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Published: September 3rd 2007
Sign to Stalag Luft III
An exciting surprise to see this sign to the actual prison camp
Today we packed a picnic lunch and headed off vaguely in the direction of the Museum, which we worked out to be about a four kms out of town. The walk was pretty, and I was excited to find a couple of apple trees along the way where I delighted in the satisfying taste of a few stolen apples, wild and fresh and cool… Not long after I had eaten a few of these delicious treats, we saw a sign that appeared seemingly out of nowhere pointing, not to the museum that we had come all this way to see, but to Stalag Luft III - Grandpa’s actual POW camp! We were both very excited to find the sign, and so we snap-changed our trajectory and headed towards the remains of Stalag Luft III. We walked down this empty and isolated road, bordered by ominously dark pine woods, alone. It was quite eerie. Eventually we arrived at a place, amongst the woods, with a sign and memorial to the “Great Escapers” and the tunnel “Harry” that was used by a group of prisoners to escape from the camp. So we were in the right place, and for the first time, we
Hero lost in thought, sitting on a fragment of wall coming up from one of the foundations of the countless ruined buildings...
were seeing the place where my grandpa had been held captive by the Nazis from May 1944 to January 1945. I immediately felt like crying, though I am not sure why. Grandpa had never expressed sadness or anger about his time there, and the stories he had told us were always funny, like the time he and his navigator took bets with the other POWs about who would have the guts to have a shower (cold-water only of course) on Christmas day. Grandpa and his navigator, Ted Chatfield, were the only ones game (or stupid!) enough to do it, so they ran from the sleeping quarters, naked - in the middle of winter - to the open-air showers in the middle of the grounds, only to turn the taps on and find that the water had frozen in the pipes so they couldn’t have a shower anyway! So stories like that had always made me think that perhaps Grandpa’s time there had not been that bad… although looking at how the “Great Escapers” were treated, I wondered how easy and peaceful his time would really have been there.
being there brought up a lot of emotions, and it all
A memorial to the Great Escapers constructed over the site of the tunnel 'Harry'.
felt quite mixed up, good and bad, i knew it was amazing to be there, the place is eerie and old and feels like it contains so many stories... but the ruins of Stalag Luft III are just that - ruins. There are no explanations, no labels, no grandpa to tell me what the old concrete foundations and broken down brick walls I was looking at used to be… and so while being there felt intensely significant, I felt as though too much of the specific meaning had been lost with grandpa… and I regretted no asking more questions. I regretted not getting him to draw a plan for me of the site, I regretted not knowing the details. I wanted to walk through these ruins with him. I wanted him to tell me about it, but instead we just walked through the ruins alone, only being able to guess what had happened there. I wanted to know where he slept, where he walked, who he talked to, what the guards were like… all those things that you can't guess by looking at the remains of buildings. As I walked through it, I was just left with so many questions
Prison hospital doorway
Hero standing in the doorway of what we later worked out to be the prison hospital.
unanswered, overwhelmed at times with the reality of not being able to get answers. I felt the same about my grandma too, because even though she was never in this place, her life would have been so intimately connected with it… and so I was reminded of all the other things I didn’t know about grandma’s war-time experiences and had never asked. But despite these unsettling feelings of regret and loss, I felt simultaneously so proud and happy to be walking in grandpa's foot-steps, and to honour the memory of both my grandparents. Being able to walk those grounds felt amazing and I am so happy that keira and I made the effort to get out to that beautiful little town.
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