Halton Apprentices Celebrate 70th Anniversary of the Great Escape

  |  Published: Nov 13th 2014

The Annual Remembrance Service was held at St George’s Church this week at followed by a short Act of Remembrance at the Tribute to the Halton Apprentices in front of Kermode Hall at RAF Halton. The theme of this year's Remembrance Service was The Great Escape and 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of this major event in RAF history, when 76 allied POWs made a daring escape from Stalag Luft 3, through one of three tunnels named ‘Harry’ which they had constructed in Hut 101. Most of the escapees were caught and subsequently shot on the orders of Adolph Hitler. Three ex Halton Apprentices who were among those shot after recapture were: Flt Lt Edgar Humphreys 25th Entry, Flt Lt William Grisman 23rd Entry and Flt Lt Thomas Leigh 32nd Entry.

VIP guests who attended the Halton Apprentice event were Air Commodore Charles Clarke, a former RAF Prisoner Of War who was imprisoned in Stalag Luft 3 in 1944 when the Great Escape took place. Now aged over 90 he is still the President of the POWs Association, and Air Vice-Marshal Nick Kurth CBE a former Halton Apprentice, who was the senior British representative in 2009 at the 65th anniversary of the Great Escape, and attended the commemorative event at Zagan in Poland where he laid a wreath for the three aforementioned ex Halton Apprentices.    AVM Kurth addressed the Service, saying: “As we approach Remembrance Day on 11 November, our minds turn to the pain, the human conflict, the suffering and the loss and moreover, we consider the sacrifices involved. Poignantly, this year marks 100 years following the outbreak of the First World War, often called ‘The Great War’.  Losses endured by all involved were simply awful. However, we must not forget sacrifices in many wars since then. Indeed, the 13 year British campaign in Afghanistan has just finished with the loss of 453 lives.  I should, however, like to focus on just one element of the Second World War – Stalag Luft 3 and the related Great Escape.  But before I do, we must recognise that The Halton Apprentices have played their part in many many campaigns during the 20th and 21st Centuries.  First a little about the camp:  Stalag Luft 3 was a bleak, inhospitable camp built inside an edge of a sandy pine forest that stretched for 20 miles.  Located near Zagan, formerly in Germany, it was 600 kms from Switzerland and 300 km from Baltic ports, run by Luftwaffe for allied airmen.  In addition to being miles from anywhere it had a number of design features to prevent escape;  buildings were raised to assist detection of tunnels, and built on sandy soil so it was easy to see spoil from digging so the integrity of a tunnel was difficult to maintain. Lastly, seismograph microphones were installed around the perimeter of the camp.”

After the service, which included the Halton Apprentice hymn and prayer, the Apprentices were formed up by Station Warrant Officer George Mifsud, and marched to the Tribute to the sound of the Golden Oldie Pipe and Drum Band, where the Act of Remembrance took place led by The Station Commander, Group Captain Adrian Burns. Next stop was Halton House for the reception where Air Commodore Clark was interviewed by local and national TV saying: “When we heard how many of the escapees had been shot it was an unbelievably bad day after all the hard work and hope, and at that stage the British Senior Officer decreed that there would be no more escaping. It was a very sad time but too many lives had been lost.”

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