Of the 76 men who escaped from Stalag Luft III, three managed to reach safety, 50 were shot, 17 were returned to Sagan, four were sent to Sachsenhausen and two were sent to Colditz Castle. In this blog, former PoW Charles Clarke tell us about finally being released from the camp.
On 27 January 1945 with Soviet troops only 16 miles away, the remaining 11,000 PoWs at Stalag Luft III were marched out of camp with the eventual destination of Spremberg, Germany. The prisoners were eventually liberated by Allied Forces.Charles Clarke says: "One of the difficulties of being a prisoner of war – we never knew quite how long it would take to be released.
"The Germans used to say, for you the war is over. Everyone used to say you'll be home for Christmas, but no one said which Christmas. When the invasion came, I honestly thought we would be home in a matter of months. But it was not to be, it was well over a year.
"We knew the troops were advancing. We did't know how far away they were. The first sign of the cavalry – they probably were cavalry – was a reconnaissance vehicle. A two man reconnaissance vehicle drove up. The Germans had disappeared the night before because they obviously knew.
"This reconnaissance vehicle I'm sure had lost its way because it was way ahead of the main force. We then were told to wait there until we had transport to Brussels to be flown home. I decided not to wait. There were two friends from 617 Squadron and we made our way down to Brussels and spent about four days in Brussels before reporting to the reception centre. And then we were put in a Lancaster and flown to Westcott, which is somewhere near Oxford.
"You've seen people kissing the ground when they get back and that was the feeling we had. We just couldn't believe it.
"We obviously thought we would go to the Far East as part of Tiger Force but by that time the Far East was collapsing, so we were all allocated jobs. It was certainly a heart-breaking summer to realise we were going to leave the Service quickly."