'Great' escapes

Our perceptions of life as a prisoner of war in Germany have been shaped by stories of the ‘Wooden Horse’ escape and by the film of ‘The Great Escape’. In reality few actually achieved escape. During the night of 24th March 1944, of the 76 airmen who escaped from Stalag Luft III, only three made it home. Of the remainder, 50 were murdered on Hitler's orders. Just 1,200 of the 170,000 British and Commonwealth POWs in Germany successfully escaped.

Those who were recaptured after an unsuccessful escape attempt were, under the ruling of the Geneva Convention, placed in solitary confinement. Repeat offenders were sent to Colditz, although even then, escape was possible. Red Cross parcels and cigarettes proved an invaluable resource for bartering with prison guards, and POWs could use these to procure equipment that would help them to escape. Only one German POW escaped from England, and had to go through Canada and the then-neutral US to do so. In the Far East, however, escape was virtually unknown.

This page was added by Rosie Hart on 22/11/2011.