Anniversary of The Great Escape
“Hours ago… Minutes ago…. These men were behind barbed wire”
The title of this blog is taken from the film “The Great Escape”, but did you know that Warrington Museum has its own connection to the real Great Escape through one of our Visitor Assistants, Helen. In the following blog Helen and Collections Assistant Hannah White tell the story of Helen’s link to these famous events of WW2.
The daring and ingenuity shown during the Great Escape have ensured that the events of that night still amaze and inspire people today.
The escape took place on the night of 24/25 March 1944 from the Northern Compound of the Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp run by the Luftwaffe. The camp held captured Allied air force personnel.
The plan to carry out a mass escape had been conceived by Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Roger Bushell and was authorised by the senior British officer at Stalag Luft III, Herbert Massey.
A fictionalised version of the escape was depicted in the film The Great Escape (1963), which was itself based on a book by former prisoner Paul Brickhill.
View of the end of the real ‘Harry’ tunnel the location at which the Great Escape occurred
This year marks the 56th anniversary of that momentous escape. It also happens to be the year when our Visitor Assistant Helen stumbled across three letters relating to the event in her personal archives. The letters are written to the Rev. Eric Jones, a prisoner war held at the infamous Stalag Luft 3.
We have transcribed the three letters for you here:
Letter dated 5.12.44 from his sister Sally addressed to Captain The Reverend EB Jones Prisoner of War No. 3010 Camp No. Stalag Luft 3 Country: Germany.
My Dearest Eric Thank you dear for he […] received yesterday dated August 21st you don’t know how happy I am when I got a card from you it puts new life into me well my dear I am looking forward to our reunion more than anything else in the world you never says whether you have received your last parcel of clothing and cigarettes that could be sent. I hope you did I am now waiting for instructions from the Red Cross before we can send anything else. I wrote to Ms Hampsons to tell her I had at last heard from you and she was going to write to tell Jack she said how glad she was because I had heard from you as she knows what you mean in my life. Well dear you know Mary next door to me she is hoping to be a mother this time next week well dear on your card you say how you are longing to hear from me once again well dear it is no fault of mine as I have wrote you every week but I hope by now you will have received some mail and your parcels I have never broken any promises to you dear it will be 4 years this Christmas […]. I gave you your fountain pen I will never forget the kiss I received in return well my dear things are much the same here as when you went away I often think of the happy hours we spent in our home but never mind dear I am hoping those days are not far distant again George joins me in sending all our love to you Good night and God Bless you and keep you safe From your loving sister Sally George Cheerio my love keep smiling xxxxxxxxxxx
Letter dated 4.1.45 addressed to Captain The Reverend EB Jones Prisoner of War No. 3010 Camp No. Stalag Luft 3 Country: Germany from his sister Sally
Dearest Eric Thank you my dear for your letter received yesterday. Dated October 7th. Well my dear it was grand hearing from you again it is the best tonic I could ever have you’ll never know what your letters have meant to me. It will soon be 4 years my dear since you left me broken-hearted. Well my dear I went to see the children on the Saturday before Christmas. I gave them money for their Christmas Box. Peter wanted me to stay all night he sit on my knee as usual Robin was reading the Lesson in Church on Christmas Eve I said to him I wish Daddy could hear you Robin I know it would have been a proud moment for you Well my dear you say nearly everybody as given over writing to you never mind dear you will always have me even in your blackest moments I shall always stand by you I told Mollie to send the coupons for your clothes when she gets them as she said she would I am trying to get some 4 square tobacco sent to you I am waiting of a reply back I have sent it through different firms but you don’t say you have had any lately and your last parcel of clothes that could be sent have you received them Well my dear I just broke my heart on New Year’s Eve I went and I played 4 carols to your photograph and then I broke down you was smiling at one like you used to do George joins me in sending all our love to you God Bless you and keep you safe Loving Sister Sally and George xxxxx Cheerio love Sally
Letter dated 20.12.44 addressed to Captain The Reverend EB Jones Prisoner of War No. 3010 Camp No. Stalag Luft 3 Country: Germany from his sister Sally
Mr Dearest Eric Well my dear here I am writing to you once again I am finishing it is now 11-15 and I am ready for bed I have got a very bad cold again have been off work for 2 days but I am trying to go in again tomorrow as we stop Friday till Wednesday for Christmas how I wish you were here I shall be all alone all Christmas as George is on 2010 my thoughts and heart will be with you my dear while I am all alone. Mary has gone into hospital today to have her baby sounds a bit complicated I am trying to go and see the children and Mollie on Saturday if my cold is any better but you have to wait such a time for buses and you get cold so I will have to see what the weather is like I am waiting for your coupons off Mollie so that I can send your clothes you are receiving my mail by now as I write every week but I have had a friend here from Birmingham and she has received word off her fiancé to say he is not getting her mail so it looks as though it is the same all round I can tell you when I did not get your cards I did not know what to think it relieved my mind when I got the first card and then I have had three in two weeks well Dear George joins me in sending all our love to you longing for the reunion Good night and God bless you and keep you safe till we meet again from your loving sister Sally George Cheerio Love xxxxxxxxxx
As you will see, the letters are addressed to “Captain The Reverend Eric Bertram Jones”, Prisoner of War No. 3010 at the Stalag Luft III camp. They were composed by his sister Sally who was at the time residing at 207 Manchester Road, nr Clifton on the outskirts of Manchester. The letters were given to our Visitor Assistant Helen by her Aunt who lived a street down from Eric’s sister Sally. Having read the letters Helen was intrigued to find out more about Eric, so she conducted some research into him which we have shared with you below:
Eric Bertram Jones grew up in Liverpool, later attending Durham University where he studied Classics and Theology. He was ordained at Chester Cathedral and later became the Curate at Tranmere, before moving to St Thomas’s in Stockport. By the time the Second World War broke out in 1939, Jones was Priest at St Luke’s in Dukinfield. He decided to leave his post to become a Chaplain to the Forces.
Whilst stationed in North Africa Jones was captured by the Personal Assistant to Field Marshal Rommel and was detained as a Prisoner of War in the Stalag Luft III camp. Whilst there he acted as Minister to the other POWs.
During his stay in the camp, Captain Reverend Jones was informed that Himmler had ordered that all sermons were to be vetted by the Commandant of the camp. When Jones refused the order, he was put into solitary confinement and beaten.
After The Great Escape the recaptured Prisoners of War were executed under Hitler’s orders. Jones ordered the Commandant to see to the return of their bodies. However, only their ashes were returned, Jones ensured these remains received a Christian burial service.
Kommandant of Stalag Luft III, Oberst Friedrich Wilhelm von Lindeiner-Wildau (Wikipedia)
After the end of the War, Officers of the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force, who had all been Jones’s Altar Servers in the camp presented him with a book, “The Shape of Liturgy” with all of their signatures in the flyleaf. On arriving home, Jones went back to St Lukes for a year before going to St Peters in Hale between 1946-1955. After his final service on the 13th October 1955, Jones took up the living at St John the Baptist in Crewe.
There are numerous records of Jones having officiated at funeral services alongside Father P Goudreau during his time as a Prisoner. One POW recorded his recollections of Eric Berthram as “The most devoted of high churchmen, he even got me to confession and doing penances. I was one of his servers, which meant administering to his needs during the Holy Communion, sometime with a daily service”.
Hopefully this account will help to remind us of the hardships faced and self-sacrifice made by so many Prisoners during World War Two. It helps to show us the real people behind a great event that has become such a part of our culture and heritage.
Many Thanks are given to St Peter’s Church, Hale for their research into the life of Reverend Jones, which answered many questions.