The Great Escape – The Reckoning Review: POW Break

November 1, 2009 by  
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4THE GREAT ESCAPE: THE RECKONING: Mon 2nd November, Channel 4, 9pm Alert Me

Because of Steve McQueen, we know that a man on a decent motorbike can jump a fair-sized fence and that trying to escape from a German POW camp will get you a couple of weeks in the cooler at worst.

Unfortunately, while The Great Escape never fails to brighten up even the most argument-addled Christmas afternoon, it plays rather fast and loose with the truth.

In reality, the poor RAF men who escaped that prisoner camp were promptly rounded-up and most of them were executed – in complete disregard to the Geneva Convention – by goose-stepping Gestapo officers.

This programme tells the story of the 76 daring Allied troops who broke out of Stalag Luft III camp in March 1944 and of one man’s struggle to bring the criminals who murdered them to justice.

It goes without saying that this was no easy task. As the narrator points out, RAF Detective Frank McKenna must have wondered how helpful the people of post-war Germany were going to be to his investigation – especially when you consider that 70% of the country’s cities lay in ruins courtesy of the British Air-force.

Although we never tire of watching Nazi’s who were “only following orders? getting their comeuppance, some of the most interesting stuff in this documentary focuses on the escapees themselves and there are gripping accounts from some of the few surviving escapists.

It turns out that while some brightly popped down to the nearest railway station, others decided to try and walk to the border…

These were obviously the days when hiking 500km across a snow-covered Germany was thought of as a decent plan, and all too predictably, most of these ambitious young prisoners were re-captured pretty quickly.

As he looks at a photo of an old friend, one veteran laments the “utter futility? of war.

It’s nearly impossible not to agree with him.

Sean Marland