'A rather exciting game with a spice of danger': How Great Escape veteran described famous break-out in letter found in first-edition book
Last updated at 7:53 PM on 30th June 2011
A first hand account of the World War II jailbreak that became known as The Great Escape has come to light in a book donated to Oxfam.
A copy of the book, The Great Escape, was handed in to the new Oxfam bookshop in Kingsbridge, Devon, and was found to contain a four-page letter written by one of the prisoners-of-war involved in the escape plan.
The first edition of the book contains a typed letter from Squadron Leader Denys Maw, the first escapee not to make it out of the tunnel the prisoners had spent months digging.
Great find: Sue Bonnin from the Oxfam bookshop in Kingsbridge where a first edition of The Great Escape was found to contain a letter written by one of the prisoners-of-war who attempted to escape Stalag Luft III
Account: A page from the typed letter from Squadron Leader Denys Maw, the first escapee not to make it out of the tunnel the prisoners had spent months digging
The escape from the high security German prison camp Stalag Luft III - which took place on on March 24, 1944 - was later immortalised in the 1963 film starring Steve McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough.
The story of how the German guards spotted the escapees and how Maw had to turn round and crawl back to captivity is told on page 197 of the book, written by fellow prisoner Paul Brickhill in 1950.
Maw's letter, written to the son of a friend, coolly describes the tunnel escape plan as 'a rather exciting game with a spice of danger to it'.
He goes on to describe how he kept watch in the wash-house while the tunnellers worked below him.
If a guard approached he had to leap into a cold bath 'to have a reason for being there'.
Maw added: 'I have not been so keen on cold baths ever since.'
Big screen: In this scene from the film The Great Escape (1963), Charles Bronson is shown in the escape tunnel which Maw never used
The letter describes fellow Stalag prisoners and the missions Maws flew before his capture.
'He also tells the story of the night his plane was shot down over Gelsenkirchen in June 1943 and his parachute descent from 15,000ft.
He describes the beauty of the June, night, the 'dank clamminess of the clouds' as well as the pain of injuries suffered when he bailed out and on landing.
Iconic image: Steve McQueen, as The Cooler King, makes his bid for freedom on a motorcycle in the film
The overall tone of the letter is less Hollywood blockbuster and more matter of fact.
'I could tell you a lot of stories about those who ended up as PoWs,' he writes.
'Many of them would be much stranger than fiction, that is why I don't often tell them because people think you are 'shooting a line'.'
The letter and the first edition have been valued together at £100 and are currently on display in the Kingsbridge shop.
Maw's letter is thought to have been written in 1951 as he had signed the copy of the book it was found in and dated it 1951.
Although his role in the escape is not as well known as others he features in several accounts about it In Mike Mesrole's The Great Escape: Tunnel to Freedom the terrifying moment the Nazi guards discover the tunnel is described.
'Denys Maw the next man in line at the exit hole after Bob McBride was standing at the bottom of the exit ladder when he heard the shot.
'Diving back in to the tunnel he told Joe Moul the man behind him and hauler Clive Saxelby it was time to leave.'
Maw managed to make it back to one of the PoW huts in the concentration camp and thus escaped being shot for trying to escape.
Great writing: The first edition of the book n which Maw's typed letter was discovered
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2010014/Great-Escape-veterans-letter-edition-book-Oxfam.html#ixzz1Qnd3UgDc