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Hornchurch exhibition commemorates wartime Great Escape 75 years ago

PUBLISHED: 15:00 13 March 2019

Steve McQueen stars in the 1963 film about the Great Escape during the Second World War. Photo: United Artists Film Archive.

Steve McQueen stars in the 1963 film about the Great Escape during the Second World War. Photo: United Artists Film Archive.

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An exhibition commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Second World War’s famous Great Escape breakout by 76 prisoners from a Luftwaffe-run camp is coming to Hornchurch.

One of the watch towers at Stalag Luft III. Memorabilia of the Great Escape will be featured in an exhibition in Hornchurch on March 24. Photo: Richard C Smith.One of the watch towers at Stalag Luft III. Memorabilia of the Great Escape will be featured in an exhibition in Hornchurch on March 24. Photo: Richard C Smith.

The Great Escape exhibition tells the story of the daring escape from Stalag Luft III on March 24, 1944. It will be at the Ingrebourne Valley Visitors Centre in Hornchurch Country Park, Squadrons Approach on March 24 from 10am to 4.30pm.

Of the 76 POWs who escaped, 50 were re-captured and executed.

Rainham historian Richard C. Smith told the Recorder: “I decided to organise an exhibition on the 75th anniversary of the Great Escape and to remember the sacrifice of the 50 Allied prisoners of war who were murdered by the Nazis following their recapture on the orders of Adolf Hitler as an example for further escapes - this did not succeed.

“Some of the POWs at the camp have a connection with RAF Hornchurch. Squadron leader Roger Bushell, who led the Great Escape and was known as Big X, was operating with his squadron from Hornchurch when he was shot down over France during the Dunkirk operations in May 1940, and was captured.

Squadron Leader, Roger Bushell who led the Great Escape. Photo: Roger Bushell Archive CollectionSquadron Leader, Roger Bushell who led the Great Escape. Photo: Roger Bushell Archive Collection

“Other pilots like wing commander Joe Kayll, who was flying at Hornchurch, was shot down in 1941.

“He became head of intelligence for the escape committee at Stalag Luft III.”

The exhibition will highlight the role played by Hornchurch POWs as well as tell the story through photographs and memorabilia.

Displays will also feature items from the classic 1963 film starring Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Garner and Charles Bronson.

“I was lucky enough to meet some of the original escapees several years ago and they recalled their experiences of life in the prison camp,” said Richard.

“I have also managed to obtain some personal items from one of the escapees, Flight Lieutenant Keith Ogilvie, a Canadian, who was the last man out of the escape tunnel before the Germans discovered the break-out. This will also be on display at the exhibition.”

For more information contact Ingrebourne Valley Visitors Centre on 01708 520364.

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