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.
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.
- 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.