Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Surviving the Great Escape: A POW Remembers

The Great Escape was one of the most daring operations in the annals of military history. Doug Pricer, of Military History Magazine, interviews one of the survivors, George McKiel, about this grand escape attempt. Here is a snippet to entice you to read this interview.

"MH: What else did you do?

McKiel: I was very active in the theater. We had a very classy theater in the camp. One of the plays we did was The Philadelphia Story. I played Katharine Hepburn's role. It took me three months to learn to walk and talk like a woman! Actually, the theater played a vital role in the escape. We had a number of London West End producers, actors and technical people in the camp. So our productions were all very good, and the German officers always wanted to see our plays. We'd reserve the front two rows for them. So then we'd tell them that the play should be recorded for history. They'd always agree and give us film and let us take pictures. Of course, most of the film was used for making passport photos and documents.

MH: That is amazing. Did you know Roger Bushell?

McKiel: Oh yes. Roger was the "Big X." He had quite a reputation for escaping from various camps, and they finally sent him to Stalag Luft III because it was a new camp, and they had built it with great care and planning and thought that it was escape-proof. He was actually a student in Germany before the war. He was from South Africa, so he spoke Boer. He was quite fluent in German. He was a very bright fellow, and he ran a very tight ship. For example, when anyone came up with a plausible escape plan he would listen to it and criticize the plan and then approve or disapprove it. His word was pretty much law. He got a great deal of respect from the inmates and at the same time had a great deal of respect from the Germans. They really acknowledged that he was a dangerous individual, so he was watched in particular. He was very careful about his activities so they would not realize that something was cooking.

MH: He sounds like a hell of a guy.

McKiel: He was. And unfortunately he didn't make it. He had an excellent escape plan himself. He was going to head to Czechoslovakia and then get out through the Balkans. He would have made it, except at the border there was a minor discrepancy on one of the papers and he was caught."
This is a very compelling read. - Sailor

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