RAF News

Talking to Prisoner of War Survivor Charles Clarke

On this day 76 years ago 200 Airmen made their bid for freedom as part of The Great Escape. Some had been incarcerated as Prisoners of War for 5 years!

Watch this exclusive interview with retired Air Commodore Charles Clarke OBE, a surviver of Stalag Luft 3, recorded last year in ‘Bomber’ Harris’s Office at HQ Air Command, 3 months before Charles passed away. Charles talks about his role in Bomber Command, the night he was shot down, his capture, interrogation and life at the camp. Life in the camp was harsh - no shops to get food from, years in camp, temperatures as low as -25 C during the winter and ice on the inside of the huts, wearing the same clothes that aircrew were shot down in and no idea when the war would end. 

Seventy six years ago today, seventy six RAF and allied airmen made their escape from the Nazi Prisoner of War (PoW) camp, Stalag Luft 3. The plan was for more than 300, but the 77th escapee caught the eye of the German guard, shots were fired and the mass escape from the camp was stopped. Seventy six PoW's did make it out and started their bids for freedom. Three made home runs - Pers Bergsland and Jens Muller who travelled together back to their native Norway, and Bram van Der Stock, a Dutch pilot who travelled across Germany to France, helped by the French Resistance, before making it over the Pyrenees to Spain. Others we sent back to the camp, including perhaps the greatest escaper Squadron Leader Jimmy James MC. The fate of 'The Fifty' were put into the hands of the Gestapo and Hitler's Orders.

charles and tim
Late Air Commodore Charles Clarke and Squadron Leader Tim Barlow

Stalag Luft 3 was a major Prisoner of War (POW) camp based in Silesia in South East Germany, now Zagan in Poland. The camp was located deep in Nazi Germany, making it difficult to escape back West without having to cross the whole of the Third Reich. The site was also chosen because of the sandy soils, soils considered impossible to tunnel through. The camp was designed especially to house escaping allied airmen and was run by the Luftwaffe. The idea was to put all the main escapers such as Squadron Leader Jimmy James, Flying Officer ‘Cookie’ Long  and Squadron Leader Roger Bushell (known as ‘Big X’ and the mastermind of the escape) in one place - to keep an eye on them and to stop any more escapes. Inadvertently, by putting all the escapers together, with the knowledge they had accrued after escaping from other camps, the Nazis had forged a group who would never stop trying to escape.  


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