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The X Committee

Heroes Remember

As far as we were concerned, we had no direct contact with them at all except that we knew that the perimeter of the camp was always guarded 24 hours a day by sentries armed with rifles, and that these goon boxes were distributed around the camp itself. So, in order to keep the camp going, they had to do all... not only the design of the tunnel and the digging of the tunnel, but all the peripheral things such as creating maps, because the overall plan was to get 220 officers out through the tunnel, a mass escape, and we knew that this would have a huge impact on the morale of both ourselves, a real boost, but also the fact that the Germans would realize that it was no longer escape proof, that they were in a lot of jeopardy with these desperate people that they were trying to keep under guard. There was also, also the question of clothing. There was some skilled people in, in the camp who could sew very well, so they converted not only our uniforms into... dyed different colours, but also converted into workman's clothes, or they even were able to create some which were uniforms, German uniforms, and several of the prisoners had plans to go that way. Now, all of this was under the jurisdiction of a South African, called Roger Bushell, and Squadron Leader Bushell was a most amazing fellow. He was a lawyer, a very successful lawyer, before the war. He had studied in Germany, so he was fluent and that was fairly easy for him because he spoke Boer [Afrikaans] in South Africa, and it wasn't a big step to speak the German. And he had already had four or five escapes, all unsuccessful, so this was going to be his big thing. Roger had got together a team which was dubbed the X committee, and they had overall jurisdiction as far as escapes were concerned. They would send out instructions that, "Okay, lay off the Germans. Stop beating them. We've got a sensitive time coming up, and we need to keep them on, on side." And everybody in the camp would, would listen and obey it. If somebody had an idea for an escape, they went to X committee first, they didn't do anything until they went and passed it, put in a proposal, and the X committee would say, "No, there's no chance of that happening. It's, it's not... it's already doomed. We'll, we'll not give you any support for that." But if they thought there was a minimum of success with the proposal, then they would have all sorts of resources in terms of money, clothing, ration food, and so on. So this X committee was also responsible for the security of this. And to come back to Wing Commander Blake, the New Zealand senior officer, when I was there for the first few days, he made the mistake of taking me to show me the tunnel, and I hadn't been cleared. I was supposed to have been able to get somebody in the camp who would either know me through operations or through training. Didn't happen. So, he had jumped the gun. He was in hot water. I was in hot water. So, it was a bit of a dilemma for a while, but then it sorted itself out.

Mr. McKiel elaborates on the management of the prisoners’ escape plans.

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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