LONDON, Ont. -- At first, it was all a big game. An adventure.
In 1944, air force pilot Donald Edy listened from his bunk in a German prisoner of war camp as 76 men slipped into the mouth of a hand-dug tunnel. More than 200 men planned a mass escape from the “inescapable” Stalag Luft III camp in eastern Germany.
It was the Great Escape.
For prisoners of war hatching plans to regain their freedom passed the time and fulfilled a sense of adventure. It was a carefully choreographed routine, Edy said.
“You try to escape, you get caught, or maybe you get out. You get brought back, spend a week or two weeks in the cooler, the camp prison. And back into the camp. It was a great adventure.”
At least that was the dance played by prisoners and guards until March 24, 1944, the night of the Great Escape, when so many prisoners planned to begin their journey into underground tunnels and outside the camp boundaries to freedom.
A photo of retired RAF Flt Lt Don Edy, second from left with a group of fellow prisoners in room 11, block 123 of German prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III taken in 1943, is featured in Goon In The Block. Click here for more pics.
Edy wasn’t part of the escape efforts -- he said he knew it was doomed for failure and wasn’t sorry to be left behind that night.
“I didn’t figure they’d get very far. And of course, most of them didn’t,” he said in an interview in his room at Richmond Woods, a retirement home in north London, Ont.
Edy and the rest of the PoWs at Stalag Luft III saw the remains of 50 escapees delivered to the camp a short while later.
Their deaths were to serve as a lesson to the other PoWs.
“Hitler was furious,” Edy said. “He wanted to shoot every last one of them.”
The belongings of those killed in the Great Escape went up for auction in the PoW camp. Proceeds were to go to the families of the men who were shot.
Edy was looking for something to wear to the theatre when he bought British fighter pilot Thomas Kirby-Green’s jacket.
“Ever since I was shot down I was just in battle dress. I kind of wanted to dress up,” Edy said.
The PoWs were surprisingly willing actors, directors and stage crew, launching the Sagan Theatre from within the walls of the camp.
“I was in quite a few of the productions myself,” Edy said.
He wanted to look sharp for his on-stage appearances and trips to the theatre.
He paid for the jacket by sending a letter to Barclays Bank in England, asking for money to be wired from his account to another.
Edy wore the jacket during his time being shuttled to other PoW camp and it kept him warm during the Forced March, when 80,000 Allied PoWs were evacuated by marching across Europe in the winter of 1945.
When he finally returned home to Canada, Edy wore the jacket at his wedding in August 1945.
Reuniting the jacket with the family of Kirby-Green is another tale of the power of the Internet.