The 24/25 March 1944 was a momentous night for those hundreds, incarcerated in Stalag Luft III, a German Prisoner of War camp for air force officers located at Zagań, Poland. It was the night of a major prison escape.
This escape involved the simultaneous digging of three tunnels in the hope that at least one would not be detected by the Germans. The tunnels were known as Tom, Dick and Harry. In the process of digging, 'Tom' was detected by the Germans and blown up, and 'Dick' was stopped as a new part of the camp was to be built over it, and its exit. Now all work focused on 'Harry'…
Initially the plan was to include about 200 prisoners in the escape but on the night in question this was reduced to 100 due to freezing temperatures; snow; an air raid and a collapsing tunnel. Finally 76 prisoners made it through the tunnel and into the surrounding forest.
This is the true story of four of those brave airmen, included in the 100 selected to take part in this bold escape to freedom…
After escaping from the camp Squadron Leader John Edwin Ashley Williams DFC, RAF; Flight Lieutenant Reginald Victor Kierath, RAAF; Flight Lieutenant Leslie George Bull, DFC, 109 Squadron RAF; and Flight Officer Jerzy Mondschein, 304 (Polish) Squadron RAF, joined up with a group of eight other airmen and started to walk in an easterly direction to a small train station in Tschiebsdorf, Poland, disguised as foreign workers on leave.
At about 4am, they finally reached the train station where Jerzy Mondschein with his flawless German, was to buy twelve train tickets to Boberröhrsdorf, Germany near Jelenia Gora, Poland. The clerk behind the counter was somewhat suspicious of the group, but Jerzy’s nerve held and the group successfully boarded the train heading south toward Boberröhrsdorf, at the Czechoslovakian border.
After leaving the Boberröhrsdorf,train station, the group divided, leaving Williams, Kierath, Bull and Mondschein together to continue on foot.
The four airmen began walking in the direction of Harrachov and tried to cross the snow covered Giant Mountains to reach Czechoslovakia, walking the last 20 kilometres or so in waist deep snow drifts.
The Germans had already initiated a national alert, which resulted in the capture of many groups of prisoners within a short time after the escape, especially those who were on foot. Williams, Kierath Bull and Mondshein were also recaptured by a German mountain patrol near the border, taken to Reichenberg jail and interrogated by the Gestapo.
According to the war crimes investigation at 0400 hours on Wednesday 29 March 1944, Bull, Mondschein, Kierath and S/L Williams were taken from Reichenberg jail, to the city of Brüx, which is now known as Most, in the Czech Republic, and shot by the Gestapo. Their bodies were cremated in the local crematorium that same day.
Records however, show the order for their cremation was clearly dated 28 March 1944, an unforgivable sign of intended premeditated murder by the Gestapo, and a violation of their rights as prisoners of war, under the Geneva Convention.
OTHER LINKS of Interest to this topic
The Great Escape Memorial proudly compiled by the Louise Williams, niece of SQLDR John "Willy" Williams
from Stalag Luft III on 24 March 1944
These brave men were among 'the 50' escapees that were selectively shot by the Germans after what we all know now, as The Great Escape.
The fifty escapees cremated (to disguise the manner of their deaths) had their ashes returned in urns to the Senior British Officer, G/Capt. Massey, at Żagań, Poland. These urns were placed in a purpose-built memorial constructed by the prisoners in the camp during the summer of 1944 with the permission of the German Kommandant, Oberst Franz Braune. After the war these ashes were recovered and reinterred in the Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery in Poland. Today the cemetery is under the control of the British War Graves Commission. The ashes of SQNLDR John Edward Ashley ‘Willy’ Williams DFC are in Plot 8, Row D, Grave No.1, and those of F/Lt Reginald ‘Rusty’ Kierath are in Plot 8, Row D, Grave No.3.
Both SQNLDR John Edward Ashley ‘Willy’ Williams DFC and F/Lt Reginald ‘Rusty’ Kierath were posthumously awarded an MID (Mention in Despatches) on the 8 June 1944, which is appropriately noted on their service records within this website.
refer to the pages listed under "450 Squadron Members" - Honouring our Heroes category
After much research and dedication by a Czech commercial pilot Michal Holy, whose long standing interest in aviation history led him to the story of the four Great Escape allied air force officers executed near Most in the Czech Republic, a granite memorial dedicated to these four airmen was officially unveiled on the 24 March 2012. This memorial is located in the WWII section of the MOST cemetery, approx. 100 metres from the Most Crematorium, where the bodies of these four brave men had been cremated.
Michal's research has brought together descendants of the four men, who spent three days tracing the ill-fated footsteps of their ancestors, immediately after the memorial service.
We honour the memory of F/LT Leslie Bull DFC; F/O Jerzy Mondshein;SQNLDR John ‘Willy’ Williams DFC, MID; and F/Lt Reginald ‘Rusty’ Kierath MID and we sincerely thank Michal Holy, whose dedication has brought their story to the attention of the people of the United Kingdom, Australia and the Czech Republic, ensuring that the names of these heroes of the Great Escape are now inscribed in stone forever.
Further articles and information regarding all four airmen can be located using the following web links:
The Great Escape Memorial Service—
Most, CzechRepublicproudly conducted by the researcher who worked tirelessly to honour the memories of four brave escapees of the Great Escape, commercial pilot and historian, Michal Holy of the Czech Republic on Saturday 24 March 2012
The Great Escape Memorial Service—Williamtown,NSW proudly conducted by No. 450 Squadron and hosts and sister squadron, the current serving No. 3 Squadron on Saturday 24 March 2012
The Great Escape Memorial in Most CZ–March 2012 proudly sponsored by Museum of Air Battle over the Ore Mountains...
The Great Escape Memorial compiled by the Louise Williams, niece of SQLDR John "Willy" Williams.
The 450 Squadron RAAF Association Incorporated is indebted to the late Alan J Harris dec., a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force on loan to the
450 Squadron RAAF during his WWII tour of duty in the Middle East. Alan's loyal support and legacy has made this Website a reality, in the name of the famous Desert Harassers®.
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