 1st SSB alongside the Brits, Kiwis and Aussies so he had also seen a lot of action. I come from a line of military men. My grandfather fought in France WW1, My dad WW2 and I was in AADS/10AA regt in ’68. That is 10 Anti Aircraft Regiment. So you see my interest in war history.
    Everyone believed the Great Escape was led by Americans and Brits, but as you also explained the actual leader was a South African born pilot along with 3 other South Africans.
    I LOVE YouTube, yes even at my age, 68. I have watched various videos of documentaries about The Great Escape and every time I learn something more. On your site I actually learned the names of the gestapo men who shot out guys. Thank you for that information.
    Yes Hitler gave the order to shoot ALL of them but Goering said if they shot all of them the allies may retaliate and shoot the captured Germans so Hitler ordered 50 to be shot and Heinrich Himmler carried out the orders for HItler. I suppose the very reason why Himmler was beaten to death by Sgt Major Austin, or one of the reasons anyway.
    And so I can go on and on and listen to people discuss war history, watch YouTube documentaries the whole day.
    I commend you on a very interesting, rich and educational website Nelieta.
    I wish there can be more people like you.
    Keep up the excellent work.

    1. Hi Edmund, first of all, thank you so much for visiting my site. I enjoyed reading your comment. You can be very proud of the military men in your family. War history has always been one of my favourite topics. I wish I had more time to write about our South African history and wars. I have a lot to learn. Thank you for the nice compliment 🙂 Warm greetings from Argentina.

Thank you for visiting. Have a fabulous day!

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