Thanks for the nod, Mrs Peel.
Sounds like another promising documentary on the war from BBC4.
The Real Great Escape
BBC4 ... Thursday 19th April 2012 ... 9.00-10.25pm
Not to be confused with documentaries of similar titles ... this is a brand new, 85 minute, extensively detailed BBC4 documentary on the great escape told by Lindy Wilson, the niece of 'Big X' ... Squadron Leader Roger Bushell. Bushell was played by Richard Attenborough in the classic John Sturges movie The Great Escape.
For the first time on British television the true story of the mastermind behind World War II's Great Escape is told by his niece, Lindy Wilson, who also directed this new BBC4 documentary.
Squadron Leader Roger Bushell was a young London barrister, an auxiliary pilot and a champion skier when he was shot down and captured early in the war. He escaped three times and in spite of the Gestapo's threat to shoot him if he ever escaped again, Bushell accepted the role of 'Big X' on his return to the top-security POW camp, Stalag Luft 111.
After 18 months of preparation, one of the greatest escapes of the war took place. Their aim to distract the enemy succeeded, as it was estimated that five million Germans were deployed to recapture the 76 escapees. However, Hitler's rage was uncontrollable and he personally ordered a terrible reckoning.
Director: Lindy Wilson
Sources: BBC4 Newsletter/Radio Times/DigiGuide
I think this will be a fascinating, detailed new documentary ... I'm looking forward to it.
Thanks for the nod, Mrs Peel.
Sounds like another promising documentary on the war from BBC4.
Superb documentary Ö so much new information on Roger Bushell who came so desperately close to escaping three times. Excellent film clip selections from The Great Escape and Operation Daybreak on the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich - the Butcher of Prague.
Bushell came across as almost a James Bond type in character - charismatic leader, champion skier, he regarded danger as part of his duty, and despite being engaged - seduced a voluptuous blonde Czech girl, whose ex-boyfriend betrayed Bushell to the Gestapo.
Interesting to hear that Richard Attenborough didnít think he was right for the part as Big X ... I thought he was splendid in the role, yet after seeing this documentary perhaps Richard Burton may have been a more accurate choice.
Repeated Tuesday, 24th April 2012 Ö 11.50-1.15am
I was absolutely fascinated and enthralled - and thoroughly recommend this very impressive, very fine BBC4 documentary - part of the excellent Storyville series.
Sad to see so many contributors had died during filming. In particular M.R.D.Foot who was always one of my favourite history professors and always gave an entertaining version of events on both screen and book.
Last edited by Nick Dando; 21-04-12 at 03:40 PM.
I finally watched the above Documentary this afternoon (while transferring it from vhs to DVD), i found it to be a very interesting Documentary, lots of fascinating new details that i had never heard before, the second world war is a period of history i have always been interested in and i always enjoy watching Documentaries about the second world war, i have heard many sad and tragic tales in lots of different Documentaries about the second world war, but i have also heard many tales of triumph as well.
Bushell is a facinating character, but I've always been interested in T D Calman http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_D._Calnan. I went through a phase of reading every POW book under the sun when I was in my teens, and his book, Free As a Running Fox, stood out. It was very honest (no false heroics), very well written, was the work of a man who had thought seriously about escape before being shot down, and by a man who had a grownup view of escaping. It wasn't a jaunt, it was serious (he was 26 when shoot down, so was rather old and more worldly than the average), and his close shave later in the war caught while using MI9 papers showed how dangerous it was.
He was security officer for one major escape, was involved in the break from Stalag Luft III and played a part in an escape from Sagan (?) which was known as the SHJ (the initals come from the fact that the tunnel was built staring from the pit of the latrine - House and Job are also parts of the name!) - an escape which deserves a documentary, if nothing else. Even his final journey from the Russian liberated camp to western lines was dangerous, yet you could see why he and an Australian POW did it. Its rather a shame that so little is known about him, but since he only wrote one book, its all that we have. I've seen no obit, but he would be 98, so hopefully someone will interview him so he can tell his story in more detail.
Free As A Running Fox was published in 1970 (I have a paperback copy) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Free-as-Runn.../dp/0803727496, and is a classic of the genre.
The Lakeland Ledger [Florida], 12th August 1962
A report on real-life 'Tunnel King' C. Wallace Floody's visit to the set, alongside an anecdote from Janet Blair, currently
starring in "Burn, Witch, Burn (US title for Night of the Eagle). Charles Bronson was Tunnel King in The Great Escape:
Wikipedia profile for 'Wally' Floody
I haven't seen this doc but I did enjoy watching the one on the DVD of The Great Escape which compared the film to the real-life events and explained why they were different.
I real Paul Brickhill's book after first watching the movie and was gobsmacked to discover that Steve McQueen's character did not exist in real-life. Not only that but there were not even any Americans participating in the escape and the whole thing took place in the middle of winter with snow on the ground!.
The best book I've read on the The Great Escape is Guy Walter's 'The Real Great Escape' http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Real-Gre...3304634&sr=8-7(you do wish that there could be a more original title!).
