I suppose as time goes by these events will pass into obscurity as they are surpassed by more modern acts of heroism which are forced upon the modern soldier. However, it is good to know that this hasn't happened for those involved in The Great Escape and that they are still, seventy years later, being remembered on all of today's news programmes. This is undoubtedly due to the terrible atrocity committed by the Nazi's when they murdered, in cold blood, 50 of the 76 escapees. If they hadn't committed this war crime The Great Escape may well, by now, have drifted into obscurity.
The problem with old films is that they tend to make everyone forget the bravery of those whose lives weren't made into a blockbuster. Today I want to briefly tell you about three ancestors who were prisoners of war during WW2 - Hugh 'Pop' Benson, Stanley Musgrove and Bill Anderson. Their stories will each feature separately in the '52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge' but, as I was reminded of them by the anniversary being reported on the News, I thought it would be interesting to include them all briefly here on my blog as a taster. At least two of the stories could be made into films - are you out there Steven Spielberg ?
Pop was 62 years old when he died on 12th July 1944 in Stalag IV B in Muhlberg, South of Berlin. He served with the Royal Field Artillery in the Boer War at Ladysmith, with the 1st Mounted Rifles during WW1, before being captured during WW2 at Tobruk while serving with the 1st battalion of the Royal Durban Light Infantry. The unique photograph opposite was taken in the POW camp where he was being given a military funeral by both his comrades and his German captors.
An article in the RDLI magazine "Flash" records :
"I was intensely interested in the photograph because of the fact that a German firing party was being used at the burial of an "enemy". I eventually established the fact that the man who was being buried was Hugh (Pop) Benson, who served in the "I" section of the 1st RDLI. It would appear that Pop was quite a character and this certainly must have been so, for who other than a real character could have persuaded the authorities that he was under 45 when in fact he was already over 60 ........
......... How sad it is that so fine a man, so good a soldier as Hugh Benson, should have been buried so far from home, and yet how fitting that he, with "war and army" in his very blood, should have been buried with military honours in the presence of both enemy and friend. Yes, indeed, Pop Benson was a soldier of whom we of the DLI can and must remember with pride."
We know Stan was a POW. His family always understood that he had been in a POW camp in Japan although details were scarce. Stan died in 1982 without telling his story. Since POW records have come online, and it is much easier to find things out, no record of a MUSGROVE being a POW in Japan has been found. I am waiting for his service record which will hopefully tell us where he was held captive.
Last, but by no means least, is Bill Anderson whose story really could be made into a blockbuster film.
Born in 1896 he served with the Army Service Corps in WW1. He went to France with the 51st Field Bakery and then on to Egypt before ending the war back in France.
His WW2 story is unbelievable and yet true. He was a baker between the war's and again served with the RASC, presumably making bread for the troops. He went to France with the British Expeditionary Force before being evacuated from Dunkirk with a puppy called Yorkie under his great coat. He then went to North Africa where he was captured by the Italians at Tobruk (June 1942) and taken to a POW camp in Italy. When the Italians capitulated (about September 1943) he escaped and at some point was subsequently recaptured by the Germans. He was being taken by train to a POW camp in Germany on 28th January 1944 when the train he was being transported in was going over a bridge at Allerona to the north of Orvieto in Italy. It was bombed and destroyed by the Americans who were targeting the bridge rather than the train. Hundreds of POW's of all nationalities died, including Bill Anderson.
Sergeant Anderson is referred to in the testimony of 7676195 Private Cyril F. Morris RAOC in WO361/668 :
The above N.C.O. was known to me whilst in Camp 54 until September 1943. I next saw him in the same camp after we had both been recaptured by the Germans in January 1944 and I spoke to him at frequent intervals. I also saw Sgt. Anderson on the train at Fara Sabina station after we had been embarked for transportation to Germany. The car in which Sgt. Anderson was travelling was roughly in the centre of the train, my own car being further to the rear. Thus it appears that the car in which the above N.C.O. was travelling was among those which were apparently hit by the subsequent bombing of the train at Orvieto on Jan 28.
All three are still remembered even though no film was made of their lives and nearly 70 years has passed. Hopefully with more and more people becoming involved in genealogy research, it means they will never be forgotten.