On the Cover: On the night of March 24, 1944, 80 Commonwealth airmen crawled through a 336-foot-long tunnel and slipped into the forest beyond the wire of Stalag Luft III, a German POW compound near Sagan, Poland. The event became known as “The Great Escape,” an intricate breakout more than a year in the making, involving as many as 2,000 POWs working with extraordinary co-ordination, intelligence, and daring. Yet within a few days, all but three of the escapees were recaptured. Subsequently, fifty were murdered, cremated, and buried in a remote corner of the prison camp.
But most don’t know the real story behind The Great Escape. Now, on the eve of its 70th anniversary, Ted Barris writes of the key players in the escape attempt, those who got away, those who didn’t, and their families at home. Barris marshals groundbreaking research into a compelling firsthand account. For the first time, “The Great Escape: A Canadian Story” retells one of the most astonishing episodes in WWII directly through the eyes of those who experienced it.
The Great Escape: A Canadian Story takes an in-depth look at the Canadian role in the events of March 24, 1944. Yet what I found interesting about this book is that it is so much more than the Great Escape. The book covers time before the war, including brief histories on many of the key players and the events leading up to the men becoming prisoners of war. The book also follows those POWs past the Great Escape, through the end of the war and their tiring journey home. In between lies a gold mine of information, illuminating the life of a POW, activities in the compound, and the dozens of ingenious ways that POWs refurbished, retooled, and reengineered their surroundings to make life bearable and escape possible.
The opening chapters of the book provide a substantial amount of information. POW names, ranks, flight squadrons, and histories of Canadian roots all blur together. What surfaces from this deluge are individual stories of flight crews evacuating flaming bombers, stunning moments of men throwing themselves into the air or attempting to land their aircraft in any survivable way. Through the progression of the book, individual names begin to stand out, and by the end the book feels exactly as it should: like prisoners of war sitting with me and telling me their stories in their own voice.
This book is incredibly well researched, and I learned a great deal from the information contained within its pages. Barris is a champion for Canadian POWs and strives to tell their story with the greatest amount of respect and awe. The Great Escape: A Canadian Story is a humbling reading experience for Canadians and a wonderful historical resource for all.
Rating: 4 / 5