British airmen mark 70 years since 'Great Escape'

AFP , Tuesday 25 Mar 2014

Fifty British airmen on Tuesday began a long trek in Poland marking 70 years since an audacious World War II breakout by Allied prisoners of war immortalised in the film "The Great Escape".

The Royal Air Force (RAF) servicemen began their 170-kilometre (105-mile) march at the escape site at the former Nazi German Stalag Luft III prisoner of war (PoW) camp in Zagan, southwest Poland.

They are headed to a military cemetery in Poznan, western Poland, where many of the British servicemen who perished in the escape were laid to rest.

The pilgrimage is expected to last four days, according Marek Lazarz, director of the museum created at the PoW camp site where the daring escape was made on the night of March 24, 1944.

"Fifty pilots who escaped were immediately executed on the orders of Adolf Hitler after they were arrested by the Gestapo," said Lazarz, explaining the "symbolic" number of British servicemen participating in the march.

A total of 76 prisoners actually managed to escape, but only three reached safety.

"Just three prisoners succeeded in escaping to England," Lazarz said, adding that the men caught a train to the Baltic port of Szczecin where Swedish sailors smuggled them by sea to Sweden.

The daring event was brought to the silver screen in the blockbuster 1963 film starring US actors Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Garner, and Britain's Richard Attenborough.

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