Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Saturday, 19 January 2008

What We Owe To Those Who Fought For Us

News comes that one of the veterans who took part in one of the greatest prison camp escapes in World War II has died. Bertram "Jimmy" James has died in Shrewsbury, aged 92.

As Sqn Ldr James, he was one of the 76 men who escaped from Stalag Luft III in Poland in 1944. This event was immortalised in the film The Great Escape. Three people got home. The rest (including Sqn Ldr James) were caught. One of the main aims of this, or any other escape attempt - apart from getting home if possible - was to cause the Germans as much trouble as possible by forcing them to spend precious time, money and personnel looking for escapees rather than fighting the Allies. The escape from Stalag Luft III certainly achieved that. If anything, it was too successful. Furious at the expense and humiliation caused by a mass escape from a camp where security was supposedly unbeatable, Hitler personally ordered the cold-blooded murder of 50 re-captured prisoners.

It is impossible for us, in our warm, cosy, well-stocked homes, to imagine what Prisoners of War went through, in winter temperatures of -20, with little food or heating and the most basic of facilities. The Great Escape cannot portray the hardship of freezing conditions and 80 prisoners to a block. It doesn't record that there was thick snow on the ground on the night of the escape. It does, however, give some idea of the ingenuity that was used in planning the escape; the remorseless search for wood to shore up the tunnels (above), the underground railway with its stations, the electric light tapped from the Third Reich, and the brilliant methods for getting rid of dirt from the tunnels.

It will not be so very long before Bertram "Jimmy" James's generation has gone altogether. Going it might be, but it must never, ever, be forgotten. The period of 1939-45 was a time when this country stood, sometimes alone, for freedom and democracy and all the other values we hold close to our hearts in the face of a terrible and seemingly relentless onslaught from people who wanted to destroy us. People like Bertram James, and millions like him, displayed valour, defiance and a sheer refusal to give in despite what sometimes appeared to be impossible odds. Together, they represented the iron will and spirit that saw this country through. My generation and all those that follow owe them a colossal, immeasurable debt.

..........................Memorial to "The Fifty" at Stalag Luft III

Sometimes when I look at today's society I wonder if the wartime generation ponder whether it was all worth it. The lack of respect shown by so many, the increasing levels of crime and disorder, the breakdown of the family, the feeling that many older people have that it is simply not safe to go out of their houses. Do they ever think "Why did we bother ?" ? With all my heart, I hope they do not.

I believe that we owe Bertram James and his generation this at least: to do all we can to pass on the values of respect, decency and freedom to those around us, and to prevent tyranny, in any form, over-running this country. To leave our nation at least as free as we were when we entered it.

That would be a fitting tribute to many a hero.

3 comments:

Mrs Smallprint said...

Very good point Womble.

Especially pertinent as Mr. Brown is trying to throw our hard won freedom away. I have posted a new video on the results of the Parish polls on the EU question if you're interested.

Mrs S.

Andrew Allison said...

A few years ago I was at the Pegasus Bridge Memorial and had the pleasure of talking for about half an hour to someone who was in the third glider to land.

He was a lovely man and I felt I was talking to a piece of history; and I'm sure he wouldn't mind me refering to him like that. He was part of a generation who served their country knowing they risked their lives every day.

Our freedoms today? Well, you know what I think of this government. The sooner we can get rid of them, the better.

Sepoy Agent said...

Very well said, Womble. Thank you.