He treates the escape as a proper historian would, and goes to the the archives, rather than just going through the usual secondary sources, and this gives a somewhat different story. It becomes apparent that many myths and misconceptions about the escape have grown up through unreliable witnesses and confusion. He compares the POW's debriefings at the end of of the war with books they might have written 30 or more years alter, and finds that in some cases, they were not even in the same compound, never mind present, at events that they then claim to have personal knowledge of.
He also corrects the idea that such as mass breakout was in any way an effective blow against the Nazi state or economy, and highlights the role of German staff in aiding the prisoners, often without being bribed or threatened in any way. His ultimate conclusion is that the escape had possibly more to do with Bushells ego and drive that any actual practical effect on Nazi Germany.
He had already been in Gestapo hands, and numerous German officers in the camp warned them that any mass breakout would involve the Gestapo. He was actually told that no more than six prisoners would be alright, but any more would dangerous. The 'Commando Order' in operation made clear that prisoners were not untouchable, and they only had to look at any Russian prisoners to see what might happen. There is a review here: http://www.theguardian.com/books/201...walters-review
Calman's book also reports a warning before the March breakout. Calman had been picked up by the Kripo, using papers supplied by MI9. The police officer interrogating him said that he had known the police chief who has supposedly signed a pass for 20 years and swore that was his signature, but knew that he could not have signed that document. The MI9 papers were the sort of thing that would interest the Gestapo, and that escaping by that point in the war was no longer a game, but potentially deadly. Calman reported back to the Escape Committee on his return that prisoner forged papers would be safer, if less effective, and perhaps the whole idea of escape should be rethought.
The other thing that is apparent is just how unprepared most escapers were. They were trudging through deep snow (which Bushell had been warned about), with unsuitable clothing. Very few (usually the foriegn officers) spoke any language other than English, had little money, often poor paperwork, or firm objectives to aim for. Most were on foot, and were known as the 'hard arsers', and the bulk of these had a miserable time and were picked up very quickly. They were ill equiped, walking in terrible conditions, with little chance of getting anywhere. And it was inevitable that the Gestapo would be involved in their roundup and their fate.
They were murdered by the Nazi state, but it would have been better for all concerned if it had never happened at all.
Last edited by MikeB; 14-10-14 at 06:07 PM.
It's somewhat inevitable that the "great" histories of watertime events published in the immediate aftermath, or the personal memoires written sometimes years later, often came out with the version of events that people wanted to read. There are many aspects of the War that in reality were more complicated, more nuanced, and more grim than anyone wanted to accept any time soon. On the home front, the popular image of teh Blitz is chirpy cockneys sing-songing their way through it on Tube station platforms, but the reality was that only around 10% of Londoners sheltered in the Underground, but at least in the early days things were pretty squalid, far from harmonious, and almost universally condemned in the contemporary press.
He compares the POW's debriefings at the end of the war with books they might have written 30 or more years alter, and finds that in some cases, they were not even in the same compound, never mind present, at events that they then claim to have personal knowledge of.
I was always told when studying history at school to believe most what someone said at the time an event happened and believe less what they said 20-30 years later (especially when they are writing a self-serving autobiography or giving an interview to a TV producer who has already pre-decided on the message (s)he wants to programme to give).
Apparently there is an old Russian proverb about never trusting an eye witness. Eye witnesses are known to change their story when they hear things about what they have supposed to have seen. If its suggested that the suspect had red hair, not brown, that witnesses are more likely to agree. In fact there is at least one case in the US of a death row prisoner who was partially convicted on the word of an eye witness who swore that the crimminal involved was black. In fact the perp was white.
And historical narratives are a bit like that. We all like to feel important, and its not difficult to edge yourself towards the centre of the frame. And after 40 years or more, memories get confused. And think of the 'family legends' that grow up. We all have stories handed down, most of which are embellished or simply nonsense.
As for the Blitz, I suspect that narrative was accepted fairly quickly, perhaps in films like The Bells Go Down. The offical booklets published at the time are also full of grim determination and grit. In reality, officialdom was very worried about public moral under bombing, particularly amoungst the poor. Richard Overy makes this point in The Bombing War, that it was assumed that the working class would break, unlike the middle or upper classes. In fact they held togeather surprisingly well, and it was often middle class people who travelled out of potential targets during the night. Mass Observation also gives a different perspective to the idea that everyone was resolute, etc. In reality, people did better than was feared, but not as well as they would like to remember.
Of course archaeologists dont really trust any historical source anyway, but thats just paranoia (or drink)!
My uncle was a radio operator in Wellingtons and was shot down over Germany. He jumped (a member of The Caterpillar Club) and evaded capture for a few days but was then picked up and sent to Stalag Luft II. But he wasn't in the compound where The Great Escape took place, nor in the compound where The Wooden Horse escape took place. It was a very big camp with lots of different compounds and there wasn't much communication between them.
Uncle Ron never spoke much about his wartime experiences until about 10 years ago when we finally persuaded him to record it all.
Sadly he died last year. A lovely man
After the war the government of the day decided that if you wanted your campaign medals you had to pay for them. My Farther who had been a regular soldier before the war and served right through said "Sod them, I'd already earned them" and never bothered. He was A Knight Of ST. George that helped wounded and ill ex servicemen for the rest of his life and after attending many of their functions I can honestly say they were very pee'd off about it.
Last edited by Nick Cooper; 20-11-14 at 12:57 PM.
Really! extending to allow reply.