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Canadians and the Great Escape
The escape from the Stalag Luft III prisoner-of-war camp - March 25, 1944.
 
If you were to go by Hollywood's account, you would never know Canadians played a prominent role in the construction of the tunnels and the escape itself. Wally Floody, a Canadian RCAF pilot and mining engineer, had a major role in the construction of the escape tunnels, while 9 Canadians escaped, 6 were murdered by the Gestapo. Of the 1,800 or so POWs in the compound, 600 were involved in the escape, 150 were Canadian.
 
 Escaped  Fate
  Hank Birkland  Executed, 1944-03-31
  William Cameron  Returned to Stalag Luft III
  Gordon Kidder  Executed, 1944-03-29
  Patrick Langford  Executed, 1944-03-31
  George Edward McGill  Executed, 1944-03-31
  Keith Ogilvie  Returned to Stalag Luft III
  Alfred Burke "Tommy" Thompson  Returned to Stalag Luft III
  James Chrystall Wernham  Executed, 1944-03-30
  George Wiley  Executed, 1944-03-31
 

Steve McQueen with Wally Floody, who acted as technical advisor on the film.
Wally Floody
Floody was a Royal Canadian Air Force Spitfire pilot from Chatham, Ontario. He was shot down over France on his maiden flight in October 1941 and was imprisoned at the POW camp Stalag Luft III.

Due to his experience, being a mining engineer, Floody was known as the "Tunnel King" and was responsible for designing and constructing the escape tunnels "Tom", "Dick" and "Harry".

Shortly before the escape, the Germans were aware something major was going to happen. They attempted to thwart any escape attempts by transferring 19 of their "top suspects" to other camps. Only 6 of those transfered were involved. One was Wally Floody, another was American-born RCAF tail gunner George Harsh, who was a member of the escape executive committee and was the camp security officer.

In 1946, Floody was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his contribution to the Great Escape.
 
Hank Birkland
 Biography
 Born  August 16, 1917 - Spearhill, Manitoba
 Status  Executed - Last seen alive on March 31, 1944 (Memorial)
 Family  Son of a carpenter, had six siblings.
 Pre-War Work  Gold miner in British Columbia.
 Force   Royal Canadian Air Force
 
Military Career and Capture
Birkland enlisted in the RCAF and began training in September 1940. He received his wings and commission on April 10, 1941 and was sent overseas soon after. While sweeping the French coast during a diversionary operation over Dunkirk, Birkland's spitfire passed directly over a flak tower and was hit. He managed to land the plane on the beach before passing out. He spent weeks in hospital before being sent to a camp near Barth where he meet and befriended Floody.

Luft Stalag III & Escape
Birkland assisted Floody in digging the tunnels. He was involved in the "delousing escape" on June 12, 1943, and was captured only a few miles from the camp.

During the escape he was a "marshall" - one appointed to guide escapees after they made it out of the tunnel. They would wait in the forest for their 10 men to arrive and guide them down a pre-determined path to a destination where everyone would split up. Without them, there would be mass confusion with escapees wondering aimlessly.

During the escape, one man nudged a wall and brought down three feet of tunnel. Bikland acted immediately, crawling down to pull the man free. Then, in the pitch black and with the threat of more cave-ins , repaired the tunnel in one hour.

Posing as French workers, Birkland and two others waded through hip-high snow, making slow progress. By the end of the 26th, Birkland was delirious and started talking to himself. The two others decided to take shelter at a nearby farmhouse... where four German soldiers were staying. The men were taken into custody and sent to a local police station. The German police officer at the station helped them by building a fire to make Birkland more comfortable. They used this time to dispose of their incriminating items (maps and compasses), and converted their clothing back to military uniforms.

Birland was shot in a clearing just outside of Gorlitz with nine others. The gestapo killers were Lux and Sharpwinkel. He was cremated at Liegnitz.
William Cameron
 Biography
 Born  -
 Status  Died, November 18, 2000
 Family  -
 Pre-War Work  -
 Force   Royal Canadian Air Force
Gordon Kidder
 Biography
 Born  December 9, 1917 - St. Catharines, Ontario
 Status  Executed - Last seen alive on March 29, 1944 (Memorial)
 Family  Son of a Cannery Manager.
 Pre-War Work  Clerk and translator.
 Force   Royal Canadian Air Force
 Biography
 Born  November 4, 1919 - Edmonton, Alberta
 Status  Executed - Last seen alive on March 31, 1944 (Memorial)
 Family  Eldest of three children. Father was a forest ranger.
 Pre-War Work  Chauffeur with Brewster Transport
 Force   Royal Canadian Air Force
George Edward McGill
 Biography
 Born  April 14, 1918 - Toronto, Ontario
 Status  Executed - Last seen alive on March 31, 1944 (Memorial)
 Family  Married to Betty Goodman. Had a son named Peter.
 Pre-War Work  Family coal business
 Force   Royal Canadian Air Force
 Biography
 Born  September 1915 - Ottawa, Ontario
 Status  Died in 1999
 Family  -
 Pre-War Work  -
 Force   Royal Air Force
Alfred Burke "Tommy" Thompson
 Biography
 Born  August 8, 1915 - Penetanguishene, Ontario
 Status  Died in Penetanguishene in 1985.
 Family  Son of the local MP.
 Pre-War Work  Insurance
 Force   Royal Air Force
 Biography
 Born  January 15, 1917 - Scotland (moved to Winnipeg at a young age)
 Status  Executed - Last seen alive on March 30, 1944 (Memorial)
 Family  Father worked for the CPR. Had a sister named Florence.
 Pre-War Work  Accounts department at John Deere Plough.
 Force   Royal Canadian Air Force
George Wiley
 Biography
 Born  January 24, 1922 - Windsor, Ontario
 Status  Executed - Last seen alive on March 30, 1944 (Memorial)
 Family  -
 Pre-War Work  
 Force   Royal Canadian Air Force
 
 Murderers  Fate
  Lux  Killed in fighting, 1945
  Wilhelm Scharpwinkel  Disappeared in Soviet Zone - likely killed
  Erich Zacharias  Hanged in 1948
  Adolf Knippelberg  Captured by the Russians - dissapeared.
 

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