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A Tunnel - Twelve Feet From My Bunk!

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A Tunnel - Twelve Feet From My Bunk!

When I got to Stalag Luft 3 I was assigned a barrack called Number 104, and it was a building which was quite long and had perhaps as many as 120 to 150 men in it. It was broken up into relatively small rooms, not much bigger than this one, and there were two-tiered bunks in it. It turned out that it was almost all New Zealanders, the whole of that hut. The senior officer, in fact, was a Wing Commander Blake who had been shot down several years before. He was in Fighter Command. The room that I was actually assigned to, there were 12 of us in the room, and they said, "You know, we're having a little trouble with our senior officer here. He's getting very uppity. We have to play a little game. Would you, would you like to be part of it, George as a newcomer, because he won't know you?" And I said, "Be a part of what kind of a game?" He said, "Well, just to go and, and see what he tells you and then maybe we'll have some ammunition so he can mix in a little better with the rest of us." Well, I went along with it and they came back and handed me a group captain's jacket, battledress jacket, with DFC and bar plus a DSO, and so I was outranking the New Zealand officer. And he called me down, he had a little small room at the end of the barrack lot, and said, "You know, McKiel, some of these people have been here since 1939. Some of them are, are very experienced, and you can learn a great deal from them. I suggest the first thing you do is to take down your decorations and your rank and try and mix in and learn through the basics of the camp." And we chatted a bit more. I went back to our room and told the New Zealanders what had happened, and they were rolling on the floor. They were just delighted. "It worked! It worked! We can humble this guy and get him to be one of us." Anyway, we sort of overstepped the mark on that because he invited me back a day or two later and said, "We need another talk, McKiel." I said, "Good." And when we started chatting, he said, "You know, there's a lot happening here in camp. It looks as though there's not a great deal, but there's a lot of secret work going on and I, I should really tell you a little bit about this, so that you know that you're part of this now." However, when I was chatting with the wing commander, he said, "Now, one of the things you should recognize, McKiel, is that we do have a tunnelling going on." I said, "Oh?" And he said, "Yes. In fact, it's only 12 feet from your bunk, where the entrance is." He said, "I'll just take you to that room and show you what the trap is like, so that you can have some idea of the ingenuity that went into designing it." Well, it was a small stove, wood stove, coal stove, that was in this, on this block of bricks and tile in the room, and they could lift the stove up with a couple of two by fours off to one side, leave the chimney connected so that if the fire was going it would still be okay, and there was the entrance to the tunnel. And the hut was supported on these brick pillars, and they had drilled a way down through the bricks and then had a ladder which went down 30 feet into the sand. The problem, apparently, was that the Germans had, when they built the camps, said, "We're going to make this totally impossible for anybody to escape from," and, so, amongst other things, they planted monitors in the ground to detect any sort of chance of tunnelling or digging. They were convinced that there was some activity going on, because when you get thirty feet down, the sand, it was all sand you saw, the soil was totally different. It was a lighter colour, and there was a particular smell which the German guard dogs could pick up on. So, although we had the ability to dig with our spoons and implements at the face of the tunnel, it meant that sand disposal was a top priority. How to get rid of it without the Germans realizing that we were doing it. And one of the ways of doing that was we created people that we called "penguins", and the penguins were equipped with bags that went down the inside of the trousers with a drawstring at the end so you could pull on the cord and then the sand would dump out. And then we could scuff it into gardens, or sports field, or whatever, where it wouldn't perhaps be picked up. They also tried putting some up in the, up in the rafters of the huts, but after a fall-in that brought the sand all crashing down, they abandoned that.

Mr. McKiel discusses his housing arrangements and how he found out about a tunnel that was being dug as an escape conspiracy.

George McKiel

Mr. McKiel was born in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, on May 15, 1924. His mother was a war bride, and his family moved to Devon, England, when he was quite young. Mr. McKiel joined 405 Squadron, Bomber Command in 1943, and was shot down and captured shortly thereafter. He spent 2 years in a Polish prisoner of war (POW) Camp, Stalag Luft 3, where he helped 76 officers escape in the Great Escape. After his liberation, Mr. McKiel returned to Canada and eventually earned a PhD in Cancer Research. These credentials have allowed him to consult on Nursing issues as far away as Australia. Having recently returned to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Mr. McKiel is already involved with seniors' health programs in his community.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
George McKiel
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Bomber Command
Air Force
405 Squadron
Flying Officer
Air Bomber

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