PRN: Forgotten RAF Heroes of The Great Escape of WW II to be Honoured
Forgotten RAF Heroes of The Great Escape of WW II to be Honoured
PRAGUE, March 19, 2012 /PRNewswire/ --
Four Allied World War 2 air force officers whose audacious breakout from a German POW camp was immortalised in the Hollywood blockbuster The Great Escape are to be honoured next week in the Czech town where they were executed by the Gestapo.
A Czech Air Force fly past will mark unveiling of a permanent memorial in the Czech town of Most on Saturday, March 24, the 68th anniversary of the escape. It honours RAF Squadron Leader John "Willy" Williams DFC (Australian), RAF Flight Lieutenant Leslie George Bull DFC (British), RAF Flight Officer Jerzy Mondschein (Polish) and RAAF Flight Lieutenant Reginald "Rusty" Kierath (Australian) were secretly executed near the town.
Relatives of the men will then follow "in their footsteps", retracing their famous escape from Stalag Luft III to the Czechoslovakian border -- where they were intercepted - having managed the last 20 kilometres on foot, despite mountainous terrain, waist deep snow and freezing conditions.
In a triumph of organisation, ingenuity and determination, 76 Allied prisoners escaped from the specially constructed "escape-proof" POW camp on 24th March, 1944, via a ten metre deep, 111 metre long tunnel, which had taken more than a year to build.
Bull was escapee no 1. The moment he pushes open the tunnel hutch to freedom is one of the most famous scenes in the Hollywood film. Willy was chief supply officer, then chief carpenter responsible for "scrounging" the thousands of bed boards and planks used to shore up the tunnel and Rusty worked closely with him. Jerzy was a fluent German speaker who obtained the train tickets for their trip south.
Hitler ordered the secret execution of 50 of the 73 escapees eventually recaptured. Three POWs made it home. After the war, tribunals in Hamburg and Nuremburg sentenced 20 former Gestapo officers to death for the murders and jailed many more.
No one was ever located or brought to justice for the execution of four pilots near Most.
The memorial, which brings the men's families together for the first time, is the initiative of a Czech commercial pilot, Michal Holy, who believed the men should have been recognised "many years ago".
For interviews with the families, the organiser or for assistance in covering the ceremony or obtaining historic images contact: