Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Great Escape - A book review

If I'm ever dragged to a Boot Fair by SWMBO, I'm always on the look out for a bargin. At a recent trip to a local Boot Fair in Strood, I picked up this book among others for the princely sum of 10p!!!  The book only took me a couple of days to read and believe me that's some going.
The Introduction to the book was written by George Harsh, it just about sums the book up for me and I was hooked within seconds.
George Harsh

" And this is the only introduction this book actual needs: Yes, it really happened,. But because every man mentioned in this book was a friend of mine, because I have shared pitifully small rations with them, fought lice with them, baited the Germans with them and because many of them are now dead, I am grateful for this chance to point out that they did not die for a senseless reason"

The book was written by Paul Brickhill, in 1951, so some of the more age challenged among you may have already read it many moons ago. The book covers the planning, execution and aftermath of what became known as The Great Escape. Other escape attempts (such as the Wooden Horse) are mentioned as well as the postwar hunt for the Gestapo agents who murdered fifty of the escapees on Hitler's direct order.

Roger Bushell, Big X
Much of the book is focused on Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, also known as "Big X", including his capture, early escape attempts, and planning of the escape. All the major participants and their exploits are described by Brickhill. Among these are Tim Walenn, the principal forger, who 'gave his factory the code name of "Dean and Dawson", after a British travel agency; Al Hake, the compass maker; Des Plunkett, the ingenious chief map tracer, who made a mimeograph for reproducing maps; and Tommy Guest, who ran a team of tailors. 

Tim Walenn, The Forger
Major John Dodge, who was related to Winston Churchill, was one of the escapees. The German officers and guards (called 'goons' by the prisoners) included teams of 'ferrets' who crawled about under the huts looking for signs of tunnels. They were carefully watched by teams of POW 'stooges', one of whom was Paul Brickhill, 'boss of a gang of "stooges" guarding the forgers'. Brickhill was not involved in the tunnel building and did not take part in the escape, due to claustrophobia. 
In the end, seventy-six men escaped. Seventy-three were recaptured and fifty of those were shot by the Gestapo. Four of the remaining twenty-three later tunnelled out of Sachsenhausen, but were recaptured and chained to the floor of their cells. One of them, Major John Dodge, was released to secure a cease-fire.
Al Hake, The Compass Maker

The book is dedicated "to the fifty".
In the aftermath of the escape, according to Brickhill, 5,000,000 Germans spent time looking for the prisoners, many of them full time for weeks.


  1. Sounds like a good read, will have to borrow it.

  2. I might just have to check this out!! (I never had to read it in school...)

  3. Very good book! And don't forget the DVD with Steve McQueen!



  4. A great true story and a great film too. I remember my mate Baz and I (I think we all have a mate called Baz?). getting on our wee bikes as kids adding an exhaust sound with cut up milk cartoons and trying to jump stuff (usually with terrible results).

    I will say that I think Sylvester Stallione was miscast in the film (an American soccer goalie) and what a goal Pele scored!!!

    just joking ;-)

    Never read the book. Will try and hunt it down. Sounds like a cracking read.

  5. what... this was a book first? i loved the movie.

  6. Is it faithful to the movie and include a motorbike chase?

  7. Sounds like a great read. I'll have to add it to the list. :-)

  8. It is a cracking good read, it's a good thick book to follow what happened to all their friends and Ray burned through it in two days for ten pence and that speaks volumes.

    It was my 7th grade book report speech and I built a diorama with Airfix men on a boxlid. I still think about how they got rid of dirt, made fake documents, fake uniform parts, etc with what they had in there. Good report Ray.

    There is a lot of discussion of the McQueen motorcycle online too as it inspires millions of bikers.

  9. But what happpened to 'the Three?'

  10. cool, will try to find a copy. :)

  11. Excellent book - look out for his other book "Escape or Die" as well.... as good as it is, the film kind of detracts from the sheer guts of the original escapees - don't get me wrong, I love the motorcycle escape sequence, but it was pure "escapism" (ahem....) and nothing to do with the guts, determination, and bravery of those original guys....

  12. Agree with the others, Great book.

  13. Cheers for the comments!!
    Do try the book if you've not read it, as Steve above said, the film is good, but reading the book gives you a better understanding of the ordeal they all went through, if only Hollywood could calm down their approach and make true films, but that's a different argument!!
    @Mekelnborg, after a little more research, thank god for Wiki!!, if found out the fate of the three, might put that up for a later post??

  14. Excellent review, sounds like a good read.

  15. Sounds like a good read. I like picking books up cheap especially if I can do it with out the Missus seeing!

    Space is a premium in our